The all-inclusive club: a new era in fashion marketing

Pretty Little Thing
Young fashion brand PrettyLittleThing has led the way with diverse fashion imagery

The fashion industry has been quick to embrace trends yet not so quick to embrace inclusivity. As time has progressed there has been a gradual shift in the fashion scene adopting diversity within its marketing and branding strategy.

Ten years ago, the likeliness of seeing a Muslim female wearing a hijab, a transgender or plus size model featured in mainstream fashion was very unlikely. However high fashion as well as high street fashion brands have shown a progressive marketing approach through adopting strategies which speak to their multicultural, multiracial and gender fluid consumers.

The world of fashion has entered a new era of breaking boundaries, in answer to growing challenges from social media exposure, consumer activism, and increased public socio-political awareness. Brands have faced new pressures to showcase their willingness to be more socially inclusive than previous fashion generations.

Retailers and brands have become increasingly open to targeting a wider globalised market through catering to a more diverse and opinionated customer base. This has, however, coincided with the changing cultural and political sphere in the world of social media.

Racially and culturally insensitive campaigns and designs exhibited by luxury fashion brands such as Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci (and witness the recent row over the use of wigs that featured cornrows – though it was argued were supposed to represent ancient Egyptian hairstyles – at Comme des Garçons in Paris last week) have proven to be detrimental to the brands’ public image, in turn negatively effecting sales. In particular, the storm of outspoken and dominant influencers addressing such issues to wider audiences has placed great stress on the fashion industry to embrace diversity, which has traditionally been avoided in the past.

In this sense, social media has totally shifted the fashion scene by giving different minorities – usually ignored by the fashion world – a visual platform and a public voice. Public apologies for inappropriate and controversial moves have become a common response by many fashion brands, through social media accounts such as Estée Laundry (see below) and Diet Prada, are held accountable for every little move on social media.

Social media has encouraged a culture of public shaming, this has become an easy means for social activists to publicly criticise and scrutinise marketing methods of fashion brands, big or small. The internet has also proven to be an effective platform for strong and active voices who have played a significant role in directing the industry towards diverse marketing and branding.

Retailers have used inclusive marketing to tap into a number of previously neglected markets, one of these being modest fashion. The rise of globalisation and terrorism led to a growing increase in Muslim modest fashion bloggers emerging on social media with the aim of subverting conventional notions of the Muslim woman exhibited by the mainstream media.

Dolce & Gabbana blazed a trail with its hijab collection

In 2018, a global nod of approval for catering to this market was given by high-end Italian designer Dolce & Gabbana through the launch of its first abaya and hijab collection aimed at Muslim consumers in its signature colourful prints. This bold move from the luxury fashion scene triggeredboth luxury fashion and highstreet retailers to capitaliseon the modest fashion market. Brands such as DKNY, Macy’s, Uniqlo, Marks & Spencer and H&M have showcased modest fashion collections through focussing on the Muslim modest market, and other consumers who choose to wear higher necklines and increased hemlines – seemingly more and more common in mainstream fashion.

Luxury e-commerce buinesses such as Net-a-Porter and Farfetch have also been quick to move into the modest fashion market. In 2016 Yoox Net-a-Porter Group (YNAP) completed a joint venture with Mohamed Alabbar of Symphony Investments with the aim to create an unprecedented luxury e-commerce platform within the Middleast.

The Modist’s Layeur brand

Two years later, Farfetch struck up a partnership with modest luxury retailer The Modist, allowing Farfetch to showcase a curation of modest fashion online and exclusive pieces for the website and from The Modist’s own brand Layeur, as well as one off designs from other labels. Such investments from the luxury fashion world mark a new era of social inclusivity which in the past was considered out of the ordinary.

For a long time, plus sizing had not been accessible for many female consumers, but plus sizes and curvy clothing has rapidly become incorporated into mainstream fashion in the last few years. Fast fashion retailers such as Boohoo, Misguided and Pretty Little Thing are popular brands providing many pieces in extended sizes. On the opposite end of the fashion spectrum, high end designers have become more and more willing to include plus-size models on the runway.

Ashley Graham for Prinovias

As a result, plus size influencers such as American model and body activist Ashley Graham has used her presence on the catwalk to encourage inclusivity within fashion and fashion branding. Such public figures have led more and more brands to include extended sizes as part of their collections. Most recently, the Spanish bridalwear brand Pronovias announced an exclusive collaboration with Ashley Graham to cater to curvier and plus size brides. Seeing a plus size female as a main figure of a fashion marketing campaign, on the front cover of a fashion magazine, or even walking down the high-end runway was  previously unheard of; the power of influential plus size bloggers, models and body activists has forced the fashion industry to become more inclusive.

Edward Enninful has placed diversity at the heart of British Vogue

As well an inclusive shift within fashion marketing and branding, we have also approached a generation of a more visible shift across the fashion industry as a whole. 2017 was a pivotal year: British Vogue employed the very first black editor, Edward Enninful (who has wasted not time making up for the past lack of divsersity, in particular on its covers); in the USA, Halima Aden became the first Muslim hijab wearing model to walk the catwalk for a number of high-end designers including Alberta Ferreti, Max Mara, and Kanye West. Virgil Abloh has also became the first black creative director at LVMH.

Key leaders in the fashion industry are focussing their attention on being more diverse within the workspace – with luxury designers such as Burberry, Gucci and Chanel recently employing diversity and inclusion officers- reflecting the changing social landscape of fashion branding and marketing.