• isobelhiggs

Expression of human rights by representation and inclusivity in fashion

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

This short blog piece highlights the role of education, representation on the catwalk, in the fashion media and in fashion design and production teams in moves towards a more inclusive and just fashion industry.

Arguably an inclusive fashion is something of an oxymoron. In a report produced by the research firm, IbisWorld, in March 2020, the data shows that the market size of clothing retailing industry in the UK is £43bn [1]. As journalist Luca Solca wrote in March 2020 for Business of Fashion “People still buy luxury fashion because it provides them with the promise of higher distinction in the social hierarchy. Otherwise, why spend $1,000 for a T-shirt? For the craftsmanship?” [2].

Representation and inclusivity go hand-in-hand with justice and human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created as a result of the experiences of the Second World War. It was presented in the first meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946 and it was adopted on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration has influenced the Human Rights Act 1998, that came in force in the UK in October 2000. “Human rights are the fundamental rights and freedoms that belong to every single one of us, anywhere in the world. Human rights apply no matter where you are from, what you believe in, or how you choose to live your life” [3]. Representation and inclusivity are vital for our society to ensure human rights are available to everyone. In the most it is minority groups and those disadvantaged backgrounds who are unable to fully benefit and exercise their human rights. Universality is key, hence Fashion Roundtable focus on representation and inclusivity.

In a 2019 survey by Glassdoor, 55% of people in the UK said that they had either witnessed or experienced discrimination based on age, gender, race or LGBTQ status in the workplace. A further 31% said they had experienced or witnessed racism in the workplace. Of those surveyed, 54% said their company should do more to increase diversity and inclusion [4]. Glassdoor survey does not mention disability, yet disabled people would confirm that they encounter discrimination in the workplace. As is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights - people have a human right to live without discrimination, but as this shows, discrimination is unfortunately present in the British workplace.

In terms of representation - the design industry does, however, employ a higher proportion of BAME than the wider economy (13% compared to 11%) but BAME designers only makeup 12% of design managers and are less likely to be in senior roles. Women are also less likely to be in senior roles as only 17% of design managers are female [5]. Without people from minorities or less advantaged backgrounds taking on leadership roles, it can be difficult for people to see their career progression and receive the same support as their white (and often male) peers.

For models working in the industry, there has been a year on year increase in the diversity seen in the top four fashion capitals, London, Paris, New York and Milan. In the Autumn 2020 shows, 40.6% were models of colour (6879 castings over 194 shows) [6]. However, Zebedee model & talent agency has not had a disabled model booked at LFW since AW 2017 for Teatum Jones. At their knowledge, there have been no disabled models at all booked at LFW since then. It is important to emphasis on the inclusion of disabled people in the fashion industry as a whole. “There are brands such as River Island and Primark who book with us disabled talent regularly, however it seems that this sort of inclusion is not on the radar for most brands and designers, and it would be our estimate that bookings for disabled models account for way less than 1% of all model bookings in the UK. This is unacceptable when you consider that disabled people make up 22% of the population in the UK” [7].

Emphasis on the diversity DNA in education and fashion

In the past year Gucci, Chanel and Burberry have also hired diversity and inclusion officers – following criticism many brands have faced after serious cultural appropriation headlines. Creating jobs in diversity and inclusion and adhering to employment law surrounding discrimination. This all contributes towards more inclusive fashion industry. However, we wonder how far do companies go beyond the minimum legal requirements? The fashion industry can use its influence by serving as a mirror of society’s diversity. This is an exercise in supporting human rights and bringing about justice.

To understand this further, it is important to look the role of education in the industry. 57% of the design workforce in the UK have a University degree. This is compared with the UK average of 34% [8] and shows the extent to which degrees are valid. However, how art and design institutions address representation and inclusivity also matters. For example, The University of the Arts London (UAL) releases a report on the diversity of their staff student body annually. Although there have been improvements year on year, there is still room for progression. In 2018, UAL student body was 53% white whereas their staff was 81% white. The report also notes that 84% of students and 89% of staff had no disability [9]. More interestingly 79% of white students, compared to 62% of BAME, gained a first or a 2:1 [10]. This raise the question of whether BAME are getting the support and recognition in their work at the same level as white students. Can all students achieve their full potential and have equal access to opportunity? In almost all education facilities, high achieving students are usually rewarded through financial gains, such as scholarships and grants, often supporting them and pushing them to achieve more, be that in a job, educational course or socially. If statistics show that white students are more likely to be gaining higher grades, they are therefore more likely to receive additional help from the government and non-governmental organisations.

The media that fashion produces is an important factor

What people see in magazines, online and in fashion publications will affect who feels they are represented and included in fashion in the UK. Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2016 data shows the UK has a population of 13.7% BAME. However, in 2017, out of 214 covers of the best-selling glossy magazines, only 20 (or 9.3%) featured a person of colour [11]. The covers of leading magazines Marie Claire, HomeStyle, Your Home and Prima didn’t feature a single person of colour in the same year [12]. At British Vogue, arguably one of the most influential publications in the UK fashion industry, during the 25 years of Alexandra Shulman’s career as an editor, only two black women were given solo covers. And there is still a lack of disabled people gracing the front covers of the fashion magazines [13].

Fashion Roundtable’s research into diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry – through surveys of consumers, students, industry employees and employers, creatives, manufacturing, marketing and designers will gain a bigger and more complete picture of how the industry is functioning and where improvement is needed to ensure human rights and justice are secured through inclusion and diversity.

Izzy Higgs

Anna Fitzpatrick

Maria Stoica

Fashion Roundtable, 18th May 2020


[1] IbisWorld, 2020. Clothing Retailing in the UK - Market Research Report [online] Available at:

< https://www.ibisworld.com/united-kingdom/market-research-reports/clothing-retailing-industry/>

[2] Solca, L., 2020. The Business Of Fashion. [online] The Business of Fashion. Available at:

<https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/professional/is-fashion-ready-for-a-multicultural- minefield>

[3] Amnesty International UK. 2018. What are human rights? [online] Available at:


[4] Glassdoor.com. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.glassdoor.com/about-us/app/uploads/sites/2/2019/10/Glassdoor-Diversity-Survey-Supplement-1.pdf >

[5] Design Council. 2020. Does Design Have A Diversity Issue? [online] Available at:


[6] Schimminger, M., Schimminger, M. and articles..., R., 2020. Report: Racial Diversity Takes A Slight Step Backward, Size And Gender Inclusivity Plummet For Fashion Month Fall 2020. [online] theFashionSpot. Available at: <https://www.thefashionspot.com/runway-news/854319-diversity-report- fashion-month-fall-2020/>

[7] [13] Zebedee Management email correspondence for the current article on May 2020.

[8] Designcouncil.org.uk. 2020. P.16 [online] Available at:

<https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/asset/document/Design_Economy_2018_exec_s ummary.pdf>

[9] [10] Student Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Report 2018 UAL Arts.ac.uk. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.arts.ac.uk/ data/assets/pdf_file/0024/144474/190206_EDI-Report-2018.pdf>

[11] [12] Hirsch, A., 2020. Glossies So White: The Data That Reveals The Problem With British Magazine Covers. [online] the Guardian. Available at:

<https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/apr/10/glossy-magazine-covers-too-white-models-black- ethnic-minority>.

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