THE BLOG
03/07/2013 11:46 BST | Updated 02/09/2013 06:12 BST

Diversity in Fashion: Where Are We At?

PA

Models of Diversity, a London based organisation that supports diversity in the fashion industry has just announced that tickets are on sale for their Catwalk4Change, a charity event aimed at celebrating and encouraging the presence of mature models in fashion and advertising.

It will take place on 6th September, in London. It promises to be an exceptional evening, with great entertainment lined up and fabulous designs modelled by beautiful women, older than the average catwalk model, and all of different shapes and ethnicities.

Diversity matters. Another organisation that has been campaigning incessantly for diversity in the fashion industry is All Walks Beyond the Catwalk. An initiative of Caryn Franklin, Erin O'Connor and Debra Bourne, All Walks has been working with top designers and creatives since 2009, developing a successful educational programme in colleges and teaching young designers to think about diversity.

The Debenhams 2013 look book, featuring, as one popular newspaper put it, "a glamorous grandmother, a Paralympian amputee, a plus size 18 and a petite model as its stars" is one of All Walks most recent successes.

Marks and Spencer too seem to have embraced diversity. Their A/W 2012 global advert, featured older and plus-size models. It is rumoured that the next campaign will be fronted by Dame Helen Mirren.

Such results are remarkable and encouraging, but do not let us get complacent. We still have a long way to go.

Have you noticed, for example, how the 'real woman' label is being used to differentiate among models? Those who do not look like models are 'real women'. It might sound good to be referred to as 'real woman', but there is a sting.

It means that there is a look which is typical of models, by default inspirational, all other looks are the look of real women, by default non-inspirational. Model agencies routinely implement such a division among models on their roster. They have 'real people' and 'models' (some agencies dispense with the 'real people' altogether, especially if they only provide models for fashion and beauty). It begs the question of what that model look is.

Shall we have a go at guessing? Caucasian, ideally blonde, over 5'10, size 6 (we are being generous with the size here, the smaller the better), max age 24. The height requirement is so stringent that even someone like model Cara Delevingne, who is said to be 5'9.5, was at some point regarded as short: it seems that Marc Jacobs thought so and referred to her as "a dwarf".

There is also an unintended, more sinister implication, that models are not real women because the majority of them are still under 16, children in fact. Exploitation of the young is the dark side of the fashion industry.

As for ethnic diversity: we do not see as many non-caucasian models as we would expect, given the composition of our society. In fact, statistics have shown that a non-caucasian model on a magazine cover is directly linked to a drop in sales, so magazines positively avoid covers with a non-white face.

On several occasions the fashion and beauty industry have been denounced for their racism and tokenistic initiatives. Lightening the skin tone of models of colour, in ads, through photoshopping, is a well known practice. When fashion uses non-caucasian models, it exoticizes them - a good example was the all Asian casting for Givenchy at Paris Fashion Week 2012, which many thought was underpinned by a neo-orientalist feel.

Fashion is to do with our identity and is a global phenomenon. We live in a society whose fabric is diversity, so fashion should reflect this.

Our lives can only be enriched by diversity and inclusivity. Appreciating diversity begins in the classroom, that's why educating young people to be aware of diversity is important.

I look forward to the day when campaigning for diversity will no longer be necessary because diversity will be the norm.

We have not quite got there yet.