As All Walks Beyond the Catwalk begins a 12-city tour of Universities and Colleges up and down the Country from Leeds to Plymouth and Cleveland to Southampton, to change the UK University curriculum, some of us can at last feel the righteousness that comes with being at the forefront of a fashion moment dedicated to promoting a much-needed broader range of body and beauty ideals.
Hard enough, predicting the zeitgeist for any industry, but one that is at the vanguard of all things new? Well that really takes some fashion-ability.
Especially in the face of resistance, when 'route to profit,' is more than a business direction, it's a cultural autobahn so forcibly destructive that it has many women young and old feeling inadequate and dissatisfied with their own image. When they never see themselves mirrored by the fashion world who can blame them?
But research released this month by Judge Business School, reinforces the assertion from the award winning fashion initiative All Walks, Beyond the Catwalk, that when fashion imagery features a range of women in size and age, it's not only considerate practice, and good for female self esteem... IT'S GOOD FOR BUSINESS.
Ben Barry, PhD student, Judge Business School, Cambridge University has researched 3000 women in Canada, US, and UK equally segmented between 14-65 years of age, and found that over 90% of women between 40-65 years old increased purchase intentions for a fashion products when the advertisement featured models reflecting their age and size."
"Women over 40 years old possess more overall spending power than any other age group," he continues, "and they spend more on women's apparel than younger market segments. Moreover, research demonstrates that aging does not reduce fashion interest among individuals."
And there you have it plain and simple. In this age obsessing, wrinkle-fearing industry, where bodies more than two decades old, are considered ill-suited to stalk the runways or adorn the ad campaigns or fashion editorials, a little hard nosed number crunching comes to the rescue!
Business and corporate behavior, long considered the enemy of creativity will lead the change and all because the survey say's Yes! Older women and of course curvier women are good for increased quarterly returns.
Many of us however, don't mind how change is ushered in as long as the Renaissance is here.
Newly appointed Director of the All Walks Centre of Diversity, Mal Burkinshaw, of Edinburgh College of Art, is ready.... "We must prepare students to take an informed and progressive approach into industry. Bodies change shape as they age and students whilst carrying out their training on tailors' dummies and transferring the finished product to professional catwalk model, must also explore and understand the realities of designing for ordinary women."
The educational movement could be the most effective tool we have yet to introduce a little emotionally considerate practice even some stealth politicisation around body image.
The fashion industry's output of young, unfeasibly thin models does not foster self esteem - there are millions of women who don't look like a super model and only a handful who do. However, some of the briefs I am seeing that now include the All Walks ethos of treating women as diverse, inspiring, individuals to be celebrated for their differences in college projects ranging from photography to print and design, are really heartening.
Tutors from colleges as far afield as Ravensbourne, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Leeds, Edinburgh and Southampton are getting on board and helping to encourage the next generation of designers and image makers to understand their power to broaden their message to women about their bodies. Lets hope they take findings like Ben Barry's and run with it.
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