How inclusive is the fashion industry?

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  • How inclusive is the fashion industry

    The business case for diversity and inclusion is now overwhelming and has demonstrated the value that a diverse workforce brings to the company and its stakeholders. We live in a highly interconnected world, where diversity forms the very fabric of a modern society. And businesses have the power to bring about change and contribute to the creation of a more open, diverse, and inclusive society. However, the fashion industry seems to be a far cry from all things inclusive.  Over the years, fashion designers and brands have been shaping the way people, in particular women, think they ought to look like. The propagation of slim bodies and size zeroes models have become a normalized visual in fashion shows and advertisements. But the reality that retailers are facing is that this is not the body of the average woman. While body positivity and inclusivity are the latest buzzwords for the fashion industry, the ground reality remains far from ideal. From work wear to gym wear to ethnic outfits, women who identify themselves as plus-size face a lot of flak and body shaming, when they demand the fit of their dreams. And then, there is a much bigger invisible problem – the fat tax. So, what is this fat tax anyway? A quick search on the internet describes the fat tax as a surcharge placed upon fattening food. But when it comes to the fashion industry, the ‘tax’ is what the designers and stores charge extra for plus-size clothing, justified by ‘more fabric equals more workmanship equals more costs’. 

    Plus-sized women make for a large chunk of the population and many high-end luxury fashion brands do not cater to larger body sizes. And in few instances when women do find the right size, they must pay extra money. When we talk about size inclusivity, it basically means standardising the prices or having the same price for all sizes of a particular piece of clothing. There are brands who call themselves size-inclusive but expect their plus-size customers to pay more for the ‘extra fabric’. The lame argument that designers and fashion boutiques make is that larger sizes cost more to make due to larger amount of fabric needed for making that piece and additional labour cost associated with its stitching or designing. There are established brands like Old Navy who charger more for plus size clothing. The Gap-owned label has defended its differential pricing policy, citing the additional costs of developing curve-enhancing looks. But what is ridiculous is that Old Navy does not charge more for larger men’s sizes, which means it is basically imposing a fat tax only on women. And then there are some fashion brands who altogether give up manufacturing larger sizes due to the issues associated with its pricing.

    But change is happening. In recent times, body positivity movements on social media have grown popular enough to influence mainstream fashion. A certain segment of celebrities and fashion influencers are taking the body positivity movement forward and endorsing plus-size models. Versace, for the first time in its history, included plus-sized models in its Spring/Summer 2021 runway show. Today, a lot of young designers and new & upcoming brands have made inclusivity a part of their brand values and manufacture clothing for all types of body sizes with standardised pricing. Following in the footsteps of such companies, many multinational corporations have now started including plus-sizes as part of their brand offerings. This trend is also fueled by the financial implications of the plus-size market. According to Alice Rodrigues, senior consultant at Alvanon, an international apparel-business consulting firm, the plus-size market has been growing twice as fast as the straight-size market. According to a Coresight Research report, the plus-sized fashion market will be worth around $31.9 billion in 2020. That is too sizable a chunk of revenue to ignore. According to IBISWorld, the UK plus-size women’s clothing stores had an average industry growth of 1.9% from 2015 to 2020, and a market size of £734m ($963m). In contrast, the UK’s clothing sector overall experienced a negative average industry growth of -0.8% during the same period. Even amidst the pandemic, as fashion sales drop, the plus-size clothing industry’s profits are projected to grow. Similar trends can be found in the US, where the market value of the plus-size apparel industry has an estimated worth of $24bn (£18.3bn). This new norm is a culmination of customer demand and social media that art and fashion needs to adapt to.

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