Diversity in Design: “We have an obligation to do as much as we can”
By: Allie Quimuyog
It’s no secret that fashion has the ability to influence society. Designers get movie stars to wear what they think the trends for the season should be. Celebrities use fashion to make political statements (cue the Golden Globes’ #TimesUp movement), and even in advertisements radically unrelated to fashion, the clothing pictured provide a subliminal message to the receiver.
Talk of diversity in fashion often focuses on models. For good reason, people view the models pictured on magazine covers and walking in runway shows as the outward face of a brand. In reality, this is one small sector of the fashion industry. But high-ranking leaders in companies need to understand how consumers interpret models. Models are no longer viewed as a walking dress form. They are a statement. They are a message. And they are powerful.
The Fashion Spot reported that diversity in the Spring 2019 New York Fashion Week “outpaced what has never been seen before.” The runways saw gains in nonwhite, plus-size, and non-binary models. The report indicated that the number of plus-size models on the runway doubled from the previous season.
Racial inclusion in the major urban fashion shows clocked in at 36.1 percent, a significant 3.6 percent increase over Fall 2018. New York typically leads the race on racial inclusion, and showed 44.8 percent models of color this spring, according to the Fashion Spot.
Following the lead made by major fashion shows across the nation, Modeling Chair, Alicia Kubista, made a conscious effort to promote diversity and inclusion in Auburn University’s Apparel Merchandising and Design Association’s (AMDA) annual Fashion Event.
The student design exhibition, which was held on April 4, features a runway show of garments designed and modeled by Auburn students. The models this year were more diverse in race, size, and gender than ever before. The show featured 43 models in the general design portion of the show. Of these models, 27.9 percent were of color, 30 percent were plus-size, and 18.6 were male.
Photograph By Allie Quimuyog
Alicia Kubista, as the Modeling Chair on the organization’s executive board, oversees the process of selecting, fitting, and preparing all models.
The AMDA created fliers that were hung around Auburn’s campus to advertise an open casting call for volunteer models. Kubista stated that one wide misconception is that “people think they have to be ‘legit’ models to try out. You don’t have to be signed or have experience. We want to give everyone an opportunity.”
Kubista brings up a great point in the word opportunity. As a Japanese American woman, she has a huge opportunity in her role to relate to and advocate for diversity. As a student at Auburn University, she has an immediate audience to receive her message.
Kim affirmed, “I think what’s cool is that the fashion show is a university event. Universities have the ability to create innovation. We’re in an atmosphere where people’s minds are already open to learning and experimentation. A lot of trends, new products, and social change come from universities. As leaders on a campus, we have almost an obligation to do as much as we can.”
While Kubista and the rest of AMDA made efforts to diversify their modeling cast in all aspects, she focused specifically on being more gender-inclusive in this year’s show. “In previous shows, there haven’t been any male models in the general portion of the live runway.”
This was the organization’s first year of offering males a spot on the runway; they were able to recruit and showcase eight males. Kubista emphasized that including males in the show is a win-win situation for everyone. Designers in the past shows have been limited to only designing women’s clothing due to model constraints. Now, both male models and designers have an opportunity to grow.
Another key focus for AMDA officers Is including models in a wide range of sizes. While watching the fashion show, it was clear that the size 0 stigma is out the window. 30 percent of the models in Auburn’s Fashion Event wore a size medium top or larger. Nearly 65 percent of these models, wore a size six or larger in pants.
“We aren’t looking for models of a certain height or waist size. As long as they have the attitude and confidence to work the garment, that’s all we really need to see,” said Kubista.
The executive board and faculty in the design program strongly push designers to get comfortable designing for figures that are different than a dress form. “Think of what your best friend’s body type is like, or what your own body type is, and design for that. We really encourage them to design for real people, because that’s what the market is.”
AMDA made substantial diversification progress with the leadership of Alicia Kubista, but there is always more to do.
Modeling in the past, and the fashion industry as a whole, has had a one tract mind. If you don’t fit the stereotypical model size, then you’re not good enough. But the heightened presence of non-standard models has shown that the fashion industry is revolutionizing and open to change.
Kubista has voiced plans of further diversification in next year’s model cast. She plans to reach out directly to on-campus ethnically diverse groups to encourage them to attend the casting call. “We really want to just get the word out there, that they are welcome, and that if they want to participate, they should.”
Progress has been made, and plans have been made to push that progress farther.
But let’s never be content with that. Let’s keep advocating for change, because as long as we’re still having conversations about diversity, there is still more to do.
I’ll leave you with this thought. Our runways may be diverse, but how diverse is the front row of the show?