New Inclusive Fashion Brands

Inclusivity is a hot buzz word in the fashion world. Campaigns are built on it, social media is talking about it, panels are being held for it. So what does inclusivity really mean? Inclusive comes from the word “include”, which means to “allow [someone] to share in an activity or privilege”. In the fashion world, being inclusive means including everyone’s needs and desires in your product offerings, shopping experiences, and marketing materials.

It’s very important to understand that some people are traditionally included, while others are excluded in fashion and apparel. In Western culture, the norms that are included tend to fall into the same category of what society has chosen as acceptable, or beautiful. Amazing strides have been taken to accept more people into society and include their needs and desires into the fashion world, and yet there are still groups who are typically excluded. Some of those groups are people of color, plus size people, people with differently abled bodies or senses, gender non conforming and the LGBTQ community, elders, and most minority groups.

We can celebrate the great progress the fashion world has made and admit that there is much more work to be done. And there are different ways in which to accomplish that work. In order to include groups and people that are usually excluded, brands and stores can expand their product offerings. A common first way to do that is with more sizes. They can also make their store environments more welcoming or accessible to different types of people with signage, gender neutral fittings rooms, or ADA accessible upgrades.

For some brands, it can be overwhelming to try to serve every kind of person and include a wide range of needs, sizes, and preferences. For example, creating more sizes and colors of a products requires a great deal of financial investment, design updates and fittings, and manufacturers or factories able to produce these sizes. In some cases, brands will make fashion and clothing products targeted to support just those who are usually marginalized. The company ADARA, who specializes in clothing for "Muslim women and other women who love contemporary modest fashion" points out that this can come with the difficulty that they may appear exclusive. In reality, while this means they don’t include everyone, this is still an inclusive practice because they are specifically including those who are most often excluded. 

The Business of Fashion stresses the importance that inclusion is different than diversity, and goes beyond product offerings and into the board room. Writes Chantal Fernandez, in her BOF article, What Can the Fashion Industry Do to Be More Inclusive, “Often in fashion, diversity is superficial, like the casting of different races of people on the runway or in campaigns while the designers and executives calling the shots behind the scenes remain unchanged — and not reflective of the consumers a brand is trying to attract.” She continues, saying “real change can only happen when diverse decision makers and executives are allowed to enter the highest levels of the industry.”

Inclusivity it important in fashion because apparel and how we outwardly show ourselves is a big factor in how we connect with others, and how we express who we are. When certain groups are shut out, forgotten, or unsupported it’s detrimental to their existence, and our culture as a whole. Including people in clothing and apparel choices is a basic form of promoting equality, sharing love, and creating connection and understanding.

Below are a few brands who are practicing inclusion, or taking steps to be more inclusive. These are just one or a few examples from different fashion categories. Some of these brands have been around for ages, and are expanding their offerings. Others are brand new and catering to a group of people whom are typically excluded. And a few have been quietly humming along. Whether it’s in the products they offer, the store experience, or the marketing they use, these brands are taking steps towards a more inclusive world. Each part of fashion and retail has opportunities to step it up!

 

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Plus Size and Mid Size

Parfait
 Parfait

 

Historically, the full figured community has been excluded from fashion styles, shopping options, and price accessibility. Due mostly to the body positive movement, current statistics on clothing size in the USA, and the sheer buying power of this population, the plus size genre of fashion has seen an amazing change in terms of inclusion. There are vocal brands, models, and activists making a real difference. One of the companies to make a new splash in this space is 11 Honoré, which partners with and curates styles from luxury and high end designers, a category reserved for a small size range in the past. According to their website, they are a “size-inclusive shopping site that for the first time ever, gives more women the option to experience the best designer clothing and celebrate and honor their bodies, beauty and style”. The brand has made headlines for its NYFW runway show filled with plus size models of several ages and ethnities, which closed with transgender actress Laverne Cox, as well as the strides the company makes to work with the top luxury designers to expand their size offerings to include the plus size community.

Eugena Delman, the CEO and Co-Founder of Ava James NYC, is on a similar mission to serve women sizes 8-18 with her fashionable dresses and designs. Delman states that the most common sizes are also the most historically overlooked group. She adds, “moreover, as a brand that is started by two Asian women, we wanted our models to have representation in all of our marketing.” Creating different sizes and finding fit and fashion models to suit those designs doesn’t always prove to be easy, though. “It was a challenge finding a patternmaker and factory that was experienced yet willing to work with us given that our sample size started at a size 14”, explains Delman. “Each of our designs underwent an extensive fit process and we had several fittings for each garment which ended up being quite costly (especially since we wanted to produce in NYC for quality purposes).” When it came to casing models, she says the company also faced difficulties. “Not every size 14 woman has the exact same body shape; there is much less variation in body types when you’re looking at 5’11 size 2 models, [so] finding the model with the right “look” for our brand who is in our size in different races turned out to be a much more difficult exercise than we had anticipated.” As with other brands practicing inclusion, the struggle is worth the effort for the community and on a personal level. Delman’s reason for the work: “As an Asian woman, I love seeing women who look like me be celebrated and appreciated for our beauty. In addition, as a businesswoman, I also want to be a role model for other Asian women who have been told that we are great worker bees and not good leaders. Representation matters.”

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Shoes

The first thing that comes to mind for fashion and inclusion is not usually shoes. But it’s a real need for some. Emme Cadeau Inc., creates edgy and comfortable shoes for a broader size range than is typically found in the footwear industry. Their shoe sizes go from US size 5 to US size 14, including half sizes. The brand’s owner, Marcella Gift, points out that most brands go from 6 to 10, and that “there are discussion groups for tall women, curvy women, short women but not a lot for larger feet.” Styles and fit for extended sizes is a great step in the footwear market. Another opportunity for the fashion community to make is to include more shoe options for people with differently abled feet, legs, and bodies.  

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Accessories

Accessories can often be gendered or sized to only suit certain groups of people. Yet they’re often one of the easiest fashion categories for practicing inclusion. Advenurist Backpack Co. was created by Kelly Belknap and his wife Matilda Sandstrom, who didn't want to make specific designs for men and others for women, but wanted all of their products to be unisex. “My wife is an immigrant from Sweden”, says Belknap, “and this idea comes a lot from my wife's home country, where lots of clothes and accessories are worn regularly by both men and women. It was also important for us that people of all different body types and shapes could comfortably wear our backpacks.” 

And he admits that “it makes marketing harder for our brand, and figuring out who to advertise for can be more challenging” but agrees that the effort it worth it in the end because “inclusivity is a responsibility for brands. It's very important for companies to spread the message of equality, kindness, and acceptance. The benefits are getting the chance to make the world a kinder and more welcoming place, where no one has to feel marginalized or out of place.” 

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Lingerie and Underwear

The undergarment industry has undergone a makeover in terms of inclusion, and is ripe for more steps. The Most popular form of inclusion in this type of fashion is size inclusion, with brands expanding or specifically dedicated to cup sizes outside of B-DD and band sizes below 34 and above 40. Companies like Parfait, for example, include cup sizes A-K (in UK sizing) and bands 30-44 in many of their colorful, supportive bras. Other companies focus on one end of the spectrum. Panache, a UK based bra brand makes D cups and up, for example. While The Little Bra Company supports sizes under a C cup.

Another step taken has been offering various skin tones and neutral bras outside of the typical light "nude" most companies used. And for sure, in marketing, lingerie brands are including models of different sizes, ethnic backgrounds and skin tones, and abilities and body types. One way to make change within the industry is with education and discussion, like the Inclusiveness and Intimate Apparel panel at the Curve Lingerie Expo in New York, where various voices came together to remark on the changes in the industry in relation to inclusiveness.

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Adaptive

Another area in which fashion brands are practicing inclusion is in adaptive clothing. Defined as “clothing designed for people with physical disabilities, the elderly, and the infirm who may experience difficulty dressing themselves due to an inability to manipulate closures, such as buttons and zippers, or due to a lack of a full range of motion required for self-dressing”, there are several sub-categories to consider. Zappos, for example, now carries fashion items with easy on/off shoes and sensory friendly clothing, and adaptive jeans with magnetic closures. The ide, say Molly Kettle, Director of Zappos Adaptive, came from a client. “An employee took a call from a customer who shared that her grandson has autism and is unable to use shoes with laces due to the challenges of tying them. It is increasingly difficult to find footwear for his needs as he gets older.” When asked about the importance of this initiative, and how to take steps toward inclusion, she continued: “Being inclusive is an ongoing effort that takes empathy, education (just ask our Advisory Council!), and passion. It also means being open to stepping outside yourself and your needs and immersing yourself in the needs and wants of others..” Those little steps outside of your own experience add up to creating great change that positively impacts those in need around us, and create a more inclusive world.