A Call for Diversity in Women’s Fashion
We need to Stop Making Excuses
Happy International Women’s Day! I thought I would take this opportunity to write a blog post about an issue that I’ve been following along with (listening and learning) for several weeks now on Instagram; the lack of diversity in the slow fashion industry. I was going to publish the article in the week after, ahem, ***that*** Son de Flor incident, but I’m so, so glad that I waited because it would have been a very different article if I published it quickly. I’ve listened to so many different voices and opinions and I’ve quite frankly learnt so much over the last few weeks. It’s taken a while for my white brain to process all of it, and thus my own opinion has changed a whole bunch after having many different conversations (all of which I meant at the time), but I’ve listened, grown, and changed. Here is where I stand now.
Yes, these brands may be doing wonderful things for the planet. Yes, most of these brands are based in Eastern Europe which is a majority white. Yes, these brands may just be using models that are friends and family. But that doesn’t freaking matter. If numerous BIPOC come forward and say that this is wrong and they are hurt by this, then we should listen to them. We shouldn’t make excuses.
We should stand by them and raise their voices. If it’s hurting our fellow women, then we should stand with them in allyship. I’m a white, thin, CIS, straight, young, able-bodied woman. I have no idea what it feels like to not see myself being represented in the media, and I can’t even begin to imagine what that feels like. I can’t pretend to know their struggle. But what I can do is listen when BIPOC say: “I am not represented. No matter what other great things the company are doing, this is not okay.” And I can reply: “Yes you’re right, I hear you.” What I’ve learnt over the past few weeks is that feminism is not just women being equal to men anymore, it’s about women being equal to each other too.
But this article isn’t just about me, it’s also about my wonderful friends Rida, Lucy and Rabya, and the countless others I don’t know so well who have put so much time and effort into calling the lack of diversity out, only to not have the level of support that they should be given.
“I have to say that losing friends over a call for diversity was the hardest thing about the conversations that took place. And yes, they were all white.” says Rida from @beforeandagain_ .
When these women very kindly answered some questions about the topic, the same consensus ran through their answers; that they felt like they were not supported on the platform by some of the women that they would consider friends.
“But I understand why,” says Lucy from @lucylucraft, “because I do the same. It's not easy, or comfortable to join in when you don't have a shorthand for the language being used, or understand the history of the argument. You don't want to get it wrong, and cause further offence.”
Lucy’s words really stuck with me. I think it’s important for me to call out my privilege here. When I first saw Rabya from @sheflourished_’s stories calling out a brand I have previously worn and loved for their lack of representation, the words ‘surely that can’t be right?’ unfortunately ran through my mind. It was an uncomfortable feeling, knowing that because of my privilege I hadn’t noticed the lack of diversity. And it was more uncomfortable to acknowledge my privilege and admit that I hadn’t noticed. But I needed to do it.
As Rabya from @sheflourished said “It’s hard because it shouldn’t have to take me expressing my feelings on Instagram stories to wake people up.”
And she is 100% right, she shouldn’t, but I want to address how important not only Rabya’s Instagram stories have been, but Lucy’s and Rida’s too in this ongoing discussion. Because I have been listening intently to what they all have to say, I’ve been learning. I’ve been learning about how my feminism can, and needs to be more inter-sectional. I’ve learnt that I’m still learning how to be a better feminist, and I probably will be for the rest of my life. Agreed, it is not their job to teach white people how to be inter-sectional, but their words have really pushed me to do my own research and question a lot of my thinking.
Unfortunately, not everyone was comfortable with the lack of representation being called out. Not only did a lot of white fragility begin to show, but a lot of hatred and abuse was thrown at the women who were brave enough to call it out. From being accused of “attacking and bullying” (Rabya, @sheflourished_) to threats, as Rida saw some of her friends experiencing. Whilst Lucy, Rabya and Rida all agreed that they weren’t surprised by the hatred, Rida was surprised by the extremity of it “It is scary to think that they've been nesting in among our seemingly safe spaces on IG. But reflecting on the fact that the community I am most part of, is 98% white/straight womxn, so maybe I shouldn't be shocked at the fact they hid amongst the whiteness of our spaces.”
White women; we need to do better. But what can we do?
How can we be an ally rather than a white saviour? I asked Rida, Lucy and Rabya what they would say to white women who see injustice but choose to stay quiet, and I’m including their full answers, word for word, below.
“I would say to all womxn, all people that have a following on IG, especially if it's a big following, please don't hide behind saying that you don't talk about politics (this was said to me a LOT by many many IGers). Your privilege is allowing you to hide behind those words and it IS a political stance to not make a statement and not defend marginalised folx. We have to be in together, hand in hand, arm in arm...with our flowers, swishy skirts and cameras...we are in a time that we can't not stand up for others. It causes so much more harm than you know, when you hide behind your privilege and ignore the struggles and pain of those who aren't see or heard.
The only other thing I would add is a huge thank you to all the awesome, supportive and loving humans who formed a circle of safety around me. I truly believe it was the call for love to come and hold me up when I didn't even know I would need it, that got me through and protected me. They, you! protected me and our voices. Thank you from the utmost deepest part of my heart because it means everything.” – Rida, @beforeandagain_
“I talk about it quite a lot on Instagram; it's better to say something clumsily than nothing at all. The choice to stay silent when it feels scary is exactly that, it is a choice - one those with a visible difference can't make. I include myself in this as I pass for white, so can choose to play up my whiteness in order to feel safe, or comfortable. Think about where you draw your allyship line and try to expand. ALSO, you don't have to be loud. It can be about doing the work quietly, in private too - reading books, watching films and listening to podcasts by POC, LGBTQIA+ folk and differently abled people too. And making sure you follow a diverse crowd on Instagram is key; that was a fundamental shift in my thinking, for sure!_ - Lucy, @lucylucraft
“To find a way to harness their power, because they’ve got it. I’m not saying everyone needs to become an activist. A good way to start is to lean into those feelings that may make you feel uncomfortable or keep you quiet, ask yourself why, and see where that leads. Maybe you feel awkward because you feel complicit, or simply overwhelmed and powerless. Whatever the case it’s good to sit with those feelings and seek out knowledge in how to move forward. I’m not asking for white folx to take up the loudspeakers and start protesting, just to take upon yourself to listen and learn so that maybe one day you can spot a lack of diversity with your favourite brand, or that talking panel, or influencer event, or exec board, or your peer group etc.
I guess my final point to this is it's not feminism if it’s not inter-sectional. We’ll smash the patriarchy when we are on an equal footing, and we can’t get there if we’re blinkered. That’s why #representationmatters” – Rabya @sheflourished
So on International Women’s Day before you post that inspirational quote, or that photo of you in your feminist t-shirt, acknowledge how you’re not perfect and admit the fact that you are still learning how to make your feminism include every type of woman. SAY IT WITH YOUR WHOLE CHEST.
I’m still learning how I can be more inter-sectional. I’m still learning about how to incorporate marginalised communities into my feminism in a better way. Of course, my fundamental belief is that ALL WOMEN should be equal not only to men, but to each other. But I’m still learning how to put those beliefs into practice. And that’s okay, because with enough research and listening, I will get there. As Jameela Jamil has said, I’m a feminist-in-progress.
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