Kate Wasley Called Fashion Week Out For A Gross Lack Of Diversity In 2021 — Here’s Where She Stands Today
I walked into Australian Fashion Week this year with low expectations due to the lack of diversity and inclusion I witnessed at the 2021 event. Last year, Fashion Week copped backlash due to its blatant lack of diversity in almost all of its shows. The criticism was swift and fast on social media, with showgoers and models (myself included) sharing their serious disappointment at the sheer lack of diversity on the runway yet again.
So, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But, here I am. And I'm happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by most brands.
For years, we've seen fashion week in New York, London and Milan deliver the size diversity we all want and need. But when questioned about why Australia wasn’t delivering the same in our fashion shows, I was met with ‘Australia is always a few steps behind the rest of the world’, which just didn’t cut it for me. Why? When we have instant access to what’s happening in all corners of the world at any given moment, it didn’t make sense.
This year, however, I've been feeling so proud to see the women, men, trans and gender-diverse people and models with disabilities owning those runways like they belong. That’s the real sense I got from this year's shows — that I felt like I finally belong in the fashion world (despite having been a model for years).
I'd be lying if I said that every show was diverse, though. There were multiple brands that used exclusively slim models despite offering clothing up to a size 16 — and then there was the ‘Future of Fashion’ runway show. That was marketed as "celebrat[ing] diversity, inclusion and accessibility on the runway" and the casting call read, "Casting is about storytelling. The brief is to find a diverse array of people that kind of represent all walks of life". Turns out, by ‘kind of’ they meant unless you're over an AU size 10. For a show that was sponsored by Fenty, arguably one of the most diverse brands we've ever seen, I was so disappointed by what seemed to me, to be a blatantly tokenistic show. For a show called the Future of Fashion, they seem to be stuck in the past.
The following day, we were graced with an adaptive fashion show. The show received a standing ovation for its inclusion of models in wheelchairs, models using assistive walking devices and models with prosthetics wearing JAM & Christina Stephens, whose mission is to create stylish and functional fashion pieces for people living with disabilities.
And then we had The Curve Edit, a show that included six Australian size-inclusive brands (17 Sundays, Saint Somebody, Embody Women, Vagary, Harlow and Zaliea Designs) modelled exclusively by plus-size women. My instant reaction when I heard there was going to be a dedicated curve show was excitement — finally, curvy brands and women would be represented. However, this was followed by slight disappointment, the same disappointment you feel when you’re browsing an online store that claims to be inclusive, only to discover that the separate ‘curve’ section doesn’t stock any of the same styles you saw in the straight size section.
It was a feeling of separation. I know some people don’t agree but, in my ideal world, the amazing inclusive brands would have their own shows and all of the brands showing at AAFW would cater to people of all sizes. But still, here we are and what we saw this year is a good place to start.
The energy in the room at The Curve Edit was electric, and the show was met with cheers and a lot of happy tears. I saw first-hand how powerful and important size diversity is.
To the brands that embraced diversity in all forms — well done! I don’t think it can be properly expressed how much that means to people to see themselves represented. As for the casting directors that chose not to be inclusive, I want to remind you that fashion should be for everyone. Everyone deserves to have choices, to be seen. Ticking a box with one token model isn’t enough — and it certainly isn’t the future of fashion.