Kelly Kroger
C&A Mexico
Expert Contributor

Diversity and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry

By Kelly Kroger | Thu, 07/22/2021 - 09:10

The fashion industry has historically been characterized as an industry that promotes stereotypes, discriminates and perpetuates inequalities.

However, over the years, consumers and society became increasingly vocal with a unified call to action: we want equality, freedom, human rights, and inclusion. We want to feel accepted, and comfortable in our own skin. Consumers want to be represented in advertising campaigns, and they demand clothing that adapts to their bodies and styles, so that fashion can truly serve as a means of expression. It’s time for the fashion industry to take a stand in these pressing issues.

Magazine images of models with perfect silhouettes, below-average weight and out-of-this-world perfection are becoming a thing of the past. Communication has become more empathetic and human, giving way to models who represent the real life and diversity of this world, together with all its cultural baggage. Increasingly, we see international brands joining this trend and leaving behind discriminatory stereotypes. But how far do diversity and inclusion go in the fashion industry? Is it the responsibility of brands to promote it and talk about it? And where’s the line between trends and true commitment?

Fashion is a reflection of our society. There’s a global appetite for freedom of expression, as well as inclusion, regardless of skin color, eye shape or pants size. It’s our obligation as representatives of the fashion industry to meet this demand and give consumers what they are seeking.

We can start with the issue of discrimination in our industry. To achieve this, we must go beyond our garments and advertising campaigns to permeate this value in the organizational culture of our companies, touching our employees and supply chains. We must be confident that our business partners throughout the production cycle receive fair and dignified treatment.

We cannot ignore the fact that the words diversity, equity and inclusion are important and meaningful. These values can and should be applied to minorities that traditionally remain out of the spotlight: native peoples, migrants, those with physical and intellectual disabilities, people (men, women and non-binaries) with bodies that do not fall into “norms,” and so many more people that are not easily categorized. In short, the process of inclusion should embrace all minorities.  

We are living in an era of digital and social transformation. Human rights are becoming increasingly entrenched even in those cultures and societies that are most resistant to change. It is disturbing to see radical movements and opposition groups resist equity and equality in an effort to defend privileges of others. Is inclusion an act that offends? History shows us that initial social change may offend some until it becomes the norm. Take for instance integration, and the reaction of some when a person of color was first allowed to sit next to a white person on public transportation in segregated societies.  However, as a society we must become intolerant of intolerance and be part of a global awakening regarding issues such as discrimination, gender equality and climate change.  

At C&A, we have faced resistance to some campaigns, especially on social media, where our narrative of inclusion has received negative comments that border on being offensive. The comments are often directed at the people who appear in the advertising and even toward people who celebrate these types of collections. However, as a brand, we must open forums to everyone, ensuring that our social media profiles are always a place where freedom of expression reigns but also where human dignity is respected. Ensuring that values such as inclusion permeate throughout our organizational culture at all levels is no easy job. It requires careful and systematic work with all audiences, including our business partners, clients and, of course, our employees.

Creating an environment where diversity, equity and inclusion flourish can take years to achieve. It is a path with constant updates and evolution that requires the input and assimilation of ideas and action from  experts in the field. More and more companies are adding specialists to their teams to help promote policies that contribute to creating a safe work environment, both physically and emotionally, for all people.

Since we arrived in Mexico in 1999, our mission has been to offer accessible fashion responsibly, based on three central values: sustainability, inclusion and Mexican talent. We have had important achievements in this regard, such as our non-discrimination policy, having women in more than 40 percent of our leadership positions (proof of this is myself, the first female CEO in the group since its foundation in 1841, or Giny Boer, CEO of C&A Europe, who recently joined the ranks of leading women in this industry), or certifications like being among Best LGBT Workplaces 2021 in the HRC MX Global Labor Equity Program. We joined the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) of UN Women and recently the Global Alliance for Care, also of UN Women and INMujeres. We constantly train our staff to reinforce our values, and we share these values with the general public through our collections and awareness campaigns, such as “RESPECT” and “Feel the Love”. Still, we are learning.

I am convinced that as more brands and companies join this movement, there will be less room for inequalities. From there, we will build better narratives and stories that positively impact our society, especially in the fashion industry, which should serve as a channel of communication and expression for those who wear our garments. We’re all in the process of deconstruction and learning but, doing it together can make the difference.

Photo by:   Kelly Kroger