Unraveling the Layers of Diversity and Inclusivity in Fashion

Diversity and inclusivity in fashion aren't just about size and fit; they also cover aspects like physical abilities, gender, and age.

Key takeaways:

  • People with disabilities and older individuals are hardly considered in fashion, with very few represented in commercial campaigns and shows. 
  • Although gender-fluid clothing is in high demand, particularly among Gen Z, it’s still hard for consumers to find these items in their size.


In 2018, the Victoria’s Secret fashion shows waved goodbye to their traditional format after declining viewers and criticism for promoting outdated beauty ideals. [1] Similarly, other brands like Abercrombie & Fitch faced backlash for promoting a predominantly white concept of attractiveness and fashion. [2] 

Since then, the fashion industry has slowly begun to change, with brands embracing inclusivity in size and fit, and magazine covers reflecting this diverse beauty. Yet, as commonly acknowledged, a book cannot be accurately judged by its cover, nor can a winter outfit be defined only by a stylish coat.

Peeling back layers reveals the essence of a good book, the elegance of an outfit, or in our case, the multifaceted nature of diversity and inclusivity in the industry, which goes beyond size and fit and encompasses many other aspects. Let’s delve into them together and discover how brands are actively working to drive change.  


Layer 1: Physical ability 

Reflect for a moment: when did you last see a model in a wheelchair featured in a fashion brand’s commercial? Or heard someone worrying about individuals with epilepsy or visual impairments at fashion shows? 

Chances are, you’ve seen this only a few times, if ever because the fashion industry hardly considers people with disabilities. A report by Zebedee Talent, a modeling agency for disabled individuals, highlights that even in a pioneering country like the United Kingdom, they feature in just 0.02% of fashion campaigns. [3]  Indeed, designers barely consider how their collections fit those with limited mobility, prosthetics, or sensory sensitivities. [4]

But, luckily, the „barely“ we used up here isn’t random. Brands such as Target, Nike, and JCPenney are beginning to introduce adaptive products – clothing and items designed specifically for people with disabilities. Tommy Hilfiger, for instance, launched his stylish Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive line in 2017, which currently stands out as one of the most fashionable options available. [5] 

Additionally, platforms like Zalando are stepping up with an impressive range of accessible products, including sensory-friendly fabrics, wheelchair-compatible fits, and shoes for prostheses. [6] 


Layer 2: Gender 

In 2019, 56% of Gen Z consumers defied conventional fashion norms by venturing „outside their assigned gendered area“, as highlighted by Rob Smith, founder of Phluid Project. [7] 

Gender-fluid fashion transcends traditional boundaries, empowering individuals to dress authentically. It’s not solely about brands or designers; it’s about personal empowerment and challenging traditional gender norms in fashion.

As brands progress in offering gender-neutral clothing, a significant issue looms: the sizing and fit dilemma. Coming from a one-size-fits-all approach and reliance on binary sizing, this obstacle leaves consumers struggling to find well-fitting clothing. [8] 


Layer 3: Age

“As is the case of color, size, or gender dissidence, the problem of fashion for older people is one of representation” journalist Rafa Rodríguez points out. [9] 

They frequently find themselves portrayed in ways that mask their age, accompanied by ads promoting „anti-aging“ products. This perpetuates society’s negative bias towards aging and marginalizes older women within the industry.  

But change is in the air! Look at the incredible Maggie Smith, stealing the spotlight for Loewe at 88, or the iconic Charlotte Rampling, captivating audiences at 77 with Massimo Dutti.


What’s the next layer? 

There are still many layers yet to be tackled within the fashion industry and beyond. Come along as we delve deeper into these challenges in our upcoming article on inclusive design.  


[1]  “Why the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show Was Canceled”, Variety, available at:  https://variety.com/2019/tv/news/victorias-secret-fashion-show-canceled-why-1203413186/ 

[2] “Discrimination was their brand: how Abercrombie & Fitch fell out of fashion”, The Guardian, available at:  https://www.theguardian.com/film/2022/apr/19/abercrombie-fitch-netflix-documentary-fashion-discrimination 

[3] “Why is fashion so afraid of disabled models?”, Dazed, available at: https://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/60230/1/disabled-representation-on-the-runway-fashion-campaign-catwalk-curve-poc-trans 

[4] “This Is What’s Missing in Fashion’s Inclusivity Movement”, Vogue, available at: https://www.vogue.com/article/whats-missing-in-inclusivity-movement-adaptive-fashion-disabled-community 

[5] This Is What’s Missing in Fashion’s Inclusivity Movement”, Vogue, available at: https://www.vogue.com/article/whats-missing-in-inclusivity-movement-adaptive-fashion-disabled-community

[6] “Germany Fashion – Inclusivity and Diversity Market Report 2023”, Mintel, available at: https://store.mintel.com/report/germany-fashion-inclusivity-and-diversity-market-report 

[7] What is gender-fluid clothing? Fashion industry experts explain. https://www.nbcnews.com/select/shopping/gender-fluid-clothing-ncna1270831

[8] “Gender-neutral fashion has a sizing problem”, Vogue, available at: https://www.voguebusiness.com/fashion/gender-neutral-fashion-has-a-sizing-problem 

[9] “The problem of fashion for women over 50”, El País, available at: https://english.elpais.com/lifestyle/2023-12-10/the-problem-of-fashion-for-women-over-50.html