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We Catch Up With Shakaila Forbes-Bell

Courtesy of Shakaila Forbes-Bell

How would you explain "inclusive fashion" to someone?

Inclusivity is the act of ensuring that people from all walks of life have the ability to see themselves in reflected fashion — in images , on the runway, and while shopping for garments. That means showcasing different ethnicities, gender identities and body types. Those who grace runways and fashion images are often regarded as the beauty standard. When the industry isn’t representative or inclusive it sends a message that everyone who doesn’t fit into a particular mold is less than. This positioning has been proven to greatly negatively impact those who are excluded. There are psychological implications related to mental well-being, self-esteem and, for some, a general discomfort in their own skin. “Inclusive fashion” represents the process of creating systemic transformation, changing the practices of designers, editors, creatives and fashion and retail professionals towards building a truly representative industry.

What is "fashion psychology?" and how does it help us understand the fashion world today?

Fashion psychology is the practice of applying psychological principles to every aspect of the fashion industry. It explores topics such as the psychological impact of fashion on human behaviour and the links between other facets of the industry including design, production, consumption, donation and disposal. This also includes the psychological impact associated with compulsive spending and over consumption. From an environmental perspective, a fashion psychologist may study how certain beliefs and behaviours drive sustainable fashion practices.

What do you make of the rise and popularity of women like Paloma Elsesser and Precious Lee (who we love!)? Would you say seeing them marks progress in regards to representation in fashion?

While the industry has made steady progress, such as the time Paloma Elsesser was named model of the year, the reality is there’s still a lot of work to be done. In Canada, according to Statista, the size-inclusive market represents 68 per cent of shoppers. That means the fashion industry is still really far away from truly representing its customers. Models like Paloma Elsesser and Precious Lee have certainly made waves and opened doors for others like them to be seen and hired. We imagine the future of the runway will showcase even more models of varying body types.

Why is representation in fashion and places like NYFW so important?

Representation in fashion can have a positive impact on an individual’s self-concept and confidence by fostering more realistic and inclusive beauty standards. People seeing themselves reflected by the “power brokers” of beauty and style can positively influence their mental health and well-being. This can have a ripple effect to help create a more inclusive society for future generations. Yet, it wasn’t until recently that NYFW was opened to the public either. As the multi-year presenting sponsor of NYFW, Afterpay is opening up the doors to this once exclusive event through dedicated consumer events. Now that we’re seeing more diverse designers like 11 Honoré, Sergio Hudson and Telfar to models like Devyn Garcia, Marquita Pring and Lauren Chan, that everyday consumers can actually connect to. A higher degree of inclusivity on the runways will have a great impact on the mental health and well-being of so many, and have a ripple effect to help create a more inclusive society for future generations.

How does inclusivity in fashion impact other aspects of our culture?

It impacts all aspects — people seeing themselves reflected in the definitions of beauty and fashion can have a positive influence on their self-concept and emotional well-being. Fashion imagery influences society’s perceptions of beauty, style and whose voices are most influential, really affecting every aspect of our culture. My research has proven that people feel more aligned to brands that are more inclusive. Seeing yourself reflected in fashion imagery can encourage you to try different styles and explore brands you previously may have felt “weren’t for people like you”, thus providing you with the opportunity to be more expressive with your wardrobe.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in achieving total inclusivity in fashion? Can we get there?

Inclusivity isn’t something we can always see, and I think the biggest challenge is making sure systemic change is deep and meaningful, and not just tokenism. It means that everyone on a project is paid fairly, regardless of their age, race, gender or ability. That also means ensuring everyone is safe, happy and comfortable on set. Additionally, inclusivity needs to happen behind the scenes. It isn’t just about checking boxes for the more visible parts of the industry — the parts of the industry we can’t see should be just as inclusive and diverse as the parts we can see.

Who are the designers you would highlight as champions for inclusivity? What makes their work special?

Definitely 11 Honoré. Instead of waiting for the industry to transform into a more diverse and representative place, the brand is diving forward with their ‘plus-sized first’ business model, recognizing the importance of the loyal community they’ve built. Their work is special because they prioritize the wearer. 11 Honoré brings whimsy and eye-catching hues to elevate striking wardrobe staples for a segment of the population that is often forgotten by the industry. Afterpay is proud to be the presenting partner of 11 Honoré’s FW22 RTW show.

Sergio Hudson, who has dressed Vice President Kamala Harris, former First Lady Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and JLo, also comes to mind. Afterpay was proud to present Sergio Hudson’s “See Now, Buy Now” collection, which also gave consumers a front row seat to shop the collection from home. Sergio Hudson is an example of how diversity in the designer space drives diversity on the runway. He aims to carve a path not only for himself, but for Black designers to follow in his footsteps.

What can designers, amateur and legacy, do today to champion diversity in fashion?

Designers can employ diversity in all parts of their business. Including diverse folks in the creative process and behind the camera lens is just as important. Doing so is the first step towards welcoming new ideas and different perspectives and creating space for that in their storytelling. They can lead by example by standing up against discrimination and acting as a mentor to those who do not have the same points of access to the industry.


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