What works to support diversity in the creative industries? Insights from roundtable 2 of the APPG for Creative Diversity

By the APPG for Creative Diversity team

June 25, 2020

Our second roundtable concentrated on the fashion sector. Fashion is a complex industry – and it is this complexity which gave the session an eclectic range of perspectives. It was important to hear the different dynamics within each part of the supply chain - from who designs and who makes, to who sells and who wears - but also to hear the issues common to all of the speakers’ perspectives on ‘what works’ to improve and support diversity. Many of these issues, and the ways to address them, echoed the opening session. 

One core issue was internships and the associated problem of pay. Even programmes that felt they were doing well, or were discussed as examples of good practice, were aware of the impact of internships on the pipeline into organisations. The British Fashion Council has guidelines on employing interns, which is a starting point for action on this issue. However, there is much more to do to make sure internship programmes reflect the diversity of British society. Fair pay, for example the London Living Wage, is an essential part of supporting diversity. 

‘Getting in’ was central to ideas for a changing industry. However, this discussion was not limited to internships. Making sure a diverse slate of candidates offered to businesses is crucial, removing the excuse of not having seen the right candidates in order to hire them. 

Changing organisational culture matters too. Often the story from ethnic minorities in fashion is of being ‘the only one’ on a course, in an office, or on a shoot and the added burden of representation that this entails. In particular, the often-quoted phrase that ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ matters, as for larger organisations there is a mismatch between diversity at entry level and a monocultural senior staff. 

Changing a slate of candidates, and ensuring career paths from entry to senior levels can be difficult in the fashion industry. The high levels of microbusinesses and freelancing, coupled with fast turnaround times and the importance of being ‘in’ with the right networks mean hiring can be based on who is already known or a familiar face in the industry. On this, the solution can be alternative networks, which are set up to make people visible to decision-makers. 

Better diversity in hiring directly connects to the issue of representation - a core subject for discussion. On this point, there were several examples given of how changing the key decision-makers and gatekeepers had an immediate pay-off in terms of representation. For example, journalists getting commissions and models getting magazine covers. 

Fashion is still, sadly, driven by standards and assumptions that do not reflect society as it is, and also misrecognise the nature of who is buying. Often the diversity of consumers is over-looked and fashion is designed without accessibility considerations, for example zips and buttons can prove a challenge for those with particular disabilities.  These assumptions about bodies and consumers shape what is designed, who is designing, and how marketing is conducted. All of these are areas that see a lack of diverse representation within the industry.  

In order to change outdated standards and assumptions, we need a change in industry culture but also data. Good data on the entire industry workforce can be difficult to find. Whilst media reports have usefully focused on catwalks and shows, we need more information on the wider workforce, in areas such as design, production, and retail. Data allows organisations to set performance indicators and targets for change, as well as being used to hold individuals and organisations to account. 

Data is also important to consumers. It allows consumers to understand what brands are really doing, rather than just saying, about diversity. A more informed set of choices about the process of making and selling clothes is another part of changing the industry. 

These issues are not just the preserve of organisations. Public policy has a role to play in supporting the fashion industry. As part of this, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Textiles and Fashion is working on specific recommendations and a potential white paper, which will be an important part of establishing ‘what works’ to support diversity across the industry. 

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For more information about the APPG for Creative Diversity, please contact Alex Pleasants (co-secretariat) on diversityappg@gmail.com.

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