Not All White

Is New Zealand fashion diverse enough? We ask our power panel


Ashish at London Fashion Week was the most diverse show of the season, according to The Fashion Spot. Picture / Getty

The short answer is no: the local fashion industry is not diverse enough when it comes to representation of race, sexuality, age and size. While here and overseas there have been moves in the right direction - older models being featured more frequently by brands and magazines, and discussions of gender fluidity more common - there are still huge improvements to be made. Internationally, the level of diversity on the runway seems to change every season. Buzzfeed recently questioned the lack of colour on the runway last month at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia (47 shows, with only two Aboriginal models), while at the recent Fall 2015 shows, 80 per cent of models on the runway were white according to The Fashion Spot. Locally I get the sense that it’s easier for designers and magazine editors to talk about diversity than actually do something about it. Look at the shelves of the magazine aisle at your local supermarket; do you see a non-white face? Generic white brunettes and blondes still prevail when it comes to cover images. But that doesn't sit well given the diverse faces in our communities (in the 2013 NZ Census, 74 per cent of people identified as European ethnicity, 15 per cent as Maori, 12 per cent Asian, 7 per cent Pacific). Black magazine deserves credit for their continued support of models of various ethnicities, as does Mindfood Style for their recent cover featuring Chinese model Louise Wong (although that is one of four). No magazine is perfect - Viva included - but it’s those teams, designers and model agencies genuinely making an effort to be inclusive that will shape the future of our industry.

Is New Zealand fashion diverse enough? We asked some of our power panel their point of view.

LEILANI MOMOISEA

Not just New Zealand fashion, but fashion in general, isn't diverse enough. I'd love to see an entire magazine filled with women of colour, and for that to be as normal as it is now when we see an entire magazine filled with white models. In other words, I'd like models to be more representative of what my group of friends and I look like, more representative of what Auckland actually looks like, and what New Zealand looks like. I'd like to see women my age and size wearing the clothes that brands are trying to sell me. The look of a 15 year old model is not aspirational to me. I suppose that's what's so great about social media, I can search out, and take inspiration from, women and men all over the world, of all different shapes and sizes and ethnic backgrounds. Lonely is an example of a local brand showing more diversity in the people they choose to showcase their clothes. I know this is something that brands are thinking about and utilising already on Instagram, but it would be great to have more diversity in images that go out to the masses, on billboards, magazines, etc. as well as social media. And the hope is that diversity itself would not be seen as a trend, but would become the norm.

GEORGIE CLATWORTHY

I believe we have produced a spectrum of New Zealand designers that possess contrast and have obtained global brand recognition. I’m not sure we deal to the cultural diversity that exists here in NZ as well as we could. As always it is vital to support the emerging talent with a capital investment strategy and key mentoring.

DIANNE LUDWIG

The New Zealand fashion industry, as is the case internationally, has a way to go before it can be considered diverse enough. And diversity does matter. Even at a purely economic level to appeal to different potential markets fashion needs to be reflective of who actually buys it.

Michael Hill’s new We’re For Love campaign — which moves away from the white heterosexual stereotype seems new — and yet it shouldn’t. Using a selection of people selected from the streets of New York, it has a range of races and sexualities, but it avoids getting too real, no plus size people here. But small steps in the right direction.

While public pressure can make a difference, the only real change will be when brands wake up to the opportunity that diversity presents. On a positive note it’s heartening to see a wider range of people graduating from the local fashion design degrees, and taking employment in the industry. Although it will take time for them to filter into leadership roles or start their own labels, it’s a step in the right direction.

MICHAEL HOOKER

Not in my opinion, it's very Eurocentric, but merely a reflection of the industry globally. Most agencies in New Zealand have a token black model or a few Asian / Maori models but that's about all sadly. I think there is far more room for diversity. Since we all live and work in a global market this should reflect in all industries . I also think with social media being at the forefront of direct marketing and advertising to consumers, all genres need to be catered too. I hope we will see more change soon.

KATHERINE LOWE

The New Zealand fashion industry is quite small generally speaking, so there is definitely room for diversity. There is definitely more talk about diversity, but maybe not as much action as there could be. Obviously it is difficult to use a variety of sizes of models when samples sizes are quite restrictive, but I think there is huge room for more racial diversity in casting — not only in New Zealand, but worldwide. I think that the fact that more people are discussing racial equality (and gender equality) lately is only a positive thing.

JO KNIGHT

New Zealand fashion is black and drapey, like Rick Owens visited and never left. That’s the style set, anyway. The majority of New Zealanders dress too functionally: fleece zip-up jackets with dodgy pants and practical shoes or we look like we are off to the gym/yoga. Clothes should be fun and say something about us. I would love to see more craftsmanship in New Zealand fashion – beautiful pattern cutting and finishing in beautiful fabrics. There are modern ways to translate this craft into cool clothes that suit our lifestyle here. We have access to the world via the internet but sometimes there is nothing like living and breathing the old school industry like in London, France and Italy. We have an opportunity here to be a hub of creativity because we are protected from the mass market to a degree and so we should harness our individuality.

YASMINE GANLEY

There has definitely been a recent shift in attitude surrounding the idea of diversity in the fashion industry. Recent internationally acclaimed examples such as Joan Didion for Celine, Mariacarla Boscono photographed with her daughter in Givenchy's Spring 2013 campaign by Mert & Marcus, Oroma Elewa for Pop’Africana, designer Grace Wales Bonner, Cass Bird shooting #supersubjects for Vogue, even marriage equality and Bruce Jenner becoming a woman, are not only helping to break down the doors of previously pre-conceived ideas about fashion and it's role in society, they're also the social changes that are influencing diversity to be filtered throughout the fashion industry.

Consumption of this sort of news and imagery is fast these days, we can all be exposed to the same things, we're not as isolated as we think we are. I think our local fashion industry is responding to these social changes just as fast as the rest of the world is. Overall, I hope that the reaction becomes as fast as the consumption.

In terms of diversity in age and sexuality, I would like to see our local industry nurturing the new generation a little more. Delegation, collaboration, and credit where credit is due is essential in the overall attitude of your team. Diversity needs to be supported and celebrated in order to exist. We're little in comparison to some of the main fashion hubs of the world, so in order for diversity to live and breathe throughout our own industry, we need to show our support to the people who are standing out on a limb and going the extra mile to make these things happen.

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