When we undertook this issue and decided to take a closer look at the fashion industry with a magnifying glass, our initial thoughts were that it must be one of the industries where women truly dominate. But, we were wrong. Very wrong.
As The New York Times said: “Because fashion, an industry dominated by women’s wear and buoyed by female dollars, with an image sold by women to women, is still largely run by men.”
We can’t deny that we weren’t a little deflated.
As Forbes rightfully pointed out, women makeup half of the population and spend three times more on clothing than men. They account for virtually 100% of customers. And yet, only 40% of womenswear fashion brands are designed by women and only 14% of the 50 major fashion brands are run by women.
We decided, rather than write another article about the state of the fashion industry, pinpointing the same old areas that other publications have written about time and time again, that we’d go looking for women that work in the fashion industry to hear their views.
In this issue, you’ll find some insight from women in the industry, and perhaps be surprised at the range of views about women’s role in fashion, beliefs about how competitive the industry is and more.
Women know what women want
One thing that was agreed upon by all of the women we spoke to is that women designers know best how women want to dress and are therefore more in tune with how women want to shop.
We expect that in 2020, the tables may begin to turn in the fashion industry, with more independent design houses popping up, founded by some seriously determined and talented women designers.
Forbes magazine reported that The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) released an industry briefing, calling on the fashion industry to do more than talk-the-talk of diversity and inclusion, but to walk-the-walk as well.
The CFDA’s briefing outlined that in the fashion world, women often resume supporting roles rather than star roles. A report found that opportunities for women in the industry were often found in the marketing, public relations, HR, journalism and retail buyer departments. It seemed to be that the roles and departments with real power and influence, are mainly held by men.
Forbes went on to report that: “Women represent only about 25% of board-level positions at publicly-listed fashion companies. For example, only two women hold seats on LVMH’s executive committee, but one is in the traditionally female-skewing human resources area.”
At Hermés, one seat out of the eight available at the executive table is held by a woman, in the role of comms. At Kering, just one-third of the executive team positions are filled by women, but only one of them manages a fashion brand (Francesa Bellettini, who manages Yves Saint Laurent.)* Note these stats were true as of December 2019
But, there have been great improvements made in other brand houses. Dior appointed its first female designer in 2016 and Givenchy hired a female designer in 2017. LVMH pledged that by 2020, it’s executive positions would represent gender equality.
With this issue lying at the very top of the food chain within brand houses, what is the effect on the customers?
Are female customers being rightfully represented?
Forbes believes that by excluding women from the designer and executive ranks, fashion is also excluding women customers that don’t measure up.
Katie Smith, a retail strategist said: “For the most part, the fashion industry is not representing what its audience looks like. That results in marginalising women who fall outside of its archaic definitions around shape, race, and age.”
What have women done to break into the industry? Well, like Coco Chanel, Norma Kamali, Diane von Furstenberg, and Vera Wang did, many ambitious and passionate female designers have begun starting their own brands to break into the market.
Examples include Sara Blakely, Heid Zac, Elann Zelie, and Miki Agrawal. As well as these, some are embracing the body positivity movement and making sure that ‘real-sized women’ are being represented, such as fashion bloggers Nicolette Mason and Gabi Gregg.
With customers being much more in tune with what they want when they want it and how they are going to get it, the fashion industry is going to need to address some gaps in the market and soon. Nowadays, consumers are looking for brands they can trust and connect with, that are relevant to them and their interests.
In Style.com interviewed Jimmy Choo owner Tamara who said: “Men don’t know what it feels like to walk in our shoes, figuratively and literally. For example, a lot of shoes that men design have great shelf appeal, but are impossible to wear. Our head designer is a woman, so we’re able to think through what the needs are in our lives, and be really specific about how we design into those needs.”
Owner of MILLY clothing said: “Being a female designer, I know how dresses should fit, how important fabrics need to feel on your skin—the shapes that feel sexy, easy, and versatile. My customers often say they love MILLY clothing because of how complementary the garments are to the female body. This connection can be lost when a company is dominated by men.”
Is it surprising that men dominate the fashion industry?
Personally for us at SOCIALight, we thought that fashion would be a place where women had more opportunity, more say and more experience to put forward and would, therefore, hold more leadership in the industry.
However, when looking at female-led brands, many have had to launch their own companies to break into the industry rather than challenge or fight for positions in long-standing well-known design houses.
What is the future of fashion?
As Style.com pointed out that: “In the era of woke consumerism, shoppers are keeping an eye out for more than just the hottest, most Instagrammable designs. They’re also seeking shared social values—think sustainability, ethical manufacturing, and locally sourced products.”
For example, a Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report from 2015 found that 73% of millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings. The same generation behind the peaceful protests of 2019 highlighting the extremities of climate change and campaigning for change.
We don’t see consumers turning away from male-led brands or design houses, nor would we encourage it. However, it is crucial to point out that customers are more likely to seek out brands that represent them, conducting thorough research before purchasing and making informed decisions based on whether a brand aligns with their visions and values.
There have been some exceptional designers heading up design houses, that have left a legacy, creating beautiful pieces of clothes for both men and women. Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein, Christian Dior, Domenico Dolce, and Stefano Gabbana to name a few. Men and women are equally talented and qualified, however, you cannot hide away from the fact that many women feel excluded from the industry both as designers and consumers.
It’s worth having the conversation and taking that discussion into 2020 with the hope of positive change.
We would love to hear from you as fashion industry professionals or fashion consumers. Join the discussion on social media or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org