these students are going to make diversity in fashion a reality
Forget boring gender tropes and cookie-cutter model casting. The award-winning next gen are calling for diversity, now!
Damini Deshwal, Pearl Academy of New Delhi
This article was originally published by i-D UK
To uncover the most talented fashion students, determined to radically change the industry from within, i-D has teamed up with the award-winning diversity campaign All Walks for the fifth year in a row. We're championing the next generation of designers, stylists, photographers and filmmakers, and their vision of a fashion industry that celebrates people of all sizes, shapes, skin tones, ages, abilities, ethnicities and genders. The future looks good!
All Walks work with fashion schools across the UK, through specially-designed diversity modules built into fashion programmes and the annual Diversity NOW! competition. In 2017, for the first time ever, it was opened up to the whole world, and entries were submitted from 76 colleges internationally, via portfolio website Arts Thread.
So who won? The 2017 People's Choice vote, hosted by i-D and chosen by you, has been claimed by Damini Deshwal, a fashion design student at the Pearl Academy of New Delhi. Damini captured the imagination of i-D readers with her collection of sarees for men. She tells i-D that the idea came to her after reading a question posted on Quora by a man asking if it would be OK for him to wear a saree, and listing his 'imperfect' features. Her designs seek to "celebrate a man's body the way it is, a human's body the way it is, the acceptance of the inner soul that does not have a gender at all, the curiosities that have no border".
On winning the People's Choice vote, Damini tells i-D: "In an industry [such] as fashion, which reflects our society on different levels and works for society, it becomes a responsibility to involve the people that form our society. We've long been pushing people to adhere to the image of 'perfection', which makes it even more crucial today to break the stereotypes that exist in fashion, in order to celebrate and love our differences."
"India has a beautiful mix of infinite varieties, with so many religions coming together, language and art forms, and a combination of all the physical features coming together that makes me even more certain that embracing different faces, different bodies, different ideas, different people makes us rich as human beings," she adds.
Taking second place in the People's Choice vote is design student Josephine Partridge, in collaboration with photographer Harrison France, both from Leeds College of Art, who submitted an editorial celebrating and de-stigmatising female body hair. Josephine tells i-D that diversity in fashion is important to her after spending her teenage years "seeking power and validation by conforming to the behaviour and trends of the majority".
"I feel the Photoshopped fashion campaigns, sexist music videos, and derogatory gossip 'fashion' magazines I was exposed to warped my self-image, yet I was totally oblivious for years," Josephine explains, noting that "reinforced gender stereotypes taught me being 'beautiful' should be my fundamental ambition as a female; adverts taught me I can and should always improve my body to fit into 'one box' of beauty; and my body was sexualised too young". "These are some of the pressures I continue to find oppressive as a woman, however there is oppression that runs even deeper for others on intersectional levels i.e, race, size, gender and more," she continues. Photographer Harrison adds that they are proud to have created work that is "continue[s] the campaign of breaking down stereotypes, in order to accept beauty in all ages, sizes, genders, race and physical abilities".
Alongside the People's Choice vote, two students have been recognised by All Walks' co-founder Debra Bourne. The Co-Founder's Choice winner is Raul Castilla, who studies fashion styling at Istituto Marangoni in London. Raul submitted an editorial focused on diverse representations of masculinity, explaining that: "Coming from a 'macho' society where men in general fit into one defined stereotype, in London I have seen there are no rules or set standards in expressing yourself according to gender."
Of the award, All Walks' Debra Bourne says, "Raul reminds us all that masculinity is a plural, not a singular ideal. Reflecting contemporary discussions around gender presentation, along with his own personal journey, his thoughtful and nuanced set of stylised fashion images express a sensitivity to the nuances of masculine representation".
The Co-founder's Choice runner-up is Maame Appiah, a fashion design student at UCA Rochester. Maame noted in her entry that, while the industry is moving towards diverse representation, "there is still a bias towards light skinned Caucasian features and slim bodies". Questioning why 'nude' always has to mean pale, Maame created an outfit in a 'nude' shade for a dark skin tone, also using the silhouette to exaggerate and idealise wider hips. "My outfit is about self love, loving the body and its surface," she explains.
Debra says, "Fashion's definition of nude as a Caucasian skin tone is an important issue to challenge. Maame thoughtfully addresses this by celebrating both the model's skin tone and body shape, whilst achieving a contemporary elegant aesthetic".
Congratulations to all the winners and finalists, and to the hundreds more students who submitted their work. Keep showing the industry your diverse visions of beauty, individuality and style, because fashion is boring when everybody looks the same!