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Diversity Forum Live 2019: Let’s talk about diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry

Picture of diverse women in suits
Picture of diverse women in suits

Written by
Michelle A. and Alexandra R.
Published date
12 June 2019

London College of Fashion, UAL recently hosted Diversity Forum Live 2019, an event organised by Glam Africa magazine focused on inclusion and diversity within beauty, business, media and fashion. Gabriela Daniels, programme director for science courses at LCF and senior lecturer on MSc Cosmetic Science, and Niamh McEnery, senior lecturer on BA (Hons) Fashion Public Relations and Communications, joined the discussions as LCF representatives to explain how higher education institutions can encourage students to have conversations around these topics. We spoke to them to hear more about how LCF is championing diversity in the classrooms.

Niamh McEnery - Inclusivity in PR and Communications

What comes to mind when you think about diversity?

When we talk about diversity, it speaks of how everybody is different – for example, ethnicity, where we’re from, our cultures, our religions, whether we have straight or curly hair... That’s what diversity is, ensuring that everyone is included. It’s about having these conversations, and making sure that this dialogue is constant.

How do you think you're encouraging these conversations through your course?

Diversity reaches out to absolutely everybody, whether it’s within your job or general life, purchasing items, reading or consuming knowledge from the media. In relation to our course, it’s really relevant – our students need to know what’s going on around them, what topics are being discussed in the sector, and how it affects their roles in PR.

When we have guest speakers we make sure that we bring in people from across the sector, but also from different cultural backgrounds, with different knowledge and different experiences to draw from.

Do you think this is a conversation that your students are wanting to hear?

It’s a conversation that we definitely have in the units we run. When you create a PR campaign you are concentrating on who your target consumer is, just like brands look at who their target market is: are they millennials, do they live in south London, do they shop here or there... It’s about who they identify as, their tribes.

As an institution, we need to make sure we're opening these opportunities for students to explore diversity and having these conversations in our classrooms.

Can you think of an example of a brand, from a communications and PR perspective, which is championing diversity?

That’s a really hard question, because I don’t think anyone is doing it really well yet! But, for example, Dove has covered the underground walls with their latest campaign, and it's amazing to see they are using real people and celebrating that we’re all unique. Has Dove always done this successfully? No. But the point is, they’re asking the questions and reviewing the dialogues. Diversity has to be part of the DNA, part of the corporation, part of the brand and it has to be an ongoing effort to make a brand more inclusive.

Are there any last thoughts you’d like to share about the Diversity Forum Live event?

The event today has really inspired me. I would like to see my students more involved in this conversation, because even though it was beauty focused, it was still really relevant across all sectors. If this is a dialogue which can be incorporated into their learning, then all the better!

Gabriela Daniels - Diversity in Beauty and Cosmetic Science

What does diversity mean within the cosmetics industry?

Different racial skin and hair types are unique in their needs, and obviously they each change with age as well, which means you can’t just make one universal product. Also, some companies have started to investigate scientifically the sensorial qualities of products they make,  in relation to how different racial groups, in different climates, might respond to such products.

Hair is another big area for the cosmetics industry. The needs of people with different racial hair are so vastly diverse, that it is really important to study and develop more suitable products for everyone.

How is the MSc trying to champion diversity in the classrooms?

In our course we look to ensure that our curriculum subject knowledge reflects the diversity of our markets. For example, when we teach skincare, we present equal amounts of information about different skin types. We also try to get students to participate in the discussion by telling us about themselves and their skin and hair.

Can you think of any brands that are approaching diversity in a positive way?

In terms of cosmetics, I particularly like the Dove campaigns about different bodies. I feel like they were one of the first brands to start showing women of all shapes and sizes. Previously, there was too much compliance with the view that everything to do with the body should be about making people slimmer, unrealistically slim and shiny. But Dove started with this campaign saying their products are actually just fun and for everyone.

We need to remember that beauty has to reflect age diversity too. This goes across all races, because there are different assumptions of what age should look like. Beauty should be for everybody.

Are there any last thoughts you’d like to share about the Diversity Forum Live event?

I think the panel had some great insights into how businesses, communities and not-for-profit organisations are tackling the need for diversity in the workplace and in a commercial context. What was most inspiring was the thought that, actually, there is no need to expect everything to happen at management level.

It’s more about what each person does within their own context to be a role model. In my case, educating the students to better understand everyone’s needs. Through the course I can help my students, who are the future industry leaders, to understand that diversity is the norm.

About Diversity Forum Live 2019

Celebrating its second edition this year, the aim of Diversity Forum Live is "to get people to think differently about the topic of diversity, and to get them to consider their own responsibilities in this area, whether it’s at work or on a personal level," as Narjice Basaran, Head of Marketing for Glam Africa, explains. Through 5 panels tackling different questions around diversity and inclusivity in areas like marketing, fashion design, cosmetics and advertising, the forum has been conceived as "a safe space where people could ask questions they would otherwise be too scared to ask," according to Chioma Onwutalobi, CEO of Glam Africa.

As well as the panellists who attended the event and explained what they're individually doing in their roles to champion diversity, Chioma reminds us that we all play a very important role in the fight for inclusivity: "Everyone needs to make an active effort, even it it's in their small groups of friends. Talk about these things, and make sure people know they can talk back. Share the message and focus on spreading a constructive conversation about diversity."

This year's event came to an end with some homework for the attendees, with Narijice also encouraging them to start taking their first steps into a more diverse world by talking to people who don't look the same as them: "The responsibility is on them, they have to continue this project and start the conversations. They have to take some action, and even now before we’re even out of the building, people are speaking about the ways in which they can make changes. That’s what we wanted to be part of."