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What fashion week shows us about how we approach inclusion in Australian fashion

IMAGE VIA EVERY HUMAN

WORDS BY JASMINE WALLIS

After this year’s shows came to a close, a number of marginalised groups began speaking out.

While we Melburnians were confined to our houses (again), the rest of Australia’s fashion designers, editors, stylists and influencers flocked to the recently rebranded Afterpay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW). 

After last year’s cancellation due to COVID, the first Sydney-based IRL fashion runways in over 12 months steamed ahead. The shows, designs, parties and street style snaps breathed life into an industry that has been decimated by the pandemic


Keep up to date with Australian fashion here.


But while there were great (and much needed) wins such as First Nations Fashion and Design holding the inaugural AAFW Indigenous show, as the week came to a close a number of participants have spoken up about the lack of authentic inclusivity.

This tokenism was particularly rife at the final Future of Fashion runway on Friday night where multiple designers shared the stage. On Sunday, model Basjia Almaan who walked in the joyful Jordan Gogos show, posted a picture to Instagram calling out the Future of Fashion runway saying, “Whilst I’m incredibly proud of how hard I had to work to be on that runway stage, I’m pretty disappointed at how much of a process it was for space to be made for someone like myself.”  

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Basjia (@basjia)

The model continued, “This show was not diverse, it was tokenistic, and even though it was wonderful to see a range of models of different ethnicities and colour, models of different ages and curve models, it was all still so palatable. Yes I’m a curve model but I’m still palatable.”

Basjia asked where the textured hair was, where the afros were, and suggested that the lack of trans representation as well contributed to “no range and no flavour”. Model Kate Wasley also spoke out about the lack of size diversity at the fashion week in two Instagram posts telling the organisers to “stop hiding and do better”. 

 

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A post shared by Kate Wasley (@katewas_)

“The diversity at AAFW was non-existent. I’m sick of people hiding behind the excuse ‘oh but Australia is a little behind the rest of the world’ why??? Catch up?!!” she wrote in her post.

 

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A post shared by Kate Wasley (@katewas_)

But one of the most shocking examples of this year’s botched attempts at inclusion was when two models in wheelchairs got caught on the set props in runways produced by creative agency IMG Focus.

At the Future of Fashion event, Paralympian Rheed McCraken was wearing the athleisure brand P.E Nation while making his way up the runway (which appeared to be covered in colourful paper) when his wheelchair became stuck. 

In a TikTok by user @theexampleau, we see Rheed get caught and maneuver around the prop only to become stuck again. During a later section of the show by the label Camilla, another model in a wheelchair got caught on the exact same props. 

@theexampleauStressed out for #paralympian Rheed McCracken during this show… #australianathlete #fashionweekaus♬ Blade Runner 2049 – Synthwave Goose

Camilla’s designer Camilla Franks jumped up and began to push the model through the paper. While many stated that it was a heartwarming action from the designer (which is an issue in itself), both of these models shouldn’t have been put in these positions in the first place. 

Speaking with disabled creator and activist Keely B, she expressed her disappointment at the way this runway in particular was handled. It isn’t inclusive if it isn’t accessible for disabled people. I don’t want to see disabled people struggle to use their mobility aids, that isn’t representation of disabled people.

“They also clearly knew it wasn’t safe, as the other model in the show needed to be pushed. But [they] still went ahead with the runway the way it was, they never actually cared about the disabled people in their show.”

As a creator in the fashion space, Keely knows attempts are being made, but feels as if disabled voices are not being heard. “The Australian fashion industry has so much money behind them, but it feels like the inclusion of disabled people is just a second thought.

“They keep making attempts but continuously keep missing the mark. If they can’t even make a runway accessible, it’s scary to think about the wider inclusion in this industry. It really just shows that there isn’t any.” 

Model and disability activist Jason Clymo explained how the clear absence of disabled people working behind the scenes on fashion week’s creative production has made it performative rather than genuinely inclusive. 

“From experiencing the industry as a whole, if there’s not someone who’s asking or not someone who knows better behind the scenes… this stuff happens. That’s why the whole industry needs a shakeup in terms of their inclusion. Where are the creative directors that are people with a disability? Where are our disabled designers? Where’s our event managers that are disabled? And people who actually know better because they have lived experience.”

Jason also echoed the sentiments of Basjia by noting that “all of the disability representation were people who were White.” He continued, “If they’re only promoting a sub-group of a marginalised community obviously that’s a concern because they’re not really breaking down barriers for the whole community; just the most privileged parts of a community.”

Speaking with Keely and Jason, it’s clear that the voices of disabled people are not being heard. It’s one thing to put a model in a wheelchair in your show or a size 14 (which is now the average Australian woman) and it’s another to make sure these groups actually feel genuinely understood and represented rather than being another tokenistic box to check.

As another Australian fashion week comes to a close, we can see that the Australian fashion industry has a long runway to get down before it’s even close to being truly inclusive. I end my conversation with Keely by asking her what she would say to the organisers of this year’s AAFW.

“Listen to the very people you are hiring to be in your shows. So many people are asking for more. There are people making small changes, but it feels like it’s one step forward, and then 10000 back, on an inaccessible runway. We want to be part of this industry, but only if it’s accessible and inclusive to absolutely everyone, which time after time, you’re showing that it isn’t.” 

For more on how fashion can be inclusive rather than tokenistic, head here.

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