Chana Baram
Chana Baram is an Analyst at Mintel focusing on the Retail sector. She harnesses her previous experience to analyse and write reports on the UK market.

Luxury fashion brands have long been criticised for a lack of diverse representation, whether that is on the runway or in advertising features. However, in the current social media era, some luxury brands are being called out for their diversity fails. It has become incredibly important for these brands to show that they are committed to change and want to do better.

High street brands lead the way

Diversity has long been a hot topic for the fashion industry and over the last few years it has become increasingly important for fashion retailers to embrace this movement. However, high street brands have incorporated the concept far better than their luxury counterparts. Missguided, ASOS and Nike have all released campaigns representing people of all backgrounds and sizes. In comparison, just two mainstream luxury brands have introduced a plus-size collection so far.

Credit: Missguided

Controversies come in threes

Diversity is not only about body size; where luxury brands have fallen short is in championing people of different ethnicities and backgrounds. Data from Mintel’s upcoming international report on Luxury Goods Retail shows that over half of consumers across Germany, Italy, France, Spain, the UK, China and the US agree that there isn’t enough diversity in luxury advertising. While this is certainly an issue, it is perhaps symptomatic of the fact that there is also not enough diversity in the luxury workforce, from entry-level positions to the boardroom. For example, just two out of the 12 members on the Executive Committee at LVMH are women, the youngest of all the members was born in 1975, and all are of white European origin.

The consequences of this have become evident in advertising campaigns and product launches. In November 2018, to promote a fashion show that was to be held the same month in Shanghai, Italian luxury brand D&G released three short videos titled “Eating with Chopsticks” on social media platforms Instagram and Chinese microblog Weibo, depicting a fashionably dressed Chinese woman clumsily using chopsticks to eat Italian dishes like pizza and spaghetti. The video stirred a wave of criticism as Chinese people took to the internet to complain about the label indulging in stereotyping and racial discrimination.

Credit: CNN

Shortly after this, in December 2018 fellow Italian luxury fashion house Prada had to recall a badly designed keyring after ‘blackface’ comparisons were made. Then, in February 2019 a third Italian luxury brand, Gucci, had to pull a balaclava style jumper from its collection after also facing ‘blackface’ backlash.

Credit: Evening Standard

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

All of these incidents blew up quickly with the help of social media. In the digital world, brands have to become aware that any slip-ups will be magnified, and what is becoming increasingly obvious is that many luxury brands are out of touch with what is going on around them. Whilst Gucci and Prada immediately recalled the products and apologetic statements were released by both brands, D&G did not react as fast and has therefore lost a significant chunk of its business in China.

Several luxury brands are now taking steps to ensure that they do not suffer from the same fate. In February 2019, Prada announced that it would be putting together a diversity council aiming to “elevate voices of colour within the company and the fashion industry at-large” as well as working towards closing the inclusion gap in the fashion industry. In July 2019, French luxury fashion house Chanel announced the appointment of Fiona Pargeter to the newly-created role of global head of diversity and inclusion. Following this, in late July 2019, Gucci announced the appointment of Renée Tirado a new global head of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Gucci

Inclusivity is key

These new hires are definitely a step in the right direction, but other luxury brands have a long way to go. It is often assumed that creating more diverse campaigns and including a diverse range of models on the catwalk is enough. However, without inclusivity, diversity can be seen as tokenistic. What these new hires should focus on is creating a climate of inclusion, where people of all types feel comfortable and people from a wide range of backgrounds are hired, not just in entry-level roles but also as board members who are encouraged to have a say on what the brands release via social media and in stores.