London Ethnic is a marketing company who offer a platform to aspiring designers, offering them support in the entire design and marketing process. The concept was founded by Saumen Kar who has a degree in business but was struck by issues of ethics and sustainability within fashion when reading a friends essay. ProjectFEM attended their LFW show for upcoming designers in Chelsea last week.
Throughout the evening catwalks took place showcasing designers’ collections. Kicking off the evening, Urban Roots’ cultural and religious inspired SS17 pieces were flaunted down the runway. Designer Ruth Woldesalasie uses left-over textiles and upcycles vintage to create bespoke and unique pieces. The collection was traditionally feminine with soft, sheer, floaty materials and lace and pearl adornments. With the brands vision based in mixing cultural, eco and urban styles it was affirming to see a genuinely ethnically diverse cast of models. However each piece was draped over the delicate skeletal frames of these women, with their bones showing through their skin which was uncomfortable to watch. One older model had been cast compared to the other young women; her long silver hair was fitting with the mysterious and airy feel of the collection. The sheer materials showed the younger models’ naked bodies underneath, however it was difficult to decide whether this was an empowering ‘free-the-nipple’ moment of embracing the socially censored female body, or a rehashed convention of the stereotypical feminine ideal. If you are young, able-bodied and thin then it is acceptable for your body (as an idealistic commodity) to be shown.
Urban Roots SS17 Model on London Ethnic’s LFW Catwak
When asked about how women influence her brand, Ruth stated “I am a totally free person… and I am not dependent on anyone because I am a woman who runs my own business”. Ruth recognised that many women are forced to be dependent on men and she hopes that “[she] will be a good example to women”. The fashion industry has been acknowledged within feminism for being the first industry where women could advance to higher level jobs alongside men; Ruth is acknowledging that in an economic sense, she is empowered through the independence of owning her own business which is inspiring to other women, however her brand is still perpetuating the skinny ideal within the fashion industry.
Second walk of the night, was Saba’s SS17 Gothic Romantic collection. Again, the collection was rooted in ethical and sustainable manufacturing and consisted of staple day and cocktail dresses with lace detailing and fitted empire lines. Saba aims for stylish and comfortable fashion for women aged 20-40. During this walk, models looked healthier than the previously ultra-skinny models and it was actually more comfortable to watch and explore the clothes, without wincing at the sight of bones poking through skin. Initially we were hopeful to see some body-size diversity on the runway. However, speaking to founder Saumen after the show, he explained that this was a commercial brand so the sample size could be up to a size 10. This is fundamental in the issue with the fashion industry reproducing the skinny ideal; high-fashion sample sizes are set at size 6, whereas commercial sample sizes are 8-10. This is because commercial collections sell to the general public who are more likely to buy something that they can see themselves wearing, and with the average UK woman being a size 12 she is most likely to buy clothing that is represented on models closer to her size.
Saba’s SS17 Models Backstage at London Ethnic’s Ethical LFW Show
London Ethnic’s ethical LFW show delivered in terms of promoting ethical and sustainable fashion and casting ethnically diverse models, however the long overdue need for size and ability diversity still remains. It seems that female representation and challenging detrimental norms is an afterthought for designers, only when they are questioned about it do they need to muster an answer. The body-size of models cast is dictated by which marketing ideal must be projected by a high-end or commercial brand and the patriarchal capitalist fashion system is still standing strong. Designers have the power to assert the sizes of their models, show organisers have the power to cast models over a certain size and we have the power to demand change. It is great to finally see ethical fashion well cemented within the missions of brands and designers, but when will body diversity be top of the agenda… or on the agenda at all?
Author: Holly C x