For all the dreamy aspirations and creative wonders that fashion holds, there’s no question that the industry has long denied addressing an unpleasant underbelly. While fashion has always reflected the ever-shifting zeitgeist, it has also long offered limited perspectives and conventional ideals of beauty. Fortunately, a new wave of designers is painting a more comprehensive picture of the 21st century. Read on to discover five brands that are bucking deep-seated issues of inequality, championing change in the industry and guiding our world towards a more inclusive, inviting and open-minded space.
Since its founding in 2011, cult label Eckhaus Latta has risen through industry echelons with an artistic, avant-garde aesthetic and diverse runways, which feature an all-encompassing mix of seasoned models and non-professionals, or “nodels.” The brand reflects all walks of life, subverting the status quo with a variety of shapes, sizes, ages, races and genders. With respective backgrounds in textiles and sculpture, design duo Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta are anything but traditional. Their clothing is rooted in art and concept, and though for some brands this can culminate in unwearable or over-designed pieces, Eckhaus Latta’s offerings are provocative and versatile, from diaphanous dresses and effortless asymmetrical knits to tailored separates and just-right denim.
For Eckhaus and Latta, inclusion is not just a lofty goal to be achieved; it’s a perspective put into practice. Casting is an organic process where the two designers — plus casting director Rachel Chandler – choose people who possess a strong sense of themselves, whether they be gender-fluid, septuagenarian or pregnant. “The point of casting is to represent a group of people that you’d want to see in your clothes,” Latta said in a recent interview. “And it’s crazy to us that you’d only see one kind of person.”
Under founder Kenzo Takada’s reign, the Kenzo atelier was a high-octane, multicultural amalgamation of Japanese design elements, Parisian culture, poppy ethnic prints and a heavy dose of color. When current creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim took the helm of the nearly fifty–year-old label in 2011, they upheld Takada’s multicultural approach and vibrancy. And as the founders of Opening Ceremony, Leon and Lim used their experience and cool-hunting savvy to catapult Kenzo into a new era with a modern youthfulness.
For Kenzo’s Spring/Summer 2018 show, the designers paid tribute to the house’s storied past by drawing inspiration from current and prior muses — including Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto and the late international supermodel Sayoko Yamaguchi. But as fashionably noteworthy as the collection was, it was Leon and Lim’s lineup of exclusively Asian models that made headlines, an homage to the impact the brand and Takada’s “West meets East” vision had in the ‘70s when he opened his first store in Paris. Japanese, Chinese and Korean models walked in head-to-toe florals, trim suiting and graphic sweaters, spurring genuine responses of appreciation for unique, much-needed representation.
If the label Telfar sounds familiar, it’s likely because founder and designer Telfar Clemens won the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Award last year. More notable than the prestigious prize, however, is the progressive philosophy behind the brand, best encapsulated by Telfar’s tagline: “It’s not for you, it’s for everybody.” Clemens has been designing non-gendered clothing since 2002, before a significant discourse surrounding unisex fashion was even taking place in the industry.
Paired with diverse runways and lookbooks and an overall deconstruction of societal mores, the label is on its way to creating lasting change in fashion. Telfar recently collaborated with fast food chain White Castle, redesigning employee uniforms nationwide. Altered versions of the uniforms were available for everyone to purchase, and while this all may seem random to some, there’s a powerful commentary on social structures and class behind it. “I want people to aspire to wear the same thing that the person serving them is wearing,” he told Vogue. The brand also donated 100% of proceeds from the White Castle capsule collection to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights LIBERTY AND JUSTICE fund, which pays bail for incarcerated minors on Rikers Island who cannot afford the average $900 fee.
3.1 Phillip Lim
Phillip Lim has been on the scene since 2005, when he began designing classic wardrobe staples — “with a touch of madness” — for modern men and women. While Lim’s designs have the ability to speak to a wide-ranging audience, the brand is doing more than just producing versatile and universally loved sportswear. Both Lim and his business partner Wen Zhou have experienced the immigrant struggle firsthand, and Zhou recognizes the power she holds to effect change in fashion at the executive level. She reviews every potential candidate, whether they’re applying for a creative gig or a sales associate position, well aware of the value that myriad perspectives contribute to a company. “I can do things to create change,” she noted to Business of Fashion. “…It feels really good, it’s a game changer time right now.”
This is not the first time 3.1 Phillip Lim has made a considerable effort to empower marginalized voices, however; the brand has helped do its part to combat cultural appropriation. For 3.1 Phillip Lim’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection, Ethiopian model and philanthropist Liya Kebede was in charge of the ad campaign, which was shot in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Kebede led a small crew around her hometown, and enlisted locals as well as her family to participate in the shoot. In a time when major fashion houses are constantly being called out for cultural insensitivity, 3.1 Phillip Lim’s refreshing decision to empower Kebede to direct her own narrative is one that fellow labels should take note of.
Body positivity and inclusivity are inherent in every aspect of Chromat, the label founded by Becca McCharen-Tran in 2010. McCharen-Tran marries her background in architecture with innovative style, creating strappy, futuristic lingerie, elevated activewear and chic, curve-hugging swimwear. The designer makes it a point to include models of all races, sizes and gender identities on the catwalk. “It’s beyond diverse—all the different varieties of plus-size, body size, gender—everything needs to be celebrated and we’re just like that celebration of strong, powerful women in every form,” McCharen-Tran told Nylon in 2015 regarding her shows.
Though Chromat may not yet be a household name, the brand has begun to become recognized industry-wide for its accomplishments: it was one of two runner-ups for the 2017 Vogue/CFDA Fashion Award, which the aforementioned Telfar Clemens ended up taking home. And perhaps even more notably, Chromat will soon bring this vision of diversity to the retail market, with Nordstrom to stock the brand in sizes up to 3X.