Jessica Trueman explores the rise of religious and cultural inclusion in the fashion industry.

It’s hard not to notice the substantial rise of cultural items such as hijabs, abayas and bindis taking place in the fashion industry. In recent years, we have seen the rise of culture and religion representation within the fashion industry, with brands such as Topshop selling cultural items including bindis, and most recently Debenhams announcing that they will be the first British department store to sell a range of clothing, including hijabs and abayas, that is specifically targeted towards Muslim women.

For many, this highlights that the fashion industry is finally starting to appreciate and cater for people of different races, cultures and religions. However, others are criticising the industry and people within it for taking trends too far, bringing up the issue of cultural appropriation. Is the fashion industry actually moving forward, or is it taking advantage of cultures and religions for their own benefit?

Cultural and religious items first started to become popular at the same time celebrities started to wear them at music festivals. Vanessa Hudgens, Kendall Jenner and Selena Gomez were all spotted wearing bindis at the popular American music festival, Coachella. This instantly started a trend and consequently saw brands like Topshop fill their shelves with them and other cultural and religious items. Some will say that it is simply festival-wear, but others would argue that they’re taking advantage of items that are important in certain cultures and religions and find using them as fashion statements offensive.

What is concerning is that these people continue to take items and looks from different groups, make them their own, and forget about the people that they may have offended. A prime example of this comes from the Kardashian family. They have been accused of cultural appropriation and have offended millions with their posts online, by making their outfits inspired by cultural and religious groups look like costumes, a fashion statement, or ‘new look’. What is even more shocking to the people that they have offended is, that most of the time, they don’t think that they have done anything wrong.

Probably the most talked about is Kylie Jenner who is often scrutinised for appropriating the culture of others with the many looks she shares on social media. She has been seen with dreadlocks, cornrows and has even been accused of putting on a blackface for a photo-shoot. What made matters worse is that magazines and the media described her looks as ‘new’, ‘edgy’ and ‘bold’.

Not only did this offend many people of different cultures and groups, it also brought up a bigger issue of the use of power by celebrities. Kylie is clearly aware of her influence over her millions of followers and fanbase. Whilst she draws their attention to her hairstyles, she doesn’t use her reach to show support for minority groups and in particular has been blasted for not openly supporting black Americans and movements such as #BlackLivesMatter. Her power could’ve made a huge difference if she had shown any support for the social and political issues that these groups are facing on a daily basis, but instead decided to focus on making her own brand more appealing.

However, whilst some are accused of appropriation, we mustn’t ignore the importance in growth of representation. Importantly, New York Fashion Week recently saw a more diverse range of shows, designers and models than ever, with cultures and religions from all over the world being appreciated, and given the attention they deserved. This most recent New York Fashion Week was definitely one to remember – the week saw the celebration of different cultures, religions and groups in their shows, models and collections.

Perhaps most notably, Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 5 show during the week included Halima Aden, a Muslim model who is committed to wearing a hijab. She most definitely made an impact, as well as challenged the beauty standards that we usually see in fashion week.

This wasn’t the only focus on diversity during the week, as Muslim designer Anniesa Hasibuan, who had already made history last year by being the first designer to showcase a collection that included hijabs, again impressed everyone with her beautiful collection. Not only that, all of the models that walked in the show were all immigrants, making her become a name in the industry not only for her designs, but also her emphasis on the importance of diversity in fashion.

Diversity in the fashion industry goes beyond Fashion Week. Dolce and Gabbana and the aforementioned Debenhams have both recently announced collections that are aimed specifically at Muslim women. These collections have been highly praised, as Muslim women are finally starting to have more choice in the colours, fabrics and prints from mainstream retailers and designers.

Undoubtedly there are many issues with representation and beauty standards within the fashion industry, but recent years have shown us that there is some hope for a brighter future. Stereotypes are being challenged, Fashion Week has shown us that brands and lines are recognising that they are there for people of all different backgrounds.

But we can’t assume that just because the fashion industry is starting to become more open to diversity, that all the issues with cultural appropriation are solved. The hope is that by the fashion industry opening up to the rest of the world in a representative way, everyone will perhaps be able see the difference between representation and appropriation. When cultural dressing is and isn’t okay.

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