2009’s London Fashion Week saw eight emerging designers paired with eight diverse models to launch an initiative called All Walks Beyond the Catwalk. The aim of this initiative was to celebrate diversity within the fashion industry. Since that launch they have caught the eye of many more models and designers, from big names to emerging talents. They have now set up the ‘All Walks Forum’ to encourage fashion educationalists to incorporate teaching about diversity into their curriculums.
All Walks Beyond the Catwalk was set up by Caryn Franklin, Debra Bourne and Erin O’Connor. We spoke to Caryn and Debra about the how their campaign has grown and their future goals.
How did All Walks begin?
We had always wanted to do something like this. We believe that people are empowered by seeing a diverse range of body types, a representative range. That goes for body shape, skin tone and age. The problems we hoped to tackle are prevalent in other media too but we wanted to take the fashion industry as our starting point.
We realized we could access a small amount of funding to kick us off, and had conversations with Susan Ringwood, the CEO of Beat (a UK charity which helps adults and young people beat eating disorders). To create any kind of message for the fashion industry requires high production values so the fashion world recognizes it. We had to know we could pull it off. We began a campaign which cost well over 100k but we did it on really limited funding and lots of voluntary help. We are all unwaged on All Walks.
Our aim was to create an organization which acted as a mentor for others in the fashion industry showing how self-esteem and a positive body image can be addressed. It should be about empowerment, not just clothes. Our question has always been ‘How can fashion utilize its powers?’
Why is there so little diversity on the catwalks?
Time and money. It’s quicker and easier to make clothes that can be worn by anybody. Every designer has to design how they see fit but the message sent out now is that one specific body shape is preferable.
Mainstream fashion has become increasingly reflective of the catwalk ideal. Thousands of images from the catwalk are sent out globally so the catwalk model shape has become the ideal consumer shape. So with the shows, fashion has become consumer orientated although historically this was not the case.
What is the single most important change you would like to see made in the fashion industry?
It is hard to narrow it to one thing – but we would like everybody in fashion to be conscious about the decision-making processes that they are part of. A lot of people in fashion are sleepwalking and not aware of the power they have, or the effect their decisions have on others.
Who is supporting the campaign at the moment?
All the UK colleges we have visited have been very supportive. Otherwise Graduate Fashion Week, i-D magazine, Arts Thread, and we are putting together a student competition called Diversity Now. The 2012 results will be shown next year at GFW.
We have also had support from figures such as Vivienne Westwood, Giles Deacon and Stella McCartney, plus photographer Rankin who created this stunning series of portraits for All Walks, with models representing a wider range of size, age and skin tones.
In what ways are you trying to get your message out into the industry?
We are moving in education and giving presentations aiming at encouraging students to have an opinion. We have found that before our visit, most don’t. It is simply something they haven’t considered. We don’t want to stamp anything out but we feel the fashion industry could be broader, more inclusive, catering to a more diverse range of people. And actually we see students begin to realize that this kind of thinking could have a positive impact on both their designs and their business.
We’re looking forward to seeing Ben Barry release his PhD research, which confirms that when women see a diverse range of models they are more likely to investigate the product (read more about Ben Barry).
Do you ever come across people who don’t support All Walks’ goals?
No, we haven’t actually encountered any objections. It’s an industry where people are all too busy to think about these issues, and generally people are glad that we are investigating it. Industry practitioners have all said it’s a great idea. Students are seeing that the industry is talking about it and wanting to get involved themselves which is vital for the future of fashion.
The system operates in a particular way and everyone who is part of it knows that it works in terms of marketing and advertising. They feel secure in that system and so there is a nervousness about change. I think that’s where the reluctance is.
What makes you personally passionate about All Walks?
Debra: We were all immersed in the fashion industry. I worked in media and PR and had a lot of experience in communication and messaging. In 1992 I started training in psychotherapy. That gave me a personal understanding of the inner life of women, a more 3D approach I think. The combination of these led me to All Walks.
Caryn: I came from i-D Magazine where individuality was a prized asset…it shaped me and I later moved into the world of TV. In presenting the Clothes Show I was representing the fashion industry. I was meeting the public and they were questioning me. I felt that I was answering for a system that I didn’t wholly agree with.
As an international model, Erin understands the pressures that models are under to conform to acertain look. She was involved in the Model Health Inquiry carried out in 2007 after the death of several size zero models. We all knew each other through the industry but met through the funding group and felt that with our differentbackgrounds we all had a lot to share.
What do you feel is the main danger in terms of fashion’s obsession with very thin models – is it the health of the models involved or the messages about beauty and acceptance that they are sending out to others?
The models who are keeping themselves unnaturally thin because they are keen to get jobs in the industry are a serious concern. They can be compromising their health and it’s really important for us to move towards a more emotionally considerate approach, where models can do their job without having to exist on starvation rations – for everyone’s sakes, especially the consumers of fashion – young women who are very impressionable. This can be taken into account at a design level as well as the agency and catwalk levels.
As we mentioned earlier, the catwalk shows used to be a tool for press and buyers but now with all the photographs that get distributed they have become a consumer tool. This is a fundamental shift in the way the industry works. Body shape, skin type and age are all areas which need to be tackled to promote diversity.
How important a role can education play in getting young people interested in supporting the changes you would like to see made? Have your university visits been successful so far?
They have been – you only have to look at the student feedback on our website to see that. We are seeing a new generation that has grown up in a media environment. They haven’t discussed these concerns in an educational environment before. We think these students need empowering. Many are preoccupied with worries about how they will find a job. Fashion isn’t alone in this, it’s the difficulty of being a graduate in today’s economic climate. There is a tendency to look at what has gone before and to emulate it as it has been very successful. But we are allowing them to think about the choices they have and the fact that the decisions they make have consequences in the world.
We have had time to gain perspective and so we are trying to give a context to what they see and perhaps challenge them so that they appreciate their power.
Which designers do you most admire?
There are designers like Giles Deacon who we have a lot of respect for. You can see the eight original designers who we worked with on our website, including Alice Temperley and Matthew Williamson, plus the models and designers who have come on board since.
William Tempest taught us a lot and took diversity into his next show.
Mark Fast got on board in September 2009 through the introduction of size 12 model Hayley Morley (read about the impact of Mark Fast’s decision to use size 12 and 14 models in his 2010 London Fashion Week show).
However, we would never pick out designers according to who we think is right or wrong. We have seen a good response in the last two years and hope to see more. There has definitely been a shift and things have picked up speed – all the positive publicity around the beautiful and curvaceous Christina Hendricks in Mad Men, for example, and Tom Ford’s womenswear collection at New York Fashion Week, in which each dress was made to fit both the personality and the size of the women who took part in the show. More people are seeing diversity as an issue and we are very happy that All Walks has been a part of that.
An interview with Caryn Franklin is featured in Basics Fashion Design 01: Research and Design (second edition).
“Currently models are expected to exist on starvation rations to facilitate a designer’s disinterest in crafting a garment for noticeable breasts and hips.
Consumers however are diverse. It is absolutely and completely a more lucrative business proposition to consider the needs of the consumer and create imagery that uses a variety of body shapes.”
Mal Burkinshaw has also spoken about what inspired him to support All Walks and the work he is doing to change the industry at an educational level:
“At Edinburgh College of Art, we created the Icon project where we targeted students at the start of their fashion education and paired them with a diverse selection of women. The students worked closely with their Icon, and were asked to become emotionally considerate to her needs. These stunning women demonstrated to the students that the context for their work is ultimately a real woman.”
At his GFW presentation he told us that one of the models was actually pregnant which presented a particular challenge for her designer! But he also showed that the impact of the designers working so closely with their models had a profound impact on both parties, and led to a much deeper understanding of what ’emotionally considerate design’ could mean for the future of fashion.
Getting designers and models on board with the All Walks message is the most powerful way to change the fashion industry. If you know anyone who would like to be involved in All Walks, direct them to the All Walks website. If you are a fashion student, find out if your tutors are attending the third All Walks Future Forum at Graduate Fashion Week. And if you are a model, be inspired by reading about other ways models are breaking the mould.