Disrupting London Fashion Week

Words by Daphne Chouliaraki Milner

PHOTOGRAPHS BY ALFIE WHITE

London Represents was organized by model and disability activist Samanta Bullock and diversity advocate Gaia Beck in a bid to create change within a largely exclusive industry. But the fashion world still has a long way to go.

Paris Fashion Week may be in full swing right now. But the industry as a whole is in serious need of remodeling, both on and off the runway.

 

Historically, fashion shows have been primarily populated by thin, white, cis, able-bodied models. As recently as the spring 2022 shows, plus-size models made up only 1.81% of total castings, while trans and non-binary models accounted for only 0.92% of all castings. Meanwhile, models with disabilities—and adaptive fashion, more broadly—remained largely absent from major fashion shows.

 

Enter London Represents: a fashion show founded by Sauman Kar and Gaia Beck that celebrates the beauty of difference and, in so doing, challenges the homogeneity of traditional on-schedule shows. The event, which took place on the opening day of London Fashion Week (Friday, 18 February), partnered with emerging designers to showcase their creations on a representative cast of models from all walks of life.

“London Represents is here to disrupt the fashion industry,” said show co-organizer and disability advocate Samanta Bullock, who uses a wheelchair for mobility. “For many years we tried to implement this change, talking with brands, universities, and show organizers without success. So, we decided to take action ourselves.”

 

“We believe we are the change, we are creating it,” Bullock added. “[London Represents is] a space of connection, where not only the models, but the public can feel this […] sense of belonging and reality. Fashion is a vehicle for this dream […] Perfection is imperfection.”

To start, Bullock started reaching out to friends, models, and activists whose respective values and lived experiences aligned with the mission of London Represents. Top of the list was vitiligo advocate Kirps Bhogal.

 

“It has always been a dream of mine to model,” said London Represents model Bhogal. “When I was younger, having vitiligo, I actually believed I would never be able to. [I believed] that dream would be left incomplete. So now, at the age of 37, being asked to model for London Fashion Week in my own country and city where I was born, to truly show off my vitiligo to the fashion industry—I can finally say it was a dream come true for me.”

“London Represents is a space of connection, where not only the models, but the public can feel this sense of belonging and reality.”

Samanta Bullock

For models like Jay Beech, who walked alongside Bhogal, the show’s radically inclusive agenda extended far beyond the runway. The warm, welcoming atmosphere that emerged behind the scenes was a necessary and refreshing change from the usual frantic pace of on-schedule shows. “The highlight of the night was the people,” said Beech. “Being neurodiverse, situations like this can be a lot of work for me mentally, rooms filled with people are a huge sensory trigger for me and when meeting new people, it can take a while for me to figure out the social cues and how to insert myself within them. However, I don’t think I’ve warmed up to a group of people so quickly before, backstage everyone was filled with excitement, conversations were effortless, and the support for one another was unmatched.”

It’s a sentiment that was echoed by vegan campaigner Nicole Whittle, who also walked at London Represents. “It goes to show that a truly representative and inclusive show like this is achievable, enjoyable, and effective,” she said. “It’s not just surface level either. Behind the scenes you can see all the efforts made to ensure every model feels welcome, comfortable, and taken care of. Whether that’s extra assistance on hand, ensuring the makeup team is ready to work with every skin tone, or choosing a venue that’s wheelchair friendly, the [wider] industry should [take note and] understand the importance of having a diverse team organizing these events.”

 

London Represents served as a celebratory platform for ethical and sustainable labels with a climate-positive, size-inclusive, and adaptive focus. For example, one brand that contributed designs to the fashion shows was Ran By Nature, an adaptive athleisure brand that donates 10% of profits to an ever-changing roster of different charities. Seref—a brand run by Serefina Rose, winner of the Midlands Fashion Sustainable Designer of the Year Award—was another brand showing their gender-fluid garments on the night, many of which are made out of deadstock items and one-off charity finds. Other brands participating on the night included Dress & Co and Rubinella.

Beyond the inclusive casting choices and considered design curation that have come to define the event, London Represents was also founded with the intention of highlighting the elitism of current fashion industry practices. Not only have mainstream brands been slow to diversify their catwalks, but when change does seemingly occur it often feels performative and disingenuous.

 

“For five years now, I’ve been challenging the fashion industry to become inclusive and diverse,” said body-equality activist and child burns survivor Sylvia Mac, who walked the runway at London Represents. “They seem to go up and down when it comes to the inclusion of all bodies. It’s what suits them at the time to sell their clothing. I believe there’s a worry that clothes won’t sell when having people of difference walk the runway. What Samanta has done with London Represents will change things for the future of fashion—making our jobs slightly easier.”

It’s a long overdue and necessary shift that will require industry-wide participation. “The fashion industry needs to make a conscious decision to be genuinely inclusive and diverse—in terms of body shapes, body heights, skin tones, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, invisible disabilities—from the designing process to the retail point,” said London Represents model Denise Legeay Humberstone, who is editor-in-chief of Making Chromosomes Count. “It can be done. It needs to be done. The sooner, the better.”

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