The brands reshaping an industry to invest in the future.
This article is part of a lifestyle series brought to you by RBC Echelon, a suite of private wealth management services for ultra-high-net-worth clients. Each article will explore different topics of interest for ultra-high-net-worth families, including design, travel and more.
The power of representation fosters individuality and inspires acceptance—a belief the fashion industry has at times been slow to adopt. While leading fashion brands have long found inspiration in the world’s vibrant diversity, it wasn’t until recently that those influences were more widely acknowledged.
Today, however, consumers are paying attention to the values of the brands they purchase. To better represent the richness of humanity, fashion houses big and small are shifting their strategies to include people of all races, abilities, identities, and body types, expanding their audience and propelling their business forward.
While independent designers may go further in pushing boundaries, powerhouse luxury brands have the most sway, with the ability to inspire change more quickly. We’ve picked five luxury houses that are re-examining the precepts fashion has traditionally held dear and working to imbue their labels with inclusivity.
After numerous customers requested extended sizes of her chic designs, U.S. couturier Mara Hoffman worked to widen her brand’s scope. Her vision first became reality in 2018, with five pieces ranging from sizes 14 to 20. Today, that modest offering has grown to include dozens of silhouettes.
Hoffman’s emphasis on inclusion involves actively engaging with her social media followers and shaping her business with direct input from fashion mavens of all sizes. While Hoffman is transparent about the exacting process of adding more sizes to a collection, she believes that addressing this gap in the high fashion market is well worth the cost.
In recent years, fashion’s focus on improving inclusivity has been most apparent on the runway, and Valentino has led the way in flipping the script. With help from creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, the Italian mega-brand is at the forefront when it comes to inclusive model casting.
Photo by Peter White via Getty Images
A majority of the 65 models who walked the runway for Valentino’s SS2019 couture show were Black, and more recently, its SS2022 show opened with a 57-year-old model, in addition to using a wide array of differently sized and racially diverse models. The Italian luxury brand acknowledges that no two people are the same, and its clothing must reflect the world’s multiplicity.
When Alessandro Michele was appointed Gucci’s creative director in 2015, he immediately began reimagining the brand’s aesthetic to playful, daring effect. That high-profile refresh paved the way for the 2020 launch of Gucci MX , a collection that seeks to change perceptions of who can wear colors, fabrics, and silhouettes by collaborating with independent designers of diverse identities.
Photo by Danielle Venturelli via Getty Images
Meanwhile, however, Gucci faced intense criticism for selling a racially charged sweater as part of its Fall Winter 2018 line. After apologizing and removing the sweater from store shelves, the fashion house acknowledged that it needed to make changes to improve its corporate approach to diversity. One of the ways that Gucci addressed the controversy was to establish a new “Equilibrium Impact Report” that details practical steps toward a more inclusive corporate culture, including the expansion of diverse hiring practices, a new unconscious bias employee training program, the use of inclusive talent agencies, and more.
Although 26 percent of Americans live with disabilities, the fashion-forward adaptive clothing market has gone largely untapped. But back in 2016, Tommy Hilfiger introduced Tommy Adaptive , a line of adaptive garments for kids, followed in 2017 by options for adults—blazing a trail and providing stylish fits for people with mobility and sensory-sensitivity challenges.
In creating the inclusive line, Hilfiger was inspired by his children, who are on the autism spectrum, and by his sister, who has multiple sclerosis. The brand’s experience with athletic wear helped expedite the process, as mobility and functionality were already top of mind. What sets Tommy Adaptive apart from competitors is its marriage of function and fashion, creating supply where there is clearly demand.
British dynamo Stella McCartney is a regular at challenging the status quo, so there was no surprise when her eponymous brand launched its first gender-fluid line, Shared , in September 2020. Spurred by youth activism amid the pandemic, the designer decided that relaxing binary dynamics in fashion is a task for the here and now.
Having grown up with parents who shared clothing, she was primed for the creative effort. Through relaxed tailoring, bold motifs, and a youthful spirit, McCartney’s collection is cultivating a whole new crop of consumers for her brand.
The fashion industry still has a long way to go to reflect the public’s rich diversity, but these global brands are leading the way with flair, and consumers now have more options than ever to fill their wardrobe.
Lead photo by Ben Gabbe via Getty Images
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