Where are all the women?

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Kettlemag, style, women, Rebecca Parker,
Image: Anton Petukhov/ Flickr
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In light of the recent #HeforShe campaign headed by Emma Watson the actress and U.N Women Goodwill Ambassador has extended her campaign for gender equality to the fashion industry. Teaming up with British Vogue to create a three-minute video Emma talks about wanting to ‘get this dialogue happening specifically within the fashion industry to ask the leading voices about gender equality’.

The video looks at issues such as sexual harassment and body image which are highly reported on by the media, however other issues often remain un-discussed. Something that often get under the metaphorical carpet is the fact that fashion still isn’t an equal-opportunity industry, especially when looking at the big bosses.

So how comes women make up the majority of core consumers yet fashion brands are headed by males? With males at the head of finance, distribution, design and ownership, it’s clear to see that those who are buying and digesting fashion are not responsible for running it.

Philip Green Chairman of Arcadia Group

Sir Philip Green: Chairman of Arcadia Group [Source: Financial Times Flickr]

The Business of Fashion BoF 500 is the definitive list including those that control and shape the global fashion industry. 94 people of this list include CEOs of some of fashion’s most successful brands, publications and retailers. Yes, there may be female ‘icons’ included in the BoF 500 list but out of these 94 executives there is only a grand totally of 15 females. Those in charge of Hugo Boss, Tom Ford and other high-end designers are men. Chairmen also run Arcadia Group, which includes Topshop and Miss Selfridge. The bottom line is women may be entering the industry at the bottom but they are not rising to the top.

Is it fair to blame men for this? The fact that women cannot access crucial support such as maternity leave or in-office-day-care are massive contributors that have been discussed at great length, and while they do need to be acted on, more pressure should be placed on those at the top of the industry to explain why the highest paid earners are predominately male. 

Stella McCartney [Image source: Jaguar MENA Flickr]

It’s hard to ignore the systemic and mostly covert sexism where male-dominated directors will pick from a pool of former male CEOs to join them in their elite position. This sexism is also seemingly getting worse. In January Frida Giannini was removed from Gucci and replaced with Alessandro Michele. Likewise Adam Andrascik was named creative director of Guy Laroche despite being a relative newcomer. Dior, Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga may have hired new creative directors over the past five years but women’s names are rarely uttered in the hiring process.

However, there are women that have succeeded against the statistics. Stella McCartney, Alessandra Facchinetti, Jenna Lyons, have all managed to create and run creative studios. Carol Lim co-runs Kenzo, one of the biggest brands of the past five years, and not to mention Net-a-Porter’s executive Natalie Massenet. Women are certainly filling the most successful jobs in the creative sector - Mary Katranzou for her stunning designs and Anna Wintour editor of arguably the world’s most prestigious fashion magazine. 

Although these women are making their mark in the creative sector, this doesn’t mean that gender equality in the fashion industry has been achieved. Those that are dealing with finances and decision-making are mainly male. Finding a balance shouldn’t be difficult to achieve. If proportionally females rose to the same level as their male counterparts there would be more women than men running the fashion industry. For most it may seem difficult to comprehend that males are ultimately dictating fashion choices. Cynical as it may be, this can be seen as the reinforcement of a patriarchal society, which most would, or should, agree is extremely outdated.

How do we solve the problem?

Deciding how this should be tackled is also controversial. Why change a system when it works? Because women in the industry should be championed, that’s why. With so many creative designers working at the helm of the industry it makes sense for the hierarchical structure to naturally include women at the peak. Likewise it’s very easy to leave things as they are, but what if changing the system meant that brands could actually achieve a competitive edge?

Think about it. What actually differentiates one brand from another? Whether it’s high-end luxury fashion or high street there is very little to distinguish one from another. Perhaps this is due to the male attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it’. Nonetheless with females in control of finances, advertorial, and business plans perhaps these brands can start to form a competitive edge that pushes the fashion industry forward. We’re not Neanderthals anymore and perhaps it’s time that we actually made the transition into the 21st century. 

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Multimedia journalism graduate, editorial assistant and freelance fashion journalist. Also your resident fashion editor!