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Diversity & inclusivity in fashion: Industry insiders weigh in on the subject

Mohammed Aqra, Chief Strategy Officer of the Arab Fashion Council and Ameni Esseibi, model and body positivity advocate, discuss championing body diversity and inclusivity in fashion, transforming industry standards and a healthy body.

Mohammed Aqra, Chief Strategy Officer of the Arab Fashion Council


How do you believe perceptions of body diversity have evolved within the fashion industry over the past decade, particularly in the context of the UAE?

Over the past decade, the fashion industry, including in the UAE, has grown more appreciative of diversity in body shapes, sizes, ethnicities, genders,and abilities. Designers are at the forefront of this shift, using their collections to challenge traditional beauty standards and promote inclusivity. A key issue is the size of sample garments, which are often too small for a diverse range of models. By creating larger and more varied sample sizes, designers can accommodate more body types, helping to make the industry more inclusive and representative of all forms of beauty.

How does the Arab Fashion Council promote body diversity within the fashion industry in the UAE?

The Arab Fashion Council promotes body diversity through its initiatives, particularly during Dubai Fashion Week. This event showcases diverse models and designs, emphasising inclusivity alongside major international fashion weeks. One notable example is the collaboration between the Arab Fashion Council and Mattel, where the council worked with couturier Jean-Louis Sabaji on a capsule collection featuring Barbie. This collection was remarkable for its diverse showcase, including plussize models on the runway, highlighting the council’s commitment to celebrating a variety of body types in fashion.

How does the Arab Fashion Council collaborate with designers and brands to ensure inclusivity in their collections regarding body size and shape?

The Arab Fashion Council (AFC) actively promotes inclusivity in fashion, particularly regarding body size and shape, exemplified by appointing Ameni Esseibi as their first plus-size ambassador. Esseibi, a prominent advocate for diversity in fashion, aligns with the AFC’s mission for greater representation and inclusivity. The AFC collaborates with global brands like Mattel, Microsoft, META, DHL, GoDaddy, and Dyson to connect regional creatives with international markets, supporting the council’s mission to foster a more inclusive and diverse fashion environment.

What challenges do you think designers face in embracing body diversity in their collections and how can they overcome them?

Designers face significant challenges in embracing body diversity, primarily due to the higher costs and complexity associated with producing garments in an extensive range of sizes. Additionally, there’s a deep-rooted industry norm that predominantly favours a limited spectrum of body types. To overcome these barriers, designers can leverage advanced technology to streamline design and manufacturing processes, reducing costs and complexity. Utilising predictive analytics and consumer behaviour data can help designers better understand and respond to market demand for inclusive sizing. Adopting inclusive marketing strategies that feature a diverse array of models can reshape consumer perceptions and demonstrate the viability and necessity of body diversity in fashion. Such strategic actions can catalyse broader changes, influencing other designers and brands to prioritise inclusivity.

In your view, what role does body diversity play in promoting inclusivity and representation within the fashion landscape of the UAE?

Body diversity is essential for promoting inclusivity and representation in the UAE’s fashion industry. It challenges old beauty standards and celebrates the variety of human forms, supporting underrepresented groups by increasing their visibility and boosting consumer confidence as people see themselves reflected in fashion. Dubai Fashion Week is a great example of this, featuring models of different ethnicities, ages, and body sizes, leading the way in creating a more inclusive fashion environment. Embracing body diversity is also strategic for business, allowing brands to reach a wider audience, tap into new markets, and increase brand loyalty and market share.

How can consumer awareness be raised about the importance of body diversity in fashion without making it look tokenistic?

To raise consumer awareness about the importance of body diversity in fashion without appearing tokenistic, the industry must
embed inclusivity as a core value, not just a marketing strategy. This involves extending clothing sizes to accommodate all body types and consistently showcasing diverse models across campaigns. An effective feedback system where consumers can influence brand practices is essential. UAE-based brand Dima Ayad is an example, gaining acclaim for its genuine representation of diverse body shapes, ethnicities, and backgrounds. By integrating inclusivity into every facet of their operations, fashion brands can create a lasting cultural shift towards body diversity.

DiversityDima Ayad, Dubai Fashion Week

In what ways does the Arab Fashion Council advocate for more representation of diverse body types in fashion in the UAE?

The Arab Fashion Council (AFC) integrates diversity and inclusivity into Dubai Fashion Week by featuring models of various body types, sizes, and backgrounds. The AFC collaborates with designers, advocating for larger sample sizes to empower casting directors to hire models of all sizes. The council partners with body positivity advocates and organisations, conducting workshops, campaigns, and public discussions to educate and influence the industry, ensuring that the celebration of diverse body types becomes a norm.

How do you envision the future of body diversity in the UAE fashion industry, and what role do you see the Arab Fashion Council playing in shaping that future?

I envision a future where body diversity in the UAE fashion industry is celebrated, creating an inclusive and empowering environment that honours human diversity. The Arab Fashion Council can play a pivotal role by shaping policies and setting industry standards that champion inclusivity, advocating for regulatory changes mandating inclusive sizing, promoting educational reforms, sponsoring diverse fashion initiatives, and launching awareness campaigns. By spearheading these initiatives, the AFC can significantly influence both the commercial and cultural aspects of the fashion industry.

How can the fashion industry in the UAE leverage technological advancements to further promote body diversity and inclusivity?

To revolutionise the UAE’s fashion industry’s approach to body diversity and inclusivity, leveraging advanced technology is key. Implementing virtual fitting room technology addresses pivotal challenges and enhances the consumer experience, allowing customers to visualise how garments fit without physical trials. Utilizing data analytics, machine learning, and AI, fashion brands can refine their marketing strategies to ensure a personalised customer experience. These technologies enable brands to align their advertising content with the preferences of diverse consumer groups, increasing engagement and loyalty.

In your experience, how does the perception of body diversity differ between international fashion capitals and the UAE, and what lessons can be learned from both contexts?

Perceptions of body diversity differ between fashion hubs and the UAE. Fashion capitals celebrate diverse bodies, while the UAE values modesty and cultural norms. From international fashion capitals, we learn to embrace diversity and promote inclusivity. In the UAE, it’s crucial to respect modesty. Bridging these perspectives involves creating fashion that respects modesty while celebrating all body types, honouring cultural traditions while fostering inclusivity.

Ameni Esseibi, model and body positivity advocate

Tell us about your personal journey towards embracing body diversity and becoming a prominent figure in the modelling industry.

It’s been a long, tough journey but also extremely beautiful and nourishing, learning to love every inch of myself more each day. Growing up in a judgmental society and work environment, I’ve developed thick skin and learned the difference between constructive criticism and judgement out of jealousy. Every day, I overcome some insecurities, build new ones, and learn to love myself even more, becoming more confident and discovering new aspects of my personality.

In a world where traditional beauty standards often still prevail, how do you navigate the challenges and stereotypes associated with being a curvy model, especially in the MENA region?

Many have opinions about my career and methods. I don’t conform to society’s insecurities and have developed thick skin and a protective barrier that shields me from offensive comments. Traumatic experiences have toughened me, and I focus on my career’s end goal, knowing that I am fighting for a great cause and changing society. Despite daily challenges, I fight, sometimes losing battles but ultimately
winning the war.

As a trailblazer in the industry, what initiatives or changes would you like to see to promote greater inclusivity and representation of diverse body types in fashion and media?

Much change is needed, such as more diverse castings in fashion weeks and campaigns, expanding size ranges in retail, authentic representation, diverse design teams, inclusive marketing, community engagement, and policy advocacy. Implementing these initiatives can
move fashion and media towards a more inclusive and representative future, celebrating all body types.

How do you believe the perception of beauty and body diversity has evolved in the MENA region over recent years, and what role do you see yourself playing in this transformation?

The youth movement has driven changes in the MENA region. The young generation doesn’t adhere to old societal norms and values authenticity. Local voices matter, and people want relatable, authentic representations. My role is crucial in this transformation, using my platform to speak out, express myself through campaigns and runways, and create a supportive community on social media.

Beyond the surface level, how do you think society’s views on body image impact individuals’ mental and emotional well-being, and what steps can be taken to promote a more positive and accepting environment?

Society’s unrealistic beauty standards can severely impact mental and emotional wellbeing, leading to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Promoting a positive and accepting environment involves diverse media representation, unretouched photos, body positivity education, media literacy, mental health support, inclusive workplace policies, anti-bullying measures, and community campaigns that celebrate body diversity.

Could you share a particularly memorable experience or encounter that reinforced the importance of embracing body diversity in your career and personal life?

Every time I’m booked for a modelling shoot or casting, seeing casting directors judge our bodies publicly and without empathy reinforces the importance of loving and respecting every inch of my body. Realising how much my body does for me daily, I know that any differing opinions are their problem, not mine.

In what ways do you use your platform to advocate for body positivity and self-love, and what messages do you hope to convey to your audience, especially young women and girls?

I use my platform to showcase diverse bodies, share unretouched images, and provide educational resources on body positivity and media literacy. I share my own body image journey and feature guest stories to create a supportive community. I aim to inspire young women and girls to love themselves and foster a more inclusive view of body image, emphasising unique beauty, rejecting unrealistic standards, prioritising health, celebrating diversity, and practising self-acceptance.

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