Inclusion with Intent: How Appealing to the Market Must First Start Within the Industry

Inclusion…Webster defines it as “the act of including: the state of being included.” We as an industry have struggled in past decades to figure out exactly what inclusion means to our customers, only most recently appealing to size inclusivity, but what about cultural inclusivity? So many brands have missed the mark when it comes to tapping into this part of the market. Nubian Skin created a movement back in 2014 by being the first intimate apparel brand to appeal to women of different skin tones and produce a nude color palette that was inclusive of many shades to match those various women. The start of this brand came from the founder, Ade Hassan’s need for hosiery that matched her skin tone, and due to lack of availability, she chose to create it. Too many times women in different cultures have to create products for themselves because major brands do not and will not appeal to their needs as customers. It’s only after the smaller brands have been created and the wave starts to happen amongst customers, do major brands respond and try to immolate.

So why do major brands keep being the last to get the memo on these brilliant and necessary design ideas? My opinion would be lack of inclusion and diversity within their design and production teams. As a young black woman who has been working in the industry for the past 15 years, I have not seen many people that look like me designing, merchandising, or in executive positions where design directions are being authorized and established. The Neilsen company reported in 2018 that “Black consumers and consumers of color alike are making considerable contributions to the overall market-in some cases representing more than 50% of the overall spending in key product categories.” So why are we still seeing sluggish numbers when it comes to people of color being represented in the industry workplace?

To truly be inclusive, you must understand the thought process and emotion behind the customers you are attempting to include, without people that represent those customers in the room when designs are being created, how can you gain this insight to ensure you are properly executing the idea of inclusion? In order to be considerate of the customer you are attempting to target, you need to have people who represent that customer base on your teams. To understand nude colors you need colorists or production team members who have darker skin tones to make sure that you aren’t putting too much yellow, red, or pink in your brown hues. To understand how plus sized bodies work and what’s comfortable to them, you need designers and tech designers who wear a size 12 and above that can testify to what works and doesn’t work in the designs for plus sized women. Until we start to see an industry that on the inside looks like the diverse world we live in, we will not be able to outwardly appeal to the customers who are seeking the inclusion that they deserve.

Often times brands use their marketing to appeal to inclusion, using more women of color, using women with real bodies, but when walking the halls of those offices, you don’t see that diversity amongst the cubicles, and especially not in the executive offices. It makes you wonder if this industry is truly trying to improve for its customers or only for its image. Intent for inclusion means nothing if you don’t take the time to execute it properly. In order to keep evolving with our customers, we must first evolve as an industry.