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Nashville Fashion Week addresses diversity issues

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

By Wendy Anderson, Studio M staff //

As Nashville’s fashion scene grows and evolves along with the city’s population, many are taking notice of how it handles issues of diversity.

Model Dylan Stephens (middle). (Photo by Nashville Forward Fund recipient Brett Warren for Nashville Fashion Week 2017)

Nashville Fashion Week is the brainchild of Connie Cathcart-Richardson, Marcia Masulla, and Mike Smith. Since the first fashion week in 2011, the founders have worked to appropriately represent the city and its diverse population.

“Nashville Fashion Week is one of the most inclusive groups that there is,” co-founder Connie Cathcart-Richardson said.”We are very accepting of all types of people, because that’s who makes up Nashville.”

Diversity isn’t just a Nashville issue, of course; major runways like New York, Paris, London and Milan struggle to improve inclusivity.

Earlier this year, The Fashion Spot released a report showing that the Fall 2017 season was the most diverse season ever seen in the industry, with 27.9% of models of color. However, there is still much progress to me made; a mere 0.43% of all the models were plus size, and just 21 models out of all those who walked in New York, London, Milan, and Paris were over 50. Transgender models made up 0.17% of total castings.

Dylan Stephens is a transgender model who started walking in Nashville Fashion Week in 2012. Stephens has a successful career and has modeled menswear and womenswear between New York and Los Angeles.

“Nashville Fashion Week’s diversity, much like the industry as a whole, is really shining at the moment,” Stephens said. “So many different kinds of models (are getting) their moment. From curve to transgender to so so many beautiful models of color.”

For the past two years, nonprofit organization Fashion is for Everybody has hosted Nashville’s first inclusive runway shows. The organization’s goal is to showcase designs for all ages, sizes, and abilities. Fashion blogger Alicia Searcy is one of the integral people involved in the organization, and she’s also a fashion blogger here in Nashville with Cerebral Palsy. Throughout the years of watching the runway shows produced by Nashville Fashion Week, she’s noticed a lot of improvements in its inclusivity.

“I have noticed Nashville Fashion Week stepping up their game every year and trying to be diverse in the nature of the collections that they present … (and) it’s not just that they’re trying, they’re doing,” she said.

She went on to describe the issues with trying to showcase diverse designs.

“Raising awareness is not enough. You have to entice the consumer to actually purchase the items being made or they’ll stop being made,” she said.

Nashville Fashion Week also searches for diverse designers who not only offer different perspectives, but also know how to present those perspectives to a large audience.  

“We have a very diverse crowd,” Cathcart-Richardson said. “I don’t think i could put anything on a runway that would totally shock somebody. … Our audience embraces uniqueness with whatever.”

This year Nashville Fashion Week is collaborating with Oz Arts Nashville, and it will be the first year all of the runway shows are held at a single location. The shows will take place on April 3-7.

Nashville Fashion Week can be expected to continue to push the envelope, as Cathcart-Richardson said,

“People are uncomfortable with things they’re not accustomed to…Until we continue to put all different types of people on the runway, people are still gonna have expectations of what models should look like.”

When compared to larger cities, Nashville still has a ways to go in terms of being recognized or fashion. However, Searcy describes the importance of leading and not following when it comes to striving for inclusive fashion.

“We should lead and not follow. If you wait for the larger runways, you’ve lost the opportunity to make an impact on your own community,” she said.

Wendy Anderson is a junior majoring in journalism and fashion merchandising at Middle Tennessee State University.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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