Culture

Diversity in Scandinavia: 6 industry figures reflect on the state of play

By Mona M. Ali

Photo: Getty Images

Vogue Scandinavia reaches out to key voices from different aspects of the fashion industry, for the insiders' take on true progress in the region

For those who even just caught snippets of this month's Copenhagen Fashion Week proceedings, the event unmistakably nudged the industry benchmark a little higher with its joyfully inclusive atmosphere. Many have been rightfully celebrating the shows' casting, with all walks of life gracing the runways across the Danish capital – at times moving show-goers to tears. While it is unquestionably another step in the right direction for the Nordics, like most things, it is important to look beyond surface level.

The industry still needs to make changes on a deeper, more structural level to ensure equal opportunities and accurate representation is achieved. To better understand the changes needed, Vogue Scandinavia reached out to key figures immersed in the Nordic fashion industry for their personal take.

1

Amelia Hoy, actor and activisit

Reflecting on how the Scandinavian fashion industry is today, Danish-American actor Amelia Hoy finds that "it still struggles with inclusion and diversity, particularly when we look at creative positions that have the power to influence content on a more strategic and long lasting basis. While there has been a positive increase of diversity on the catwalk, there are still shows that don’t even consider catwalk diversity, and we still need a push within businesses to address the lack of diversity within companies to ensure sustainable change".

The Danish National School of Performing Arts alumni has been pioneering an overdue shift in Scandinavia through art, fashion and storytelling, most notably through the launch of the Nordic Fashion Directory, a platform creating space and opportunities for people of colour in the fashion industry. When asked about how the region can move forward and improve representation, Hoy comments that "at this point, in an increasingly progressive generation of consumers, establishing transparent and ambitious diversity goals is not only the right thing to do, it’s also going to be a necessity for brands to survive." She references quotas and regulators, such as ones being applied in the US, as being an inevitable motivation.

If Hoy could change anything specific? "I hope that there will be more designers and CEOs of colour in the future. More black women in the front row. More shows that are wheelchair accessible. A progression of the Scandi narrative to be more inclusive and representative is what will keep this region relevant and creatively interesting in the future," she responds.

2

Ulrikke Skotte-Lund, model

For model Ulrikke Skotte-Lund, who is represented by Danish Scoop models and featured in the inaugural issue of Vogue Scandinavia, there is "still a long way to go" in the Scandinavian industry despite recent progress.

"I still see that many brands feel as if they have done their part, when they throw a size 40 or 42 size model, with a flat stomach, into one of their campaigns. However, the industry is changing, as I feel that just five years ago, it was almost impossible to find a single model in Scandinavian brands that was even close to being plus size," Skotte-Lund comments. "Scandinavian fashion is so innovative and creative, so why shouldn't they also be at the forefront of the new era of the fashion industry, where we get to see all kinds of bodies, ages, genders, and ethnicities in high fashion?" she queries.

Discussing the most recent spring/summer 2023 season of Copenhagen Fashion Week, Skotte-Lund singles out the Aeron Studio show as a stand out. "I was so touched to see such a diverse cast of models and to see how all the models looked absolutely amazing in the clothing, no matter what size or age. I hope all brands will follow in their footsteps, because they showed in such a beautiful and elegant way how diversity should be done."

Looking to the future and upcoming fashion weeks, Skotte-Lund hopes to see that casting managers drop the idea that "plus size models only have to fill a small quota, and instead make them look at us the same way they do with straight size models". And for brands and designers, she hopes to see that they "start designing clothing with the thought that every third Danish woman is over a size 42".

3

Dio Kurazawa, sustainable fashion consultant

Dio Kurazawa, founder of sustainable fashion consultancy The Bear Scouts, and advisory board member for the likes of Copenhagen Fashion Week and Ganni, has visited Denmark on a regular basis since 2013 and says he has always been made to feel welcome.

Through his work with some of the biggest Scandinavian brands and organisations, Kurazawa says he has "seen a great deal more inclusion in the fashion space in recent years, which has certainty made me feel even more at home." But Kurazawa acknowledges that there is always room for improvement. "It's important that we all recognise that we have far more in common as human beings than the colour of our skin. That said, it’s important to find a balance in order to be sure that fashion is a reflection of all people and not a select few," he says.

Reflecting on the most recent fashion week showcase in the Danish capital, Kurazawa points to the new talent portion of Copenhagen Fashion Week managed by the Swedish Fashion Council to be "one of the most exciting and inclusive initiatives", but notes that he hopes to see "more POC showing their collections" in seasons to come.

Overall, the most important change for Kurazawa is or "all humankind to treat others with love and kindness, no matter the exterior."

The question is, how we – as minorities – are being represented, and whether we are being represented in a context where we have control of the narrative of our own stories.Fatimah Gabriella
4

Moussa Mchangama, strategic advisor, activist and co-founder of In Futurum

As one of the most prominent spokespeople for diversity in Denmark and Scandinavia, it is not surprising to hear that Moussa Mchangama wants to change "everything" about the industry. After launching In Futurum four years ago, Mchangama's strategic consultancy has recently released a new report, 'A Promise of Diversity?', which captures the challenges, fears, conflicts, complexities and hopes of those in many in the fashion and creative industries working towards responsible business. "Hopefully it will lead to many new conversations, will spark interest, and allow us to talk to new companies that are wanting to engage with this topic," he says.

With his finger on the pulse of the industry, Mchangama notes that "it is easy to get the impression that the industry has changed dramatically; there is a lot more diverse representation in terms of models, influencers, etc." But he continues that is is important to acknowledge that "many of these people work at entry level and that the power hierarchies and structures that shape the overall industry has not yet changed enough."

Looking to the next seasons of Copenhagen Fashion Week, Mchangama hopes that "more people and companies that are open to new conversations, will dare to ask questions and will continuously work to understand that these agendas are not ’trends’ or about selling more products, they are about building a more just fashion system and a more just world all together."

"I’m hopeful that the focus on diversity and inclusion will continuously evolve, that more companies and organisations will dare to have really complex and difficult conversations internally and examine their own practices and cultures before claiming to be something that a minority person working in that company might actually not feel."

5

Sadaf Hayat, designer

The talented designer behind made-to-order, slow fashion brand Atelier Sardin, Sadaf Hayat, sees first-hand the ways in which the industry works with BIPOCS. A highlight for Hayat in the most recent Copenhagen Fashion Week program was the casting of Maninder Kaur, a Denmark-based emerging model with Indian heritage.

"Seeing the global south being represented was touching," she says. "We are often a minority group that is forgotten when topics like representation are up for discussion, and many of us are here in the west because of the direct link to the former colonisation of huge parts of south and south east Asia. But Maninder has these very typical facial features that are very south Asian and seeing her wearing Henrik Vibskov was so wonderful for a person like me who is born and raised in Copenhagen by Pakistani parents and always loved fashion."

However, Hayat notes that representation needs to be integrated further. "This isn't only about colour and ethnicity, this is also about class. Many adult Scandinavian BIPOCs are first and second generation, so many of us are not part of the structure. Our parents were migrants and refugees, so we are not a part of the cultural elite and those BIPOCS who have the privilege of being a part the cultural elite often came to Scandinavia with an already established privileged background. It's primarily still white middle class women who are sitting in the advisory boards and are making the big decisions."

The structural issues extend into production too, from Hayat's perspective. "If the industry is going to capitalise on using brown faces and bodies to show that it is taking action, then they also have to acknowledge the brown faces of the people who are making the clothes they are capitalising on as well."

At the end of the day, it's about authenticity for Hayat. "I see a lot of new faces and bodies on the fashion scene, but sometimes it seems as if the people behind the scenes have a checklist."

6

Fatimah Gabriella, stylist

Throughout her career, Copenhagen-based stylist Fatimah Gabriella has worked with teams across all corners of the Scandinavian fashion industry, and now accurately observes that "while the lack of diverse representation is finally on the decline, an equally pressing matter of misrepresentation is coming into play."

"The question is, how we as minorities are being represented, and whether we are being represented in a context where we have control of the narrative of our own stories," Fatimah Gabriella states. "While improvements are made in casting, they still control a narrative or idea generation which is incapable of displaying true inclusion. This can be, and often is, an unconscious product of a long-lasting non diverse working environment. Furthermore, it can be very hard to break the spell if colleagues from similar upbringing continuously agree and reaffirm each other’s ideas and processes."

Fatimah Gabriella also identifies unconscious bias as a key issue which continues to limit the fashion industry. "I hope that we can pay more attention to this while simultaneously embracing that diverse working environments are shown to increase happiness and productivity. Everyone benefits from a diverse working environment where we can inspire (and challenge) each other based on different perspectives. This creates a more productive and captivating environment for everyone."

Beyond Copenhagen Fashion Week, Fatimah Gabriella is hopeful that more platforms will drive more change in the industry: "I would like to see more events that provide a stage for young creatives in the industry, not only for their own growth, but also the let them inspire us with their visions."