Students at Central Michigan University set out to knock down deep-seated fashion industry barriers at this year’s 21st Annual Threads Fashion Show. With the theme “Threads Fashion ID,” the show’s three student producers set a goal for an inclusive celebration of all body types and shapes.
“Different people love fashion,” says Threads Fashion show producer Cecilia Alfaro. “You don’t have to have this Barbie-doll shape to love fashion, and we just wanted to celebrate that to show how diverse and inclusive the fashion industry can be.”
With Ashley Graham, a plus-size model, and Madeline Stuart, a model with Down’s syndrome, appearing on runways across the world alongside other barrier-breaking models, the fashion industry as a whole is beginning to see a movement toward inclusivity and diversity.
“Every year we have to look at the cultural climate. What does fashion look like? What’s our student body? What’s going on around us? And then you have to look at creative ways to take these concepts that are abstract and come up with an overall theme,” explains Ian Mull, Faculty member in the Fashion Merchandising and Design Department at Central Michigan University and faculty advisor for Threads Fashion Show.
“When you look at what’s happening in our culture, there’s larger discussion on things like gender and race and religion; and, we’re opening up this discussion in America on how to incorporate everyone and include everyone.”
This year’s Threads Fashion Show has been about a year in the making. Each year’s production begins almost immediately after the previous year’s show ends with the selection of student producers. While the theme is one of the biggest decisions the producers have to make right away, these students and their student directors play a role in every aspect of the show – from venue selection to marketing to set up and everything in between.
“The students are the ones who execute it,” says Mull. “They plan it. They organize it. They fundraise for it. They do everything, and that's what makes this show so amazing. It’s not a synthesized event. It really provides an opportunity for the students to put on a fashion show.”
One of the challenges facing the producers this year was how to implement their theme and idea of being more inclusive. Their solution was to use a different process by which the student designers selected their models. Historically, the designers had total control over the selection of models. This year, designers chose half. The production team did model calls from the student body and had the designers select the other half of the models out of that group.
“It was important for us to put a realistic feel to our show,” says Alivia Ferguson, one of the show’s producers. “The models are real people. They are real sizes. They are real students. It’s not just somebody that the fashion industry portrays as the ideal person to be in fashion.”
Alfaro also designed a bridal collection that appeared in the fashion show. As a designer, she says challenging student designers to create pieces for a variety of body types is important.
“As a designer, you’re going to design for all different body shapes and sizes, so why not get that experience now? Because it is more realistic,” says Alfaro.
Mull says the model selection process used this year opened up the show to more diversity. He says he thinks the production team will use this process again in next year’s show - perhaps even more so.
Rachael Thomas was one of about 120 models in this year’s show. This was her third year as a model and she says she noticed more diversity on the runway this year compared to previous years.
“I definitely think it’s been an improvement over the years and I hope it continues,” says Thomas.
The Threads Fashion Show didn’t stop at being inclusive of all body types, though. The producers made a movement to be inclusive at every level, introducing the show to areas of CMU’s campus that haven’t historically been touched by the Threads Fashion Show. That’s why they decided to host the show, which took place on April 6, in the Biosciences Building on CMU’s Mt. Pleasant campus.
“We are having a new audience of people that really weren’t exposed to Threads now taking part,” says Ferguson.
As an electric energy filled the building, 24 designers had their collections put on display Saturday evening in front of a cheering audience. Their process to get there wasn’t easy, though.
“All of the designers have to submit their collections to an anonymous panel. They’re from the industry and a lot of times they happen to be alumni as well,” says Mull. “The jury decides who is ready to show at Threads and who needs a little more incubation.”
Designs were modeled by a variety of body shapes and types that one may not traditionally see on the runway. However, Thomas says it’s important for Threads Fashion Show and the fashion industry as a whole to continue making an effort to be more inclusive so people – no matter their body type – can picture themselves being successful in the industry.
“We’re just starting to see more diversity in skin tone, in size ranges in the industry,” she says. “So our campus, our fashion show should also reflect that so people can feel safe and confident doing that, and I think we’re headed in the right direction.”