Inclusivity of Fashion in the Johnson City Area By: Kathryn Norungolo

Johnson City, Tennessee is filled with people of all races, religions and body types. One person could have an aspect of themselves in each category, and the question is how does the area in which they live supply them with the resources to be comfortable in what they wear. Or does it?

Fashion has a different definition depending on the person that is asked. Some people deem fashion as a way of life, one where it is important to follow the latest trends. Some people argue that comfort is fashion. Some people have guidelines according to their religion that must be followed, and that is their fashion.

According to City Data, Johnson City is populated by white, black, hispanic, asian and mixed races. Inclusivity of fashion must be brought into question in an area with a population that is not all the same.

Pie-chart from CityData representing the Johnson City demographics.

Jimmy Young, fashion designer and East Tennessee State University student, directed a fashion show called “The Mind Tour” through the Multicultural Center on April 22.

The show was open to students as well as to the general public. Stores such as Belk, Charlotte Russe and Victoria’s Secret all had segments in the show.

There are not many shows of this type in Johnson City, and this is a type of experience where anyone can go to learn about fashion. However, a fashion show is only as productive on account of how inclusive the styles are to everyone.

Young picked the outfits and hairstyles for each scene and designed a collection of his own for the show. He only designs custom pieces and says he is open to every type of person and wanted to represent that in his show.

“I was really pressed on using every girl in the show in my scene,” said Young. “To let people know and see you can be beautiful and wear the clothes, but still be appropriate for your body type.”

While Young wants to gear his branding to all women and in the future, men, the show was populated with models that were predominately African American.

While the race of the models was specific, guests that were not African American did not necessarily feel like they had been cut out of the experience.

Morgan Lecka, a Caucasian student at ETSU, was a member of the audience for “The Mind Tour” and recognized that many of the women were expressive of different body types but not race.

“I thought that it was very diverse in women’s sizes,” said Lecka. “But I think it was obvious that his main focus was on African American men and women.”

Lecka was still able to find styles she would wear despite the fact that her race was not fully represented in the show.

Alexis Ferguson, an ETSU graduate and African American woman, joined Lecka at the fashion show.

She also made a point to say that she believed the show was well-rounded in every aspect such as hair, style, shape and size.

“The show was definitely geared more toward the African American culture and race,” said Ferguson. “But all in all I do think it was tasteful.”

Young succeeded in pleasing the tastes of two different races of women without having to represent the two equally in his show.

This look into the fashion show gives the impression that the clothing itself was inclusive to all types of people, no matter the race of the person wearing the garment.

Maurice’s is a womenswear store in the Johnson City mall that was also represented at “The Mind Tour” fashion show.

The company itself has been in business since the 1930s and carries sizes 0-26.

For Maurice’s, inclusivity of race does not come before inclusivity in size. Kim Depew, store manager of Maurice’s in the Johnson City Mall, says the company has geared their brand toward comfort before trends because of the wide age and size range they cater to.

"We show the latest fashions but we aren't trendy,” said Depew. "If you come in and shop whatever you buy is going to stay in style.”

This type of branding opens up another avenue to women of different races but also people of different sizes. However, can this include women that are of a bigger size, specific ethnicity and strict religious background?

Kelly Atkins, professor of Merchandising at ETSU, worked in retail for 16 years, 10 of those years at Gap, prior to getting her masters to come back to teach at the university.

Atkins believes the best attempt at overall inclusivity starts with the employees of a retailer.

“In general, for a business to project inclusivity I think employees need to be representative of different types of races or genders or cultures,” said Atkins. “Whether or not the store carries typically for a religion, having employees that showcase how the person can wear the clothing in the store and still have it fit within the guidelines of their religion is important.”

She says this is how a business shows they care about including everyone in their apparel, but she has also seen the side of business that makes it difficult for a store to be inclusive in this sense.

“From my own experience in retail, we had a lot of Church of God women shopping that wore long skirts,” said Atkins. “They felt like their selection was rather seasonal [not sold year-round].”

In the seasons where fashion generally gravitated toward a shorter hemline, women within the Church of God found it difficult to be able to dress according to their religious guidelines.

According to Atkins, retailers such as Gap did their best to have a staff that represented a wide range of ages, races and religions.

However, there are retailers such as Abercrombie and Fitch that have been known for the opposite.

One reason inclusivity has come into question, especially with religion, has a lot to do with the portrayal of a company in the media.

Abercrombie and Fitch has recently come back into the media spotlight after a Muslim woman, applying to work at the store in 2011, was denied employment because she wanted to wear her hijab.

She decided to sue the company, and in 2015 she won the case.

An issue like this one would likely keep Muslim women from wanting to shop at the store due to the fact that the store does not support the image of religious inclusivity with their clothing.

Therefore, a public display of rejection to a certain type of person, whether that be based on race, culture or religion, automatically rejects any kind of inclusivity to the brand as most women that have a strict religious affiliation will also have a body type, race and age to appeal to

New York City (left) and Paris (right).

Fashion does not only deal with inclusivity along the lines of the type of person, but also the style of a person.

Many trends that will show up in the Johnson City area started in the big metropolitan areas such as New York City and Los Angeles, and the trends that started there came over from European fashion centers like Paris and Milan.

Heath Owens, a former ETSU student, moved to New York City after graduation. While he was still at ETSU, Owens spent a spring semester studying at New York University and that same year travelled to Paris for the summer for study abroad.

Owens began to find his niche when it came to fashion while studying in two major fashion capitals, and when he came back to campus he realized how different trends really are.

“At NYU people don't go to class in hoodies and sweatpants,” said Owens. “Everyone just takes much more time to get ready for class.”

It is not common to have every single person in a classroom dressed up, and that looks to the retailers in the area because if most of the clothing available is casual then that is what students are going to wear.

Owens adopted many different trends after he came back, some of which he believes people in this area would be completely against. For example, he commented that women in Johnson City would never approve of mixing different patterns but that is a style that Owens plays with a lot.

“One of my favorite things that I adopted from my travels is monochrome [use of one color in different shades],” he said, “I saw it in both high fashion and ready to wear.”

Because these trends and styles are not readily worn in this area, Owens feels like he has to go elsewhere to experiment with his clothing.

The inclusivity of fashion does not deal with the body type of a person, but rather the kind of a person somebody wants to be in regards to style.

Stores in this area are generally chain stores, and no matter where a customer goes they are going to see the same product in the store. This makes it difficult to be unique and stand out and some people, like Owens, have an issue with that.

However, Atkins comes back to the idea that there are still many different places in the Johnson City area that can cater to many people in regards to what they are wanting. For example, William King in Bristol is a retailer that makes custom-made suits for those businessmen and women that prefer something higher class.

“I think we have different types of stores and apparel retailers in the Tri-Cities area that meets the needs of people in many diverse cultures,” said Atkins.

Diversity is found in both race as well as style preference.

The question of inclusivity is constantly circling the fashion industry because it pertains to more than just one segment of humanity.

Race, religion, body type and style all come into play when pleasing one customer, because each shopper has an aspect in each category that needs to be catered to.


Created with images by Hammerin Man - "Here's looking up your street" • tinto - "New York City" • Moyan_Brenn - "Paris"

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