The new face of NZ Fashion Week: Embracing equality with widespread representation

New Zealand Fashion Week came to a close on Friday. 

This year organisers pledged their commitment to empowerment and body positivity on the catwalk

It's an industry shift being driven by the consumer, and it's a welcome one. So how did they do? 

In-demand fashion model Mercy Brewer is accomplished, gorgeously phenomenally photogenic and will be 60 years old next March.

And she has never been busier. Scottish-born Brewer is now a staple of the New Zealand fashion industry and fashion week. She has spent this week showcasing designs for everyone from Paris Georgia to Havilah. 

Brewer helped paved the way for older models, but it wasn’t always easy convincing the local industry that catwalk grey is catwalk gold.

When she arrived in New Zealand a decade ago, she floated the idea with a fashion journalist explaining that she used to work the European circuit as a model and was wondering whether she might get work.

"She didn’t quite laugh in my face, but close to," Brewer told Newshub. 

Five years ago, she knew she’d got the timing right when she came out on the catwalk for Zambesi. 

"All these women started applauding. Before that they were just looking at the clothes, and then they saw this old chick coming out. They actually started to clap, they were so up for it." 

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, tokenism is rife. It has to be more than that.  

Fashion is the very definition of being all about appearances and equality will only come about with widespread representation.

Part of this year's fashion week schedule was an animated and passionate panel discussion pushing for a wide range of diversity in fashion, whether it's age, colour, culture, size, sexual orientation or disability.

Jess Quinn lost her leg to cancer as a child. This year the social media influencer and Dancing with the Stars contestant was once again a runway model.

"It means a lot. I grew up not feeling represented at all. I grew up without a leg, and there were no models in the media who had one leg," she says. 

"I guess for me that started a brainwave and I realised a lot of people grow up feeling different for various reasons. It’s just about representing people - women in particular… exactly as they are."

Grace Stratton loves fashion and has been a wheelchair user for 19 years. She's a champion of inclusivity and this year she assisted with casting fashion week models to help ensure they reflected diversity. 

"For people with access needs there is a long way to go to include us in the (fashion) space," as with all other spaces.  But I think this work is a really big step towards that inclusion," said Stratton.

 Awareness of access needs this year was extended to everyone involved with fashion week; from organisers to show producers.

Stratton hopes the lessons will be carried to future fashion weeks.  

"My hope is that next year and all the years after people will be able to implement accessibility as the norm." 

This shift to a new normal for NZ Fashion week reflects the global one. Fashion house Chanel has just appointed a Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, following in the catwalk steps of Burberry and Gucci.