The Diversity Network is a collaboration between Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, an initiative challenging the fashion industry’s dependence on unachievable and unhealthy body ideals.

Launched with the help of Government Minister, Lynne Featherstone, at Graduate Fashion Week June 2011, it promotes ‘emotionally considerate’ design and practice through innovative educational methods and research.

Led by Mal Burkinshaw, Programme Director of Fashion at ECA, The Diversity Network connects academics across the UK, facilitating knowledge exchange and the sharing of best practice on the theme of diversity and engagement with users’ needs and feelings. 

A hub for developing and showcasing cutting-edge academic projects relating to diversity, it strives to inform existing industry stakeholders, and the fashion designers and influencers of the future.

From Body Talks to Beauty by Design and RSE funding

In April 2013, The Diversity Network held the Body Talks symposium at Inspace in the University of Edinburgh. The key speakers were from H&M, All Walks, the charity BODY and the Vestoj-Journal of Sartorial Matters and they attracted a multidisciplinary audience of people at all career stages, leading to a student project with H&M.

Network partners have played a leading role in Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance, a multidisciplinary project bringing together art historical research with contemporary fashion design to question cultural commonplaces about beauty and body image. Launched at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in September 2012, the project culminated in a major exhibition at the Gallery which ran from November 2014 to January 2015 and attracted over 152,000 visitors.

Building on previous funding from the Research and Knowledge Exchange Office at the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has awarded the Network funding to design new cultures of communication for fashion industries. The project will work towards the Diversity Network Fashion Forum 2018, bringing network members together with the public to demonstrate the positive ways in which fashion can be used to celebrate and enhance self-esteem.  

In addition to research, the Network educates students in the importance of developing a more responsible, diverse and emotionally considerate response to fashion design and communication. For example, all fashion design projects at ECA now require the students to consider how their work will address and celebrate the needs of a very wide customer base in terms of size, age, race and height. 

Photo of models backstage at a fashion show
Edinburgh College of Art
Since the launch of the Network, diversity has become a highlight of the annual ECA fashion show

"We live in a diverse world. The fashion industry can send out a more conscious message, develop a more emotionally considerate practice in pursuit of a more lucrative business proposition. It all begins in education.”

All Walks Beyond the Catwalk founders, Caryn Franklin, Debra Bourne and Erin O’Connor

Praise for The Diversity Network

“By encouraging young designers to connect fashion with the diverse body types of today’s men and women, and embracing reality in a world dominated by a very narrow idea of beauty, Edinburgh College of Art has made a huge step forward.”

Jo Swinson, former Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs and Women and Equalities

“The concept of diversity really challenges your thinking and the way you design. It has been a very beneficial experience that has transcended into my work for menswear designs”.

Andrew McLaren, Fashion - BA (Hons) graduate

“I found this project completely inspiring and I've learnt that designing for a specific someone is much more fulfilling than designing for the typical skinny, caucasian model.”

Heather Dooley, Fashion - BA (Hons) graduate

Would you like to get involved in research at ECA?

We are always looking for research partners and participants. If you are interested in getting involved in research at Edinburgh College of Art, please contact our Research, Knowledge Exchange and Outreach (RKEO) Office by emailing ECA.rkeo@ed.ac.uk.

We also offer a range of research-led postgraduate programmes. Find out more.


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