Fashion photographs are plastered all over the walls of Ben Barry’s office, but it doesn’t take long to realize these aren’t your typical models. They look like human beings. Most of the models pictured come from Barry’s founded modeling agency Ben Barry Agency Inc. – an agency that represents models of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and ages. The photographs, if anything, serve as a shining display of diversity in fashion that Barry hopes to bring to the Ryerson School of Fashion.
Barry is bringing his inclusive fashion perspective to Ryerson as an assistant professor, where he is focusing on the lack of diversity in the industry and how it can be changed. He believes Ryerson’s acknowledgement of the issue is a step in the right direction, saying, “there is no fashion school anywhere that has really recognized this issue as important.”
Among other accomplishments, Barry is currently the chair on the board of directors for the Toronto Fashion Incubator, a non-profit organization that assists creative individuals, such as designers and business owners, to achieve their desired future endeavours. Recently, he also wrote an article for Elle Canada magazine, where he asked whether using a diverse range of models could benefit brands (the answer is yes, it sure can).
With reference to today’s constant use of emaciated models and the overlooking of the average woman, he says, “there’s an opportunity to change it by talking to the next generation of creators and teaching them about these issues, and getting them to think outside of that Vogue magazine spread.”
Although some fashion industry folk may see the emergence of diversity within it as daunting—just look to the disrespectful, cackling audience during this Toronto Fashion Week’s plus-sized Allistyle show, which Barry helped coordinate—diversity is bound to become celebrated as opposed to shunned, says Barry, especially once the youth begins to jump on board. Barry says by teaching future designers and editors about the beauty of diversity, they will be more willing and able to make necessary changes.
“The industry thinks aspiration is a particular body size, a particular age, a particular height,” says Barry. “What I found is that the industry of fashion has aspiration wrong. What aspiration actually is, to consumers, is the creative direction, the clothes, the hair and makeup, the photography. It’s all the talent and creativity that go into a show or image… It doesn’t matter if a model is a size two or a size 16.”
Barry has already begun bringing events to Ryerson that help promote his vision. Diversity Now, one of the first events to be put on by Ryerson, brought in notable guest speaker Caryn Franklin, the former fashion editor of i-D magazine and a strong supporter of inclusive fashion. First year students then had to create proposals of works that would incorporate diversity. Two courses at Ryerson are currently taught by Barry: his Fashion Entrepreneurship course, which is available through the School of Fashion’s graduate program, has students creating their own diversity-focused businesses.
“It’s not about getting rid of one model and replacing one model type with another, but it’s really about diversifying models. It’s about extending the beauty ideal so it’s inclusive of a variety of consumers,” Barry says. “How you feel about your body, about yourself when you look at an ad, is also how you feel about the brand.”