Photo credit: Michael Mandiberg
Photo credit: Michael Mandiberg

New York Fashion Week for the 2017 spring/summer season started last Thursday, and still on display was an ironic dilemma: Men dominate an industry that is made up of mostly women employees and consumers.

Women hold important roles in just about everything that goes on during Fashion Week. Business of Fashion’s popular Top 500 List shows that many noteworthy women work in the field and play a variety of parts to orchestrate this high-pressured collaboration that happens twice a year.

Fashion Week isn’t as simple as putting on a show. Designers showcase their collections in performance-driven demonstrations — collaborating with creative directors, searching for concepts that will create buzz and hoping that consumers remember their collection when the products are released months later. It’s a challenging task that many women take on in hopes of having their talents featured during the biggest event in the fashion industry.

It’s something of an uphill battle. Women hold less than a quarter of leadership positions in the world’s top fashion companies, even though they make up more than 70 percent of the fashion workforce, according to BoF. Even in womenswear, only 40 percent of brands are lead by female designers.

The disproportionate number of men in primary roles across the industry may be due, in part, to women’s often outsized role in maintaining families, as is the case in many industries. “Women take on many roles, and wear many hats. They’re wives, they’re mothers,” designer Vera Wang told BoF earlier this month. “I raised two daughters and ran my own company and designed and tried to keep people employed… I didn’t feel like there was a lot of time in my life to squeeze everything in.”

The problem of gender inequality within the industry is visible during Fashion Week events globally. Brands being showcased across New York, London, Milan, and Paris show there are more male designers creating clothing for women.

But there are female entrepreneurs who are out to make a difference in the niches of Fashion Week — designers, makeup artists, models, photographers, editors. And they are slowly getting more recognition. In fact, at New York Fashion Week, 48 percent of designers helming brands are female,  compared to 31 percent in Milan, 37 in Paris and 41 in London.

Among the female designers recognized for their talents over recent seasons is Lisa N. Hoang, who won the People’s Choice Award for Fashionspark — a non-profit interdisciplinary art and design festival — in 2015 and is featured in the NYFW 2016 livestream. And Chitose Abe, who founded her label, Sacai, in 1999, flourished overseas in 2014. The label today has over 90 international stockists, and Abe works with clients from Milan, Paris and Hong Kong.

Other women in the industry making waves include Tavi Genvinson, Rookie magazine creator and editor, who is on the front cover of Teen Vogue’s September issue. Essence magazine threw the Street Style Awards Block Party, where they sponsored Shea Moisture, a hair brand founded by Sofu Tucker, an entrepreneur who started her business selling shea nuts in Sierra Leone.

“While there seem to be countless young men in the fashion pipeline who have been anointed as the next great designer, the women who are their contemporaries seem to be quietly plugging along, without much fanfare and certainly without the labels of ‘darling,’ ‘wunderkind’ or anything else that suggests they have some kind of genius struggling to escape,” wrote Robin Givhan, a style and culture critic, in the Daily Beast five years ago.

It’s an observation that still holds today, but change does seem to be in the air. Join us as we check out the shows and speak to women changemakers — a profile on Lanvanya Coodly, a promising up-and-coming designer whose clothing is “designed to resonate with the urban woman with a bohemian heart,” is up next.