New York Fashion week is in full swing, and while most are focused on the designers’ visions for Spring, many are once again wondering why the majority of the faces on the runways are White.
Recently, Bethann Hardison sent a letter to fashion counsels in New York, London, Paris and Milan demanding they no longer accept the dearth of models of color during fashion’s biggest events.
Hardison, a former model and fashion activist, wrote:
“Eves are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use one or no models of color.
No matter the intention, the result is racism.
Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society.”
Hardison went on to put several couturiers–including Calvin Klein, Diesel, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Rag & Bone, Victoria Beckham, and Vivienne Tam—on blast for the “racist act” of not using models of color.
Hardison’s frustration mirrors that of others who have been very vocal about the industry’s lack of diversity. Last February, just six percent of the models used in New York Fashion Week were Black, causing many to wonder why designers continue to discriminate against models of color.
Pultizer Prize-winning fashion journalist, Robin Givhan, says she commends Hardison on her activism, but is frustrated that this problem still persists.
“I admire her patience because, honestly, I can remember the first story I ever wrote about how homogenous the runways were, and it was like 1996, 1997,” Givhan told New York Magazine’s The Cut. “It just keeps coming around and at a certain point you do wonder, why is this so difficult to grasp?”
Supermodel Jourdan Dunn hopes Hardison’s efforts to force the industry to be more inclusive pay off. Earlier this year Dunn tweeted that she was disappointed, but relieved that she passed over for Christian Dior’s show because of her body, not her skin color.
“I’m normally told I’m cancelled because I’m ‘coloured,’” she wrote, “so being cancelled because of my boobs is a minor : )”
Dunn says she’s frustrated that models of color are viewed as trends that are popular one season and non-existent the next. She told Fashionista.com, “I mean, there was a season where ethnic models were being represented and then it went back to the same routine of just using one or none at all. It seems like [non-white models] are only cast when it’s hot for one season and everyone jumps on board. It’s a look.”
Despite the inequality in the industry, models have yet to stage a boycott of the fashion world. While it’s unlikely Black models could pull off such a feat on their own—their presence is already so small, a Fashion Week boycott by Black models would do little to hurt designers—a large-scale protest by models in the industry could be beneficial.
I don’t see this happening anytime soon, however. The modeling world is extremely competitive and girls can and are replaced all of the time. Perhaps it will take a few brave (popular, White) souls to sit out fashion’s biggest events before designers truly change their ways.
But what do you think: Does fashion need a civil rights movement? Or should Black models—and by extension Black consumers—only support those designers who are more inclusive?