Does Fashion Week Need A Civil Rights Movement?

by Britni Danielle
Photo cred: CNBC

Photo cred: CNBC

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, “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.

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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?

  • Eva Wood

    Black Consumers need to swear off of the designers that do not use black models. It is as simple as that. Do not spend your money where you are not wanted.

  • omfg

    you know what? i’d like someone at clutch to explain why the question of the use of black models is so important to them. what does it symbolize? how does this change anything? how many black models on the runways would satisfy you? maybe it should be obvious, but i just would like to read something explaining why this issue is more pressing than say the number of black designers who are at mercedes benz fashion week.

    a few black designers have shown so far – tracy reese, david thale, hood by air – yet they’ve gone unmentioned here. a white blog did a whole write up of i think all of the black designers showing.

    although there could be more black designers, this constant pessimistic drumbeat about the dearth of black models is confounding. sometimes it’s understandable (when i see michelle obama wearing designer clothes and selling them out or the fact that kerry washington’s/olivia pope’s prada bags sell out) to want representation.

    i’m not sure what you mean by models of color. most of these designers, including vivienne tam, have a couple of asian girls in their shows. marc jacobs is among the designers who rarely if ever use black girls. i wouldn’t even bother pointing some of them out. they simply aren’t interested, never will be.

    i prefer to focus on the positive. and if you don’t like what you see, don’t buy their products be they perfumes, home goods, handbags, shoes or apparel.

  • ILF

    Lets stop trying to fit in and do our own thing. We will never fit in. Support those at Fashion Week that support Black models and Black labels.

  • MimiLuvs

    I have two friends who consider themselves to be “fashionistas” (I prefer to think of them as two dolts who will spend a $1,000 on a key chain because a famous clothes designer created the conception)and for the past two weeks they are having bringing up this topic in any (or every) gathering.
    Yesterday, after bringing this topic up (in the midst of a convo about whether or not I should buy more sweaters for this upcoming winter), I grew irritated.
    No… It’s more like I was at ‘Level Red’ of my terror chart.
    To completely shut them up, I simply said:
    “Either you stop buying the merchandise or stop complaining and continue buying the merchandise! You two were so quick to stop buying rap albums and downloading singles because of the misogynistic lyrics, but when it comes to these designers, y’all appear to make excuses! It’s as if you want to continue to give these white people money! If you really were upset about the lack of black models, you would stop buying the crap! You would donate the clothese that you have to Goodwill/Salvation Army! But you won’t! So shut the f**k up about it and be good customers!”

    Yeah, I was livid on that day.

  • Our Diversity at Work

    One of my friend went to her favorite shopping store and ask the manager why he didn’t put black mannequins in his window.

    He answered calmly: “Why, they buy our stuff anyway”.

    We have to support those who respect us.

  • geenababe

    This article made a thought come up in my mind about how all the famous black people who sit front row at these shows thinking they’re the stuff. I pretty sure they could care less that there aren’t any minority models on the runway. All they care about is being front row at a fashion show during Fashion Week.

    This problem will persist twenty years from now. Designers couldn’t care less and they have proven it over and over again. Most people will either simply not care to boycott because they love their designer labels or they will say we have more important things to worry about.

  • Clutch

    Hello OMFG,

    We actually have an article in the pipeline about Black designers at fashion week.

    However, this issue has not gone away and continues to be an important issue for many in the industry. Here at CLUTCH we’d like to see more Black faces in all facets of the industry and will continue to advocate for it.

    Thanks for reading & responding!

  • Elegance

    1) Fashion is an industry and if the models don’t like it then let them protest and cause a fuss just like in any other industry. It’s their careers and not up to outsiders (who need to advocate for their own careers).

    2) There are more important industries that Black folks need to get into instead of focusing on a shallow industry that promotes superficiality, extreme thinness, unrealistic beauty ideals, and exorbitant consumerism. These models are marketing objects that no one should be spending money on, let alone Black folks who should be spending more on property, business, education, and health.

    3) Go green and stop spending your money on expensive luxury items and instead invest it in property, education, health, your career, or other investments that will actually create lifelong benefits. It’s cool to be frugal and not the slave to whatever some fashion designer says you “must have” every season.

    4) Black women should not bother going into runway modeling and go into commercial modeling or other careers where they can earn a large income, be positive role models, and be respected. It’s better to own a fashion company than walking the runway. Create your own businesses and employ whatever model you want. It’s a new day, if they shut you out of something then there are other things you can do instead. Don’t get so hung up on a career that starts in your teens but is over once you hit 30 and promoting luxury items designed by people who don’t want you around.

  • MsSmeeg

    This will probably be unpopular but White Designers just cannot imagine that Black women can be elegant, sensual, sophisticated, beautiful, fierce, mysterious, alluring, seductive etc. To them, that only applies to shapeless, thin, European women (or of Euro descent).
    How long should we try and FORCE them to accept our beauty? It is looking so desperate and pathetic now. Whites (or other non-Blacks) just generally don’t want to understand or can’t understand Black beauty in it’s many shades and forms. The fashion world doesn’t really give a care about Blacks and they don’t need to because they are not losing money from not catering to us. Yet, strangely enough we Blacks (I will admit that I do like high fashion) love clothes made by White high fashion designers, we love Gucci, Prada, Valentino etc. and we love to flaunt them in music videos or on the red carpet, whilst talking about “fly” we look. So, (White) designers don’t need to cater to us because we Blacks will still strive to buy their clothes despite the preference for models being White White White. We still like giving them our money, so they win in the end.

  • BeanBean

    Yes, this is unfortunate. But come on now people, let’s not kid ourselves. Blacks in America and Africa have real problems to worry about. I’m less concerned with black faces on the runway, and more concerned with black people being disproportionately poor and having lower education. The fashion industry has a target market, and that is people with wealth! Blacks have spending power, but we don’t have wealth, which means we DON’T have influence. Notice the increasing amount of Asians on the runway, that’s because Asia is a rich and influential market. The fashion industry isn’t going to change their marketing because the poorest group of people in America complains (yes we blacks are the poorest group in this country). They’re going to keep marketing to people who buy their products, which is white people, and now Asians. We keep having this conversation over and over, yet the answer and logic stays the same. Is Ebony going to start putting white women on the cover because the small percentage of white readers demands diversity?? I don’t think so.

  • daniellejudith

    i don’t spend my money on that overrated, 1000% mark up merchandise. for those of color who do buy the merchandise, look at the designers’ runway shows.if they don’t have blacks or other races, then don’t buy.

  • honeybeemee

    What I propose for us to do as Black Women is STOP busting our buns and draining our bank accounts to buy all that expensive, not-made-to-last JUNK that a lot of designers peddle to us…some of it is NOT practical for most women to wear/carry anyway…unless one has a limitless income pool, there are more ways to wisely invest. One of the WORST fashion investments I ever made (I won’t say the name entirely, hint) was a monogram bag by a famous maker that started to crack around the zipper by the third month I had it…and I didn’t even carry it everyday…

  • diasporauk

    I’m with those who question the value of this crusade for more catwalk models of color.

    I think we can box this into the diversity movement, which demands jobs in white only enclaves for a few “special negros”, and once those negros are in — BLACK people better watch out.

    Diversity advocates will use the black masses to serve two purposes

    1. to gain support for their petty crusades
    2. to threaten the institution they’re trying to diversify.

    Once they’re demands have been met and they’re able to celebrate the first black this or that, they’ll show their true colour (pun not intended), which is just as cracker white as any cracker. The negros who get in now become the new gatekeepers, whose job is to keep blacks out.


    Blacks must PRACTICE power, not beg for diversity. The power you have when you’re 30m strong. That’s power.

    Labour power, buying power, boycott power, protest power, “agitation” power, disruption power, political power . . . .

    military power.

    No catwalk diversity necessary.


  • Elegance

    And speaking of Asians, I don’t think they care at all that there are not many Asians on the runway. They have more important things to focus on than selling clothes they didn’t design from companies they don’t own. They have their own industries, designers, and magazines. I don’t think they are worried that no one will find them attractive unless there are Asian faces in fashion shows. They focus on careers that don’t depend on your looks. Black folks should do the same and focus on careers that depend on your transferable skills and intelligence so that you can have a long career..

  • Elegance

    One more comment.

    I want to know how much these Black models are earning for them to complain and garner attention from the rest of us. Are they barely making ends meet? Or are these women making $80 000 per year but upset they are not making $120,000 by doing fashion week and runway shows? Should we really be worried about these women when the unemployment rate is so high? Is the success of Black models really going to elevate Black people that much? For what they do I do not think they are worth us worrying about. They were the ones who decided to go into a field based on looks when the industry prefers the White look.

  • recola

    While its good to bring attention to no blacks on the runway its also good to highlight those creating there own lane:

    Harlem’s Fashion Row was started by a black woman and it is growing incredibly. They have events all year long but they just had there big fashion show and it featured amazing BLACK fashion Designers, using beautiful Black models and honoring a few Blacks Legends in the fashion industry. I went the other day at Columbus square and it was sooo good!! – can you do a article on that??

  • Dee D

    I agree to an extent.
    I would like more attention being brought to designers who produce their clothes in Africa, and initiatives for more designers to do so, and build the economies in African countries, however the last thing I would want is for Africa to become the new China. If there is a sprinkle of black models (3-4) in a show I’m okay with that, there will never be a show with 50% black models. Blacks make up small percent of those who buy “luxury” goods; designers know this and they aren’t going to fill a show with models that don’t represent an aspect of their target audience.
    However, I would like to see at least some diversity because beauty is diverse and the world is diverse. So if a fashion magazine prints 100 pages and blacks make up 10% of those who buy luxury goods at least 10 of the models in the magazine (whether it be in ad campaigns or editorials) should be black.
    Nonetheless, compared to 10 or even 5 years ago the fashion has made some progress due to people speaking out. A good percentage of designers have used at least 1 black model in ad campaigns and the number of black models in editorials has increased as well. Being silent never brought change about.

  • BeanBean

    The reason why luxury brands are trying to sell in Asia is because Asia has become prosperous through education and business. I think it’s funny that many people jump quickly to complaining and writing articles about racism in the fashion industry, when there should be more articles about the lack of blacks in science fields!! Most people regardless of race will ever model, so the rest of us need to find careers that will feed our families and keep us living in a safe neighborhood. First thing is First!

  • Ads

    This right here should be the article! Or even a series: why does an industry that turns womens bodies into ( unhealthy) commodities for the consumption of the hyper-elite warrant so much aspiration??

  • Ads

    Careers in science yes– but also careers in nursing, in retail, in service. We dont need to move people into ‘better’ careers- we need all careers to have living wages and benefits you can raise a family on. Every working woman deserves dignity and the ability to cate for her family. Fuck fashion- how bout federally mandated paid maternity leave, public preschool nationally, and single payer healthcare? How about people dont soend $5k on a vest when there’s kids who go to bed hungry?

  • Perspective

    So let me get this straight –

    So there is no patriarchy because black men haven’t built one, as a result black men don’t promote black women because black men aren’t building, maintaining, nor preserving a BLACK community.

    Black women get ZERO promotion in the media because black men don’t have their own.

    Black women’s solution is to BEG white folks to let them into their shit – because black women have no alternative.

    Black women hate the white beauty standard, yet still want to be apart of it, don’t want to be defined by it, but want to be associated with it AT ALL THE STATUS IT DENOTES.


    I apologize for the FAILURES of black men, and black men NOT providing all the benefits that come with patriarchy that all of you have to sit back and watch other races of women receive.

  • diasporauk

    Elegance and Ads

    Thank you both.

    Modelling is not an industry that can address the employment needs of black women.

    By definition it is an exclusive and elitist industry which means 99.9 women (of all races) will never be models, by current industry “standards”.

    I agree with you both that black women shouldn’t waste their energy trying to diversify this particular industry.

  • mimi

    It’s time for us as black people not colored people to leave their socity alone. We have creativity, style, beauty and lots of it. I believe it’s time for us to stop buying designer clothes, hand bags, purses and shoes and start to build, create and make these thigs ourselves. Lets face it, this is the world that White people have made for themselves and they are reaping the benifits of their unity and European family who must eat before we do. Stop buying from them Period

  • MusiKCityK

    Most of these designers don’t covet black customers, and we are not there target. Therefore they are not interested in change.

  • paintgurl40

    I would love to read an article and see photos about that!!

  • paintgurl40

    YES,YES,and YES!!! They don’t care if we spend our money on them or not. So let’s drop our hard earned money on a black designer or black cosmetics as well as hair care.

  • Gina

    HELL NO!
    This is why we can’t advance as a people. Why the hell should we try so hard to get into an industry that has made it clear, DOES NOT WANT US?

    What we should be having a ‘civil rights movement’ for business that try to push black competitors out. (Hello, Asian hair markets), We need to be getting our children on THE BUSINESS aspect of these industries. It’s not good for business right now to have black models or black designers because we are not running numbers behind the scenes.

    Good example of this? Shonda Rhimes. Why do we have a top show right now featuring a black woman in the lead? Because someone BEHING THE SCENES who is black made it happen. The only way we can care for our own is to be the one running things.
    Go to school. Stop getting useless degrees in Communications, Graphic Design, etc.

    And get INVOLVED!

  • Monica

    I’m so tired of black people being upset, up in a roar and concerned about things like this. Who cares if fashion shows don’t use black models. We have bigger things to be concerned with……..I’m concerned about our black children being born out of wedlock….
    Those of you with one child or more can get upset all you want…………………………………..
    Everyone thinks their an exception to the rule……………………………………………………
    My child he won’t grow up like that…………..Yet they do………………………………………….
    Single black mothers are failing in raising productive law abiding citizens……………….
    And I’m supossed to be concerned with the lack of diversity in a fashion show or that Sheryl Underwood stated how she felt about natural hair……..
    What difference does it make?????

  • Par Le Patreq

    A fashion industry civil rights movement is not the answer. Whites have made it clear that they are and forever will be partial to their own. The missing element is the lack of support for black fashion designers from the black community. There is such a disconnect with the black designer and the consumer market, and until more black designers get that recognition both financially and through media, there will never be a significant change in the world of fashion.

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