Worrying declarations that the catwalks and the fashion industry in general are becoming increasingly dominated by white models have been frequenting the tabloids in recent years.
It’s beyond question that racially diverse models are underrepresented and one can only question why, in a world where discrimination issues are improving day by day, diversity in fashion has barely developed, let alone been resolved. With powerful social media campaigns surfacing and succeeding, such as #LoveWins which spread the message of the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the U.S. and the rising acceptance of transgender people, most famously elicited by Caitlyn Jenner, how can the fashion world remain so intolerant?
Although they may go unnoticed and get little recognition, there have been a number of models, designers and industry insiders who have been paving the way for a more diverse future in fashion. At present, there’s a major surplus of white models, with numbers verging on 80% during fashion weeks across the globe, in comparison to models of other ethnic origins. However, it’s not rare that we see models such as Jourdan Dunn, Joan Smalls and Liu Wen dominate the catwalk. With ‘supermodel’ status, these models are defying the fashion elite’s perception that there’s only one form of perfection and beauty. Jourdan Dunn has been particularly vocal in the fight for racial diversity amongst the fashion industry. She continually voices her frustration and confusion as to why model agents imply it’s a good thing when she’s the only black model booked for certain shows. There’s no suggestion of there being a lack of models from diverse ethnicities; it’s simply a case of there not being enough of them represented. As the Diversity Coalition has declared, ‘No matter the intention, the result is racism’.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a shortage of stories involving racism or discrimination in fashion. Models have been rejected from castings purely due to the colour of their skin, and many have experienced racist encounters with others working in the industry. However, counteracting this negativity is the work of designers such as Diane von Furstenberg, who is a keen advocate of increasing diversity on the catwalks. As president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, she recently declared that ‘beauty is diversity’. This is a statement that cannot be denied, and it’s essential that it’s taken onboard by many more influential figures.
Teen Vogue’s high-profile August issue is fronted by a trio of upcoming models of colour. Imaan Hammam, Aya Jones and Lineisy Montero appear united on the cover, and prove that fashion need not be a racist business. Evidently, models of all backgrounds are just as capable of showcasing collections and encouraging consumer interest, no matter what their skin colour or heritage is. Developments are undoubtedly beginning to appear, leading one to question not whether the lack of diversity in the fashion industry will ever be resolved, but when.
Words: Ella Rhys-Jones
- – bt.com