September 6th, 2013
Bethann Hardison, Blacks in Fashion, Diversity, Ethnic Models, Fashion, Fashion News
Diversity Coalition Publishes Letter Calling Out Fashion Industry on Continued Racism
By The Fashion Bomb Staff

Sometimes, it seems as if the problem of diversity and racism in fashion is one that will never be resolved, but that’s not stopping the Diversity Coalition from holding the industry at large responsible. The organization, helmed by former model and current activist Bethann Hardison, reached out to some of fashion’s most powerful people to address the issue head-on.

fall 2012 givenchy-Joan-Smalls

In a series of letters addressed to fashion’s governing bodies in the US, France, UK, and Italy, the Diversity Coalition takes each to task about the continued marked lack of black models on the runways season after season. Each epistle was posted to Balance Diversity, a WordPress blog that seems to have been created only yesterday. The CFDA, BFC, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, and the Chambre Syndicale received the following letter:

 

Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use of one or no models of color.

No matter the intention, the result is racism.

Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond “aesthetic” when it is consistent with the designer’s brand.

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.

It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model.

 

Shots fired! The BFC has already put forth a response to British Vogue, claiming no responsibility for the actions of designers and casting agents, asserting that they do encourage diversity on the runway to those designers under their umbrella:

Senait Gidey Jean Paul Gaultier HC 2013

“The British Fashion Council does not organise model castings for London Fashion Week although, as its governing body, strongly asserts that all participating designers should recognise that London is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world and should consider reflecting this demographic at their shows and presentations. The BFC is committed to model welfare and is more than happy to engage in tackling any issues regarding best practice and diversity at London Fashion Week.”

As for the CFDA, CEO Steven Kolb and President Diane Von Furstenberg have already discussed the letter, with Kolb saying that the firm had already sent out two e-mails to their designers, encouraging them to add a little color to their casts this season. “If the coalition, Bethann or whoever feels the message needs to be stronger, then we are happy to meet and to be part of that discussion,” he told WWD.

jean-paul-gaultier-spring-2013-50

Unsurprisingly, the French and the Italians didn’t take too kindly to the note. Chambre Syndicale president Didier Grumbach called it “unreasonable,” citing the diversity of their designers showing later this month as proof that the French are committed to diversity. According to him, the fact that the designers come from 22 different nations covers any threat of racism.

Mario Boselli, head of Italy’s Camera della Moda, says they have no control over what their designers do, and therefore cannot be held responsible for the lack of brown faces on their runways. Indeed, Italy has been criticized for their notoriously whitewashed runways, and it seems that even though Milan Fashion Week continues to be one of the least diverse of Fashion Month, it hasn’t been an issue they care to address:

“The Camera della Moda has always allowed its members complete freedom to decide autonomously. As the Camera avoids all discriminations, it suggests to fashion companies to avoid discrimination, but it can’t impose anything. The Camera has taken action against showing models that are too young or too slim on the runway, in an antianorexia effort, and penalizes those companies that are found at fault, but has never [deliberated] on skin color.”

Of course, as a black woman in fashion who happens to write for a blog committed to showcasing and bringing diversity to the industry, I’m in full agreement with the words of the Diversity Coalition. I hope that with this letter, designers at least try to make some sort of commitment to fixing the problem, but based on past adventures in racism, I have a hard time believing that the fashion world at large will stop making excuses and start actually trying to change something.

0 Jourdan Dunn, Kate Moss, Lily Cole, Karen Elson, David Gandy, Georgia May Jagger, and Stella Tennant for Vogue UK September 2012

How many times have we heard of black models being shut out of opportunities because another black model had already been cast for a show or campaign, and the designer has ‘filled their quota?’ How many editorials featuring white models painted brown have we seen in the past few years? How many black women have secured major campaigns for top brands? Let’s go even deeper: where are all the black editors at top fashion magazines? Why are there so few?

more-vogue-netherlands-blackface

010 Ondria Hardin for Numéro #141 March 2013 in African Queen

Of course, there are those designers who consistently feature black women on the runway: Givenchy, Zac Posen, and Jean Paul Gaultier are just a few, but there are countless high-end brands who seem to completely ignore the fact that brown folks exist. How many black models have you seen on the runway for coveted labels like Alexander McQueen, Céline, or Prada?

black issue tyra

All in all, hopefully this letter can be a catalyst for further discussion, but until we start actually seeing more brown faces, as opposed to paying lip service to the idea, I’m not going to hold my breath for any sort of change.

 

But, that’s just my opinion. What do you guys think?

 

~Jihan

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19 Responses to “Diversity Coalition Publishes Letter Calling Out Fashion Industry on Continued Racism”

  1. Honeybrown says:

    I love this post !!! I honestly think things will not change until we decide to stop supporting these brands. Lets be honest we provide alot of revenue to alot of these fashion houses and its obvious that they don’t want us associated with their brand, some have even said so. This is not to dictate what someone can and cannot wear but honestly Lets stop label chasing and support those who support us!! The racism and lack of diversity not only consist of the lack of brown models on the runway but the lack of brown high fashion designers as a whole. It amazes me how we have such a hard time in a industry that we provide most of the money for. I have worked in the fashion industry for years and I still have to work extra hard to get ahead.

  2. Meika says:

    I completely agree w/Honeybrown… The change needs to start w/us…

  3. Delia says:

    You know Jihan, I was recently searching the FBD site for the blog post where you guys singled out the high-end designers that use black models, so thank you for this! I have decided that unless the designer uses black or brown models (Asians don’t count unless you’re gonna pull a Cambodian) I’m not buying. I believe “the fashion houses will get the picture when we stop buying” idea will only take root if I’m responsible for myself. So I’M taking the initiative and if that means I don’t buy as many things that’s cool. Instead I can put more money into creating wealth for my family and community and not somebody who doesn’t want to acknowledge my existence but will take my money.

  4. Deedee says:

    I third honey brown. Any issue of civil rights takes steam with economic consequences. This is particularly salient for the black glitterati who traipse around in these designers who are more than happy to dress them for their own publicity and seat them in the front row…but still won’t have models that look like them. This would be a great platform for King Bey to take a stand on given her power and fashion house support. Social responsibility stand up!

  5. bella says:

    While I agree with some parts I think it’s up to us as black people to keep creating our own businesses and high fashion brands.

    We can’t force people to stop being racist. It’s 2013 and a lot of doors still aren’t opening. We need to build our own and stop buying into brands that don’t see black people as part of their target audience.

  6. whatevs says:

    Honeybrown is speaking truth…what incentive does the “Fashion world” have to change… is it to be seen as good wholesome people…please…the art/fashion world have always been exclusive that’s what they thrive on…and I wish people will stop calling these people their friends and then when they want to address discrimination they address some abstract fashion industry…if they’re your friend go sit down and have an honest conversation…

    hell, when all of these rappers created urban brands with clothes, perfumes and etc…they still primarily used white/non-black women as the face of their brands with the occassional big name black supermodel/actress…nobody called them out…

    personally, if I were a fashion house I would continue to do as they’ve done in the past…keep saying it’s something to think about and continue business as usual…if ya’ll dumb enough to keep falling for the okey dokey…then…

  7. Poetry says:

    As long as we continuously look for their acceptance this lack of color in the fashion insustry will always remain. Maybe if we created our own fashion industry, showed more support to aspiring as well as our known black designers we wouldn’t give a hoot about what these white fashion designers do when it come to diversity with their fashion.

    We are always trying to force others to let us in when we could simply create our own way. SMH. I’m sick of this complaining. It’s becoming redundant and whiny now.

  8. Poetry says:

    @Bella Agreed! I didn’t even read the comments before I posted mine.

  9. pash says:

    There should be a council or association that has a policy saying that a designer cannot show their runway work without having atleast two black models >=D

  10. Honeybrown says:

    @poetry I don’t think anyone is complaining, being redundant or whiny. We are simply making everyone aware. No ones comment came across as whiny to me neither did the post….. Why is it that when a black person raises an issue or offers a point of view, its labeled as complaining ? Even withinin our own community. Again I second everyone’s comment and I’m glad the truth is continuously shed on this shady industry.

  11. S says:

    The fashion industry as a whole will not change because they feel they don’t have to, as stated in previous comments. You can’t change the “hearts of mankind” but you can affect the bottom line (that’s what businesses understand). But do we really want to? I agree, how many times does this industry have to show us that they really don’t give a damn, yet we STILL buy their clothes, etc. STOP Buying Their _hit! Yes, be more supportive of our own. Invest our money elsewhere.

    Will it shut down the fashion industry? In a word, no….But they will recognize the “might” behind the Black dollar. The bottom line is that industry KNOWS there are beautiful people in ALL cultures and there is enough work to be shared among them. They just want to work with people who Look Like Themselves and they will continue to do so because they can. Not featuring models of color has not cost them anything significant and until it does, it will be the same ole, same ole.

  12. LaTasha says:

    Love this post!!! We must hit them where it hurts…in the pocket. Stop supporting these brands. In the grand scheme of things Europeans only make up less than 10% of the worlds’ population. If we Africans, Asians and Arabs got together to boycott this foolishness they will have to change. Without us other ethnic groups these brands don’t stand a chance of survival. No change…no support.

  13. bebe says:

    This post comes up seasonally on this blog, and I commend it. But I think it has to start with the consumer, like many of the previous posts mentioned, non-whites need to stop purchasing from these fashion houses and hit then in their wallets. Why are we banking companies who could care less about our image time after time?

    It would be great if black celebrities would take note, and stray away from the runway shows and shops. This would obviously make a stronger statement.

  14. Jei says:

    @Honeybrown/@Bella I agree. As with many of the other comments stated, it has to start with us. We have to take a stand and not continue to support this labels that don’t want anything to do with us. I think a lot of it also has to do with these black celebs that continue to endorse these brands by wearing them, singing/rapping about them in songs && so forth. They have first impact to these brands. They don’t support you or your people, you’re bringing them money. That’s what they’re using you for. I would really like to see some support from them. I think that would begin to make an impact immediately. As said, I don’t think the fashion industry is going to change but doing so will affect their bottom line of business && that’s where it needs to start. I also strongly agree that we need to pave our own way in the fashion industry && support upcoming black designers instead of looking to rely on this industry that could care less about us.

  15. Break says:

    This was very well written. The photos chosen for this article were perfect for the captions. Well done!

  16. Xi Xi Topp says:

    I really don’t understand how DESIGNERS OF COLOR that show at fashion week don’t even have women of color on their runways (outside of tokens)!! Like, really Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs?? You too Alexander Wang and Jen Kao??

  17. fashion spot says:

    Since the beginning of Fashion Week, we can count the black women with one hand, even worse black women are replaced by women biracial (which have become the embodiment of the black woman as new beauty codes).
    the colorism is worse than racism because it classifies people by category as a caste.
    The majority of brands make colorism when to choose black girl can scroll through for them.

    Cora emmenuel Grace Mahary, Joan Smalls Jourdan Dunn Malaika Firth are biracial, a completely black woman can not sidentify ‘their facial features or their skin complexion

    the worse for girls of Asian type, it must be clear as a white ghost or be like Yumi lambert “biracial” I have really liked to see more of the girls have the complexion of the singer Anggun,

  18. Angela says:

    african americans make up 75% of the fashion consumers!! Change starts with us! Boycott these designers and they’re sure to feel it! I’m with Iman. No more talking the talk! We all must come together and walk the walk against racism on the runway as well as in society!

  19. Christina says:

    @Delia I feel exactly the same!

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