Last year at NYFW, Ashley B. Chew, (@ash_chew on the gram) caught the public eye after being photographed with her ‘Black Models Matter’ DIY leather tote bag.
As we are currently at the precipice of New York Fashion Week, what better time to talk about the fact that brown and black models matter?
One might think that the concept of diversity in the fashion industry would be as simple of a conversation as, “Do you want people all around the world to buy and wear your clothes? So represent a variety of looks and humans in your collections and shows!”
Alas, #BlackModelsMatter, just like #BlackLivesMatter, exists because the concept of celebrating the diversity of culture and color is not celebrated. Not only is this not celebrated, it is not widely accepted. There is no secret that this is an issue in the fashion industry. There have definitely been intentional improvements over the years, which I will touch in a moment. However, when there are runway shows like that of Vetements, which casts models off of the streets but do not have a single model of color in their show, there is an evident effort to keep it white.
To the logical, rational mind, it does not make sense to have a runway show entirely composed of one shade of human. The world simply does not look like that. Unless, of course, your clothes are specifically geared toward one race and class of people. Is that the message then? Are fashion designers making this conscious effort to communicate, “These clothes are not made for you, less fortunate human with a fortunate amount of melanin.” Perhaps this is the blaring statement – but again, why?
In a time when the color of your skin is undeniably a global political issue — when there are daily demonstrations, protests, acts of violence, and infractions of justice that are race-based — it takes an incredibly sheltered person with incredibly large blinders on to only want to create things that speak to white people.
Connie Wang for Refinery 29
Let us shed some light on the positive progress made in the industry. According to The Fashion Spot, out of 120 shows, 68.1 percent of the model castings were white and 31.9 percent were not white. The positive is that this is a noticeable jump from the 20.9 percent of nonwhite representation from Spring 2015. Yes! That is absolutely an incremental change to be celebrated! This infographic from the same article breaks down the numbers for us.
My question to the fashion industry is this: Is this an accurate representation of the world?
Celebrating diversity of culture and color in fashion does not mean going into urban areas, copping street styles and remaking them to be luxury pieces to sell to the affluent and unaware. Celebrating diversity in fashion does not mean declaring famous people ‘edgy’ for having cornrows for a day. Celebrating diversity in fashion does not mean wearing a bindi or a feather headdress to a music festival.
Zac Posen gave us a great example of celebrating diversity in fashion. The muse for his Fall/Spring 2016 collection was Ugandan Princess Elizabeth of Toro. As a result, 87% of the models he casted were African American and African women. This is celebrating diversity of culture in fashion! Yas, Zac Posen!
Its crucial that the new generations see diversity not as an issue, but as an asset. I will continue to battle this on the runway, and the red carpet, and for the rest of my life.
Another champion of the efforts to diversify the runway is Diane Von Furstenburg. She and Steven Kolb, the CEO of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), wrote a letter in February 2015, preceding NYFW, to bring awareness of the importance of beauty and diversity in the fashion industry.
As we approach New York Fashion Week, let’s remember that beauty is health and health is beauty. It is also important to remember that beauty is diversity and as an industry, we stand by these two principles. It is essential to remind ourselves of this as we spread the message to the world.
Diane Von Furstenburg and Steven Kolb
Oh, and let me not forget this witty video that explains everything perfectly:
Now, we wait at the edge of our seats to see what the designers involved in NYFW have in store for us this season. I certainly have hopes for an increase in ethnic representation and of course, fabulous clothes for the eyes to feast on.
I hand the mic to you now, friends. What do you see/what would you like to see celebrating ethnic diversity in the fashion industry?
I gave you a lot of facts and stats to kick off this conversation. As I do intend for this to be ongoing, this is just the beginning. Meanwhile, please chime in here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts.