Towards a More Diverse Runway

STORY BY Emily Kirkpatrick

Published: April 6, 2013

Now matter how glamorous the world of fashion and modeling can look to outsiders, it unquestionably has it’s dark side. There is an unspoken, yet palpable, racism that is prevalent throughout the industry. From runway shows, to editorials, to campaigns, it seems it has less to do with how beautiful a girl is and more about the color of her skin.

Recently, Kate Rushing, a contributor to Style Minutes, posted a graphic tallying the ethnicities of all 968 models who appeared in a runway show in the four major fashion capitals, New York, London, Milan, and Paris. The results were undoubtedly and shockingly biased: 87.6% of the models who walked in shows were white, 6.6% of models were black, 6.1% were Hispanic, and .31% were from Israel.

According to Jezebel, New York’s fashion week came off only minutely better that the other sartorial cities, casting 82.7% white models, 9.1% Asian models, and 6% black models for the Fall Winter 2013 shows. This troubling, never ending parade of white women isn’t surprising, but it is increasingly becoming accepted as the norm. The percentage of white models cast in all four fashion weeks has gone up 3.3% from the Spring Summer 2013 season.

Top models such as Soo Joo Park, Jourdan Dunn, and Chanel Iman have all spoken out about racism they’ve experienced and continue to experience in their day to day careers. Casual racism is just taken as a given in the industry, and as something even supermodels should quietly grin and bear. When model Sara Ziff was asked if it would, “be fair to say the fashion industry is racist” during a recent Model Alliance panel discussion, she responded, “There are very few industries that you could say, 'oh we're just not doing black girls this season,' which I've heard.”

In fashion, your skin color is just like the trends, you're either in or you're out, and more often than not, if your skin isn’t white, you’re out. Chanel Iman told the Times, recently, “A few times I got excused by designers who told me, ‘We already found one black girl. We don’t need you any more.’ I felt very discouraged.” And, unfortunately, Iman isn’t the only top model who’s been told a show’s black quota was filled. In an interview with Net-a-Porter’s The Edit magazine, Jourdan Dunn said there were “times when [she’d] be on her way to castings and told to turn back because the client ‘didn’t want any more black girls.’” A makeup artist also refused to do Dunn’s makeup because “she herself was white and Dunn was black.”

In her interview with The Cut Soo Joo Park said, “I don't see myself as an Asian model. I think part of the reason I bleached my hair was that I didn't want to be typecast as an Asian model, I wanted to be me. But diversity is very important and to be completely honest, they just want cookie-cutters a lot — not all — but a lot of the times, they do.” Park felt compelled to go so far as to alter her appearance in order to convince the fashion industry to look past her Asian features and see her personality and talent shining through.

It’s amazing how an industry that’s so large, powerful and progressive, on certain fronts, can be so backwards and absurd on another. Fashion is something that, like it or not, is a part of everyone’s daily life. The world is a vast and diverse place, and as something that is meant for the people, fashion should reflect those people. The beauty and the joy of fashion is when people are allowed to feel like a participant in this creative world and can imagine themselves in the clothing. How are people meant to embrace fashion and appreciate it as an art form when the majority of the population is consistently and unapologetically excluded from it?

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