Fashion’s Diversity #FAIL
February is Black History Month in America. What better time to look at diversity in fashion…or rather, the lack thereof?
Fashion has a serious diversity issue that reaches across gender, size, disability, and colour. Although these other aspects of diversity are equally as important to have recognized in the industry, we are focusing on the struggle and systematic discrimination against people of colour in fashion. Some might want to beg to differ on our opinion of how bad things are in this regard, but it is undeniable that despite perhaps a few heavily publicized “good moments” in 2015, fashion is quickly becoming a more inhospitable and unsupportive place for those who aren’t white or passing as white. Models like Naomi Campbell are the first to say that pre-1996 things were easier for ethnically diverse models. That is bad. If anything, there should be more opportunity and representation not less. With violent racist incidences hitting the news and impacting communities around the globe, fashion needs to begin to take a stand and start working to shift this out-dated and narrow depiction of the world.
Coloured models are less likely to be cast for runway or magazine publications. It is not uncommon for them to be turned away from agencies after being told, “We aren’t doing [insert race here] girls/boys right now.” Women of ethnic backgrounds are commonly referred to as “exotic” and fetishized in the work that they do secure or cast in stereotypical, often racist roles. In general, the small handful of racially diverse models who are offered work in the industry are lost in a white-washed sea.
This is glaringly apparently during fashion weeks around the world. Not only are less than 10% of the models on the runway of colour, but even backstage they are inadequately supported. Makeup artists often do not provide appropriate makeup shades for darker skin tones or expect models to bring their own products from home. South Sudanese model Nykhor Paul called out makeup artists at New York Fashion Week last year, stating that “just because you only book a few of us, doesn’t mean you have the right to make us look ratchet.” Of course, if you are Claudio Cutugno you are painting your white models in black glittery makeup that very much looks like black face despite his assertion that it was meant to look like insects were swarming the models’ faces.
And despite the oh-so-minimal coverage of ethnically diverse models represented in fashion and media, publications are intent on congratulating themselves for the bare minimum that they do. Just because you are perhaps doing better than “before” (or trying to), doesn’t mean you are doing great things. Noone deserves a pat on the back for discontinuing what Naomi Campbell refers to as a “racist act.” The lack of people of colour on the covers of magazines continues once you crack open the pages of monthly fashion rags. In amongst the white-dominated ad campaigns and editorials are articles discussing the latest trends like “Tribal” and “Urban.” These articles in and of themselves are despicable and terms we are beyond sick of hearing. Tribal always refers to anything that is essentially appropriated from “exotic” (another word that needs to just stop!) cultures like Africa, and Urban seems tied to style that is commonly associated with “hip hop or black culture.”
Although there is a distinctive lack of diversity in fashion, appropriating garments from those very cultures runs rampant in the industry. DSquared’s designers hashtagged their culturally appropriated collection #dsquaw, an offensive act that sparked outrage from the Native community not only because of the designers’ tactless rip-off of culturally sensitive garments, but also for the damaging terminology that was “jokingly” used. In the same season, Givenchy angered the Latin community when they decided that labelling their offensive hair & makeup looks as “Chola Victorian” was a good idea. For Spring/Summer 2016, Valentino decided to rip-off traditional African design worn by a bevy of white (and mostly blonde with CORNROWS!!!) models. Dolce & Gabanna’s Fall/Winter 2015 runway show featured Asian models dressed in a racist stereotype of what Asian tourists look like.
Not only was cultural appropriation a huge issue, but a double standard was made very clear in the world of style. People of colour struggle with discrimination in regards to their natural hair, fighting to be able to let it be the way that it damn well wants to be despite the ridiculous belief that embracing natural texture is somehow dirty, unprofessional, or “ghetto.” Last year Zendaya Coleman’s gorgeous dreadlocks were criticized by Fashion Police co-host Giuliana Rancic who said it “made [her] feel like she smells of patchouli.” Kelly Osbourne felt the need to add “and weed” to that. But when white people want to wear cornrows? Totally fine. Just ask Kylie Jenner and Katie Perry. And those afros that are consistently frowned upon for those who actually have them? Allure had a guide for how white people could achieve the look titled “You (Yes, You) Can Have an Afro” which was geared towards women with naturally straight hair.
There were a few moments to celebrate in 2015. Model Maria Borges was able to wear her natural hair on the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show runway. Rihanna became the first woman of colour to be cast as the star of a Christian Dior campaign. H&M featured its very first hijab-wearing model, Mariah Idrissi, in their “Close the Loop” ad campaign (which was pretty diverse in general) to promote sustainable clothing. But on the other hand, this is hot on the heels of a controversial and racist statement made by H&M regarding their advertising in South Africa (read about it HERE). And it’s really not enough. The diversity gap is growing and it’s growing fast.
The fact that we are having this conversation in 2016 is repulsive. It’s been 53 years since Martin Luther King’s iconic and momentous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Yet still, racism is rampant, discrimination in the workplace and community are a booming issue, police brutality against “minorities” is a major problem, and poor representation in the media is a disappointing fact. Society has a long way to go in combating racism. And that’s sad! It’s 2016. Get your sh*t together!
This is an opinion piece. All of the facts included in the article have been researched and verified, but our annoyance at the issue is our own.