On racism in fashion

by • 9. February, 2014 • All, Culture, Fashion, FeaturedComments (0)4514

Calvin Klein - Runway RTW - Spring 2014 - New York Fashion Week

Photo: Getty Images

On September 4th last year, the Diversity Coalition sent out four letters to the governing bodies of Fashion Weeks in New York, London, Paris and Milan accusing fashion design houses of racism on the runways. While it is positive to call out the fashion industry to their misrepresentation of models of colour, the letter merely focused on the quantity of black models on the runways.

The idea that models of colour have to be casted only on basis of the colour of their skin instead of their talent and beauty is not only offensive but problematic as well. The racial problem fashion has, is more than just the fact that white models far outnumber models of colour on the runways and in editorials and advertisements in fashion magazines. The lack of racial diversity in the fashion industry is mainly a symptom of a much deeper problem: the exclusive control of white supremacy to define what is beautiful and what is not. While it might be helpful to count the number of non-white bodies on the catwalk to raise awareness to racism in fashion, there has to be done much more to resolve the issue.

A representative number of models of colour in the fashion industry is not what we want to achieve, but is a sign of having achieved. In an equal world half of the models that are casted are of colour, but only because fifty percent of the models casted are of colour, does not automatically mean we live in that equal world. Incidentally, when the symptoms have disappeared the problem is perceived as solved, while in fact it may still exist.

The problem with focusing on just the quantity of models of colour is that a label can be deemed non-racist just because they casted more than one model of colour, while they may still be racist, as the story Chanel Iman told The Sunday Times Magazine illustrates: on casting calls she sometimes gets to hear that the label has already fulfilled their black model quota and that therefore, she is not needed: “We already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.”

I am not arguing that we should stop keeping track of the number of models of colour that are casted in the fashion industry; it is an important tool to expose and recognise racism in fashion. But we should also recognise that just because labels cast more than a certain number of models of colour, it does not automatically make fashion industry post-racist.

Post by Roosje van der Kamp, horreure.tumblr.com

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