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It’s something to talk about

November 18, 2015

As the saying goes, “if you see something, say something.” It is impossible to overlook the fact that models on runways and faces in ad campaigns all look the same. We have all seen the lack of diversity in the fashion industry for far too long, and it is time to say something.

Following the Spring/Summer 2016 runway season, The Fashion Spot compiled data from 373 fashion shows and 9,926 model appearances from New York, London, Paris and Milan. They found that 77.6 percent of the runway models were white. The same study also showed that, after examining 460 print ads, 84.7 percent of the models cast were white.

The fashion industry is one of the leading driving forces behind what the public perceives as beautiful. When the diversity on the runway and within magazine pages is limited to a handful of faces, that perception of a normative beauty standard narrows even more.

“We are drawn to people who look like us,” Robin Givhan of The Washington Post said to Business of Fashion. “Unless they’re making a conscious decision to deviate from the standard, then the standard is what they go for. And [their] standard is blonde and blue eyed.”

It seems to be a never-ending cycle, but the first step towards a solution is recognizing that there is a problem and then talking about it. Publications including the Man Repeller have also made an effort to discuss the lack of diversity, saying, “Conversation is part of the solution.”

Former model and activist Bethann Hardison is one of the key proponents in the fashion diversity conversation as well. Hardison founded Diversity Coalition/Balance Diversity to encourage the industry to keep racial diversity in mind when casting models.

“Our objective is to make a shift on how the model of color is viewed so it becomes natural to see them participating each season in a greater number than seasons past,” reads the Balance Diversity website.

Another step toward more active inclusion from the inside out is increasing the industry’s diversity. If the designers, stylists, agencies and editors don’t diversify their employees, then there’s a greater chance that that low level of diversity will translate to what the public sees. Fashion editor Shiona Turini spoke with the Man Repeller on the importance of this performative solution.

“Don’t just look at the runway,” Turini said. “Look around at who is sitting next to you at fashion week.”

The New York Times found that of the 470 designers in the Council of Fashion Designers of America, only 12 are African-American designers. Designer Tracy Reese told Business of Fashion, “More often, [I’m] the only person of color in the room.”

Perhaps the best step to be taken is celebrating the diversity that does happen in the industry. If the public doesn’t know about it, the public won’t talk about it. While identifying where problems persist is of the utmost importance, pointing out who has solutions to offer should not go unnoticed either. Aurora James of Brother Vellies was the first black woman to receive the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award. Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Amy Astley chose to spotlight models of color Aya Jones, Lineisy Montero and Imaan Hammam as “fashion’s new faces” in the August issue.

We can celebrate diversity in an even more inclusive sense as well. Madeline Stuart, an 18-year-old model with Down syndrome, opened the Hendrik Vermeulen NYFW Spring/Summer 2016 runway show. Ashley Nell Tipton, Project Runway’s latest winner, made the show’s history as the first designer of plus-sized fashion. Transgender designer Gogo Graham created a runway show in New York that featured only trans models.

These are the names that should be making more headlines in celebration. Praise and positive reinforcement keep the call for change going. We should never stop addressing what is wrong, but we certainly cannot be afraid to point out what is right either.

Email Natalia Barr at [email protected]

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