Fashion is wonderful. Fashion is exciting. Fashion is expressive. Fashion is, also, racist.
Attending fashion week in London, Paris, New York and Milan feels like being time-warped back to 13th century England. Everyone is white. In a 2013 report by Jezebel, the diversity of models on the runway are as shown:
White Models – 82.7%
Asian Models – 9.1%
Black Models – 6%
Latina Models – 2%
Other – 0.3%
These are the statistics for Fall ’13 but annual diversity reports since 2008 have shown that the trends remain steady with White models dominating no less than 80% of runway representation. Thirteen companies featured absolutely none. Surprisingly, many of these companies such as Calvin Klein and Juicy Couture are internationally recognized brands which reach millions of consumers from every continent in the world. Other companies such as Chanel, Dior, Versace and Alexander McQueen are only a little less appalling, often featuring ‘1 or 2’ black, Asian or Latina girls in order to fill a color quota.
Were we still living in the Middle Ages, these numbers would be perfectly fine. But in the 21st century, when the ethnic makeup of global cities such as London, Paris, New York and Milan is blatantly colorful, these statistics indicate a backward culture of racism.
As much as we might protest, fashion powerhouses ultimately set the trend for what is ‘in’, what is chic and what is beautiful. To perpetually use white models exclusively to present their line is upholding the white person as the ideal of beauty. For an industry which thrives on innovation, this is quite a primitive, bigoted message to make.
These decisions and messages can only be deliberate. It is not as if there are shortages of models of color in the fashion industry. Even the big name black models Chanel Iman and Naomi Campbell find themselves job-less because designers refuse to take on any non-white models for the show. Therefore, whoever is making the decisions of picking the models – whether it be the casting director or the designers themselves – is sending a very clear and very racist view: fashion is for white people.
Many casting directors and designers explained this situation as being about “A matter of taste.” or simply that “…the hues of the clothes look better on white skin than darker tones.” Both are really just poor excuses to discriminate because they ignore the fact that the designs themselves are made by the fashion industry and it whether they made can be made to look good on non-white skin as well as white skin is completely in their control. They are simply choosing not to step out of the backward bubble they are in.
As responsible consumers, how comfortable are you wearing an piece of item knowing that it was designed with the idea that the value of human is based on the color of their skin? If you’re a person of color, how comfortable would you be wearing that Versace shirt which the designer would have preferred you not to wear? No matter how much I appreciate fashion, no dress or handbag will ever make me abandon justice and equality in the world.