The Fashion industry is known for its scandals concerning the lack of diversity on runways and tokenism in brand advertising campaigns. Naomi Campbell and Iman have not held back their opinions on the dead-headed direction the fashion industry keeps orchestrating, despite being two of the most famous supermodels.
Forbes‘ list of highest-paid models is currently filled with the same models that end up on the cover of Vogue, and on the most anticipated runway shows and ad campaigns. Each of these models have something in common that other unique and upcoming models do not.
Whether it be that ‘there are enough black models’ or, ‘black may not be in this season’ the audience and consumers that buy into these brands and see these advertising campaigns are diverse and highly influenceable. The legacy of ‘The pretty white woman’ has had a long run as the most popular image of beauty portrayed. It has allowed the industry to neglect everything that is the opposite.
The fashion industry is one of the largest businesses that influence peoples day to day lives. For a while now the industry has endured criticism and been questioned for its obsession with skinny, young and white models. Diversity in the fashion industry has been on a rocky road up till today.
Naomi Campbell recently criticised British Vogue for its very white staff at the end of Alexandra Shulman’s run as editor, even though Britain is renowned for being the most diverse capital on the face of the planet. As a Brit that was born and bred and surrounded by ‘diversity’, it concerns me that inclusivity was a problem swept under the rug for so long. Hearing that the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) revised the fashion week guidelines, to ensure the industry showcases diversity, gets me to the point of being anxious about whether minorities are only being used as tokens.
Adwoa Aboah, a model and contributor to British Vogue stated in an interview: “I love Vogue, and I have huge respect for the team there. But, as a magazine, it doesn’t represent what the country is now,” or only a very small part of it. With hopes that Edward Enninful, the newly appointed editor-in-chief, will continue to bring an accurate British representation.
Fashion model Leomie Anderson is one of many black models, who also takes part in activism. She raises awareness to the struggles faced by models of colour in the current state of the industry. The 24-year-old has made headlines for her strong words; encouraging make-up artists and hairstylists, to learn how to cater to black skin tones and afro textured hair.
Her recent endeavour being one of the faces of Fenty Beauty. Which goes to show talking about your passions and the changes you want to see in the industry, can land you with a brand that is listening. Fenty Beauty was awarded invention of the year due to its incredibly inclusive range of make-up products. Leomie is also known for using her voice on social media to spread positivity and awareness about discrimination. Meaning we never miss a rant whenever its due. I remember her tweeting about being dropped from a show with the excuse of ‘we have enough black models.’ And this seems to be the recurring issue.
Adwoa and Broderick Hunter, are just two of the models using that have used their voices to speak out about the disappointment they feel towards the industry and their uncaring actions. They have become them effective spokespeople for empowerment.
In a Guardian interview, Adwoa’s judgement on her personal experience drew to a close that “People get so lazy with their casting,” even posing the question on if it is just laziness, or something more pernicious? She admits the industry’s actions look worse than laziness. “I think people just don’t care.”
This mirrors an account Broderick Hunter relates to: “I feel like they pretend to care about other models because they always go right back to their regular shit.” He reflected on past castings, where he’d been surrounded by a disproportionate ratio of white male models to black male models. Leaving him with the conscious feeling that a minimum of two black models will be cast, as it something that generally happens.
Speaking to a few models on their personal experience as black models. It has helped me paint a picture of the current state of the industry today. The role of modelling agencies in charge of giving big luxury brands, is to find the faces relatable to consumers. They have the power to make a change.
Flora Carter is a 20-year-old model, she signed to Storm management. She believes that “we speak things into existence”. She has been modelling for just over a year now. I have personally watched her rise in the modelling industry, although she claims to have not yet reached her goals. It’s great to walk into Primark or even to open a glamour magazine and see you friend modelling the hell out of a ready-to-wear Gucci look. Especially seeing that she is a mixed raced woman.
However she tells of how she is often being turned around, sidelined and identified as just a black woman: “I never really experienced racism before modelling” it is shocking to actually hear how real rejection and exclusion takes place. “I’ve been told to go to castings by my agencies”, only to see a ‘no black models’ poster taped to the door; before being given a shot.That and being at a job with make-up artists “who have no clue what to do with my hair, leaving me with bad hair damage, are the main negative experiences I’ve had”.
It’s important to know that brands strategise their advertising campaigns, runway shows and magazine spreads to gain greater exposure. To be most talked about is key to remaining successful as fashion house/ brand. All of these actions contribute to larger consumer gains. Flora quickly realised in this day and age social media is the power tool to getting cast for a modelling job.
Webster, another 20-year-old model, signed to Nii Agency explained that “most models are scouted via social media.” You’re expected to have loads of images, an aesthetic and be spotted at certain events all in order to become known. The industry is going down a dark road of desperation, by using social media influencers to keep their luxury brand businesses running. Dolce Gabbana traded Models for Millennial social media influencers for its Fall 2017 runway show. Proving it harder for upcoming models to do their job. “All of the highest paid models have over 10 million followers,” said Webster, including Kendall, the Hadid Sisters and Victoria Secret’s treasures just to name a few. All of which may or may not have earned their success, but most importantly are all white.
It is no surprise that the most popular models have their fair share of struggle stories about how they got started in the modelling game. Flora shares a personal tale of where it all started. “By approaching several agencies, lying about where I lived, are my most memorable memories”.
I found myself scrolling through the Vogue runway app, I was shocked when I saw that eventually, she was booked for a Jean Paul Gaultier show. I was curious about his particular journey and asked how it happened: “I was personally selected by Karl Lagerfeld after being rejected for the look of my hair.” Later that year she signed to Storm Management after a second try. “I’ve been told to lose weight off my bum.” It seems crazy that even today the industry refuses to leave behind their idea of the perfect model, an unhealthy fantasy of the woman.
Junior Clint was a kid I recognised on an online website one day, we had both attended the same high school. Fortunately, despite the rise of social media influencers, models still get scouted. He explains how he got into modelling: “I was scouted in Manchester and it ended up being good part job whilst being at university.” I guess he never actively tried to become a model, he just always had the qualities that would make a good one, such the fact that he’s over six feet tall.
During fashion week we often see which shows are the most progressive in terms of diversity. London does a good job at representing its complex city. “In comparison to working in the UK I don’t see much of a difference in what jobs I get. The casting directors usually pick models based on the individual projects that they are working on,” Clint tells us. It is no secret that casting directors choose specific models that support the image of the brand.
So what does being a model means to him? “A real-life mannequin, and I represent Boss model management.” To get more jobs frequently, it’s important for models to maintain their image for the brands and agencies they represent.
Many modelling TV shows have shown insight into the type of behaviour the industry tolerates. America’s Next Top Model, The Model Agency and Dirty Sexy Things included, were all shows helping models start up in the real industry. Whether it be long hour jobs, early call times and particular creatives a model might work with.
Interviewing Broderick Hunter he mentioned he’d also arrived at some castings to read the same ‘no black models needed’ sign. “Their campaigns have ended up looking shit because of the lack of creativity and diversity.” Webster agrees: “I’ve gone to some castings and you can tell certain agencies have a specific look for models; skinny white male models.” Models should prepare for rejection but not racism.
In my earlier Broderick Hunter piece, he spoke about the same kind of discrimination and disrespect he faced at a Ralph Lauren shoot, for simply not being popular enough outside of the black community and social media.Junior tells Artefact: “My experience has been good, I’ve not experienced injustice in the industry and not all models do”. With the growing awareness of the importance of diversity, all industries, not just the fashion industry has come a long way in regards to inclusivity. “I feel like this is because social media has given people from different backgrounds a voice to speak up about injustice and also to showcase their talent.” While Flora says she uses the connections she’s made during her time modelling to promote an image more true to her.
The lack of diversity in the fashion industry today has assembled a force of ethnic models that promote awareness and encourage a more accurate representation to audiences. They are all working to change the game.
This in return will attract brands and force them to use models due to their self-representation. Activism like this will only force the industry to listen, or they’ll be left with a niche target audience and decline in consumerism. Junior adds: “I hope that in 10 years, people from different ethnic backgrounds are chosen to be in positions of influence so that they can push the culture forward.”
Featured Image by Benice Scottie