Why fashion still has issues with race.

Having already written a blog on the issue of diversity in fashion, I think it is only appropriate to look back at London Fashion Week’s choice in models and question why there wasn’t more diversity on the runway this season.

With 75 different designers showcasing their talents during London Fashion Week (14th February – 18th February), you have to wonder why there was still so little ethnicity in these shows. With the vast number of models walking, the scale and the importance of these shows, shouldn’t the fashion industry be held accountable to fairly represent everyone in the very city that hosts the five-day spectacle?

Hadley Freeman, a writer for the Guardian, wrote: “Many have suggested that the reason catwalks and magazines are so White is that designers and editors are often White, but I suspect the phrase “follow the money” is more relevant. Asian models have become more prominent with the rise of the Asian market for luxury goods. Same with Russian models. The fashion industry simply doesn’t envisage its goods being bought by Black customers and therefore doesn’t bother trying to relate to them. So it’s not (always) that the fashion industry thinks that only White people are beautiful, as many have understandably assumed. It thinks that only White and some Asian people have money.”

London is one of the worlds most ethnically diverse cities. With a population of 8.174 million people in the city, 3.3 million of London’s population are Black or part of other ethnic minorities whilst 4.9 million Londoners are White. With the influence the fashion world has, and the amount of money generated from fashion week alone, it is sad not to see these numbers being represented.

Joan Smalls, the first Latina model to be the face of Estee Lauder and who has done campaigns for Gucci, Fendi, and Givenchy, told ELLE magazine in January: “Fashion should be about creativity and visionaries, and last time I checked, the world is a multicultural place. Why shouldn’t a little girl from Puerto Rico see the runway and think, I can wear that? People hide behind the word aesthetic. They say, ‘Well, it’s just that designer’s aesthetic.’ But when you see 18 seasons in a row and not one single model outside a certain skin colour…? There are people in the industry who are advocates, who support diversity. And there are people who do not. I don’t get it. Beauty is universal. These doors have to open.”

Even though there was a clear lack of diversity, it doesn’t mean that there were none at all. The Sunday Times reported that none of the autumn/winter 2014 shows featured an all-white cast, an improvement from the spring/ summer 2014 collection that still had a few designers, including Victoria Beckham, only feature white models.

The British Fashion Council (BFC) has had pressure to up the ante on the topic of diversity. The BFC sends out letters every season to specifically ask designers to mirror London’s Black and ethnic population on the runway.

The BFC said: “Shows should reflect the capital’s diversity and we are looking into ways to monitor equality.”

British supermodel Naomi Campbell and veteran model Iman, launched the Diversity Coalition last October which campaigns for equality in fashion. An open letter was written criticising the fashion industry for the predominantly White shows and personally calling out designers who did not use any models of diversity. Both models have faced adversity in the past despite their successes.

Chanel Iman told the Times in 2013: “A few times I got excused by designers who told me, ‘We already found one Black girl. We don’t need you any more.’ I felt very discouraged.”

Joan Smalls was once told by a casting agent: “You’re a Black model. It’s a challenge.”

In 2014, why is it still so hard for such a successful industry to fairly represent a whole demographic? Although London shows this season had more models from different backgrounds, there is still a lot of work to be done. With such a striving Black and ethnic community in London, the fashion industry is not appealing to a wider audience outside of the norm and therefore is missing out on a whole segment of the market.

For Joan Small’s interview in Elle click here.

For Hadley Freeman’s article “Why Black models are rarely in fashion” click here.

For Jezebel’s article on how many Black models were featured at New York Fashion week click here.

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