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Black Models and the Fashion Industry

For fashion lovers and fashion enthusiasts, the coveted New York Fashion Week (NYFW) normally begins the first week of September. However, for those within the fashion community, NYFW preparation begins long before then. In most cases, the day after one season ends, the planning for the next begins. Making fashion week, a fashion year. Designers have on average 12 minutes to show their hard work, creativity, sweat and talent. Birthing new trends, reclaiming classic and vintage looks for the upcoming season.

NYFW & Covid-19

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the normal NYFW buzz which cycles into fashion adrenaline is not happening. As a runway model, I can say from experience, this is a rarity. By now, models are usually traveling back and forth from model calls to go sees auditioning for various shows and for different brands. Normally a seven-day event, but with the announcement of a condensed schedule by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) from September 14th to 16th, NYFW as we know it is not what it has always been. I have seen model calls for virtual/online shows which absolutely makes sense. Like most events that are happening virtually from concerts to board meetings. It ensures the health and safety for all involved.

Black Models Matter

In addition to the corona virus, there is another pandemic that is sweeping the globe. The movement of "Black Lives Matters" not only affects us in the light of police brutality, but also in the entertainment industry. This brings me back to fashion. Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on what side of the spectrum you are on) this movement is highlighting how models are viewed in fashion. Models are important. Period. Models are the face of brands, ambassadors, and talent. They draw in the consumer and create paying customers. The right model can set the tone for fashion houses and labels. Black models matter. Period. In saying that, Black is not a trend. In recent times, there are more designers featuring Black models in off season shows, ad campaigns and magazine covers. I must say, it is beautiful to see. However, using Black models as the "face" to circumvent backlash will never be acceptable. The "Black Models Matter" movement coined by model and artist Ashley Chew stemmed from these very issues.

Put Up or Shut Up

The Instagram @Pullupforchange is a nonprofit organization fighting for the economic opportunities for Black people. The account is dedicated to contacting major businesses and brands to share their diversity report. Why does this matter? (Circling back to fashion) There is one thing to use a Black model on the runway, there is another to have Black fashion professionals behind the scenes making those decisions. Those who sit at the table matter. We must go deeper than what we see. Who is the production manager, creative director, and casting director? What companies are being used for lighting, stage setup, and production? What venues and locations are being used for fashion shows? Are these venues Black owned? Can the makeup artists and hair stylist adequately do the hair and makeup for models of color? Who are the writers and the editors of the magazines? Does the photographer have experience with properly understanding lighting for Black models and dark skin? As a fashion professional who has worked in multiple capacities to include casting director and production manager, having the opportunity to sit at the table matters. For some brands, these practices are anything but new and would be considered business as usual. We thank you. Thank you for seeing us beyond a profit margin. However, for others, not so much. FYI… We are checking your tables. Act accordingly.

Models for Change

Other advocate Instagram accounts such as @Modelsforchangenow is a Black-led collective of over 200 models who share their stories of racism and other issues in the fashion industry. Why is this important? The voices of Black models have been smothered. If not smothered, they have been ignored. We see the glitz and the glam, but we do not hear the voices or the stories behind the beauty. With luxury brands such as Gucci and Prada receiving backlash for poor taste and ill quality campaigns, it is shedding a light to this ongoing issue. Not only how they portray the minimum value of Black models, but the lack of respect for the Black consumer. Currently, Models for Change Now is gaining momentum for the movement with over 900 signatures to support the “Model Diversity Pledge.” As stated in their petition, only 15% of Black models are represented by major modeling agencies. According to the New York Times in 2015, there were fewer than 4% of African American designers out of the 260 designers of other nationalities who participated in NYFW. This under representation of Black designers and Black models in agencies directly affects the amount of opportunities for Black models across the board.

The Pause

In the turbulent times of covid we have been forced with a much-needed pause. See the issue, state the problem, find a solution, and then ultimately change the culture. The fashion industry can now reflect as well as restructure. It is necessary to do so to forge a prosperous future for those within the fashion community. Especially, for professionals of color. The time for change is now. The time for change was yesterday.


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