Is the fashion industry deliberately casting less black models?

Posted by Ria, 20 Sep 13

She is one of the three non-white models cast.

Nadja sometimes feels like she is just the token black girl in the show saying: "I would love to be booked for shows ... because I am me - for my personality, for the person, for the model I am and not because I will be the only black girl for the show."

There is a lack of black/colored girls on the runway and Supermodels Naomi Campbell and Iman have decided to launch a campaign to raise awareness of the lack of racial diversity in the fashion industry.

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Iman who has been in an interracial marriage with David Bowie for years told CNN: "The absence of people of color on the runways and photography reinforces to our young girls that they're not beautiful enough, that they're not acceptable enough." She believes the diverse world that we live in is not well represented on the runway. Normally, most major fashion houses such as Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Victoria Beckham (to name just but a few) "consistently use one or no models of color" on the runway.

Former model agent Bethann Hardison spearheads this campaign and the trio (Hardison, Campbell and Iman) call themselves the "Diversity Coalition". They have written to the big fashion councils in Milan, Paris, London and New York urging them to end this racism. In the letter, they say: "No matter the intention, the result is racism."

Carole White, a renowned model agent who managed Campbell for 17 years agrees that most designers tend to use white models for their fashion shows. In fact her agency only has 13 black models out of the 300 models she manages. And even in the selection of black models, she says the bar is set much higher. "We're more discerning about the type of black girl we take, because we know they have to be stunningly beautiful, have an incredible body. They have to be actually perfect."

Unless they are flawless, she personally cannot take the risk of taking them on.

"I think clients have this perception that black girls do not sell products, which goes way back to the 50's. I think it's engrained in every magazine editor. There are more products for blonde and blue-eyed girls. Everything is geared to that."

In an article by the Daily Star, Sola Oyebade, founder of Mahogany Models Management, says: "The excuses some labels use range from black models being 'the wrong shape', 'too sexual' and even 'unprofessional'. Some of them say, 'We only want one black model', like they want to fill some quota. It’s not just Victoria [Beckham], it’s all the big, exclusive labels. They employ black models for one show for some publicity and then go back to the old ways."

Campbell finds it heart breaking that we are in 2013 and things have gotten worse in comparison to when she started modeling… then, in ’86, "It was very diverse… there was Asians, blacks, whites, Indians, Chinese…"

Much as designers such as Alice Temperley claim that there is a lack of black "good enough" black models to choose from, Iman also condemns casting directors and stylists for their role in delivering too few black models to designers. "I don't want to ever hear again a young model telling me that [casting directors] have said to her: 'We are not seeing black models this season.' To me that's offensive. To me that's a racist remark."

The Diversity Coalition is seeks to get the conversation going and also create awareness of the situation on the ground – the lack of black models. They hope that this will edge out discrimination in all areas within the fashion industry.

Do you think fashion houses cast those few black models just to fill some quota? Have black models been discouraged over time to the extent that they no longer feel the need to put themselves out there? Is the fashion industry ignoring black models or are they just not there?

3 responses to "Is the fashion industry deliberately casting less black models?"

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  1.   jod212 says:
    Posted: 21 Sep 13

    These women actively work in the fashion industry therefore I would not question their position. I do however ask is there the possibility that fashion, as much of modern culture run's in cycles. Is it a time for a look dominated by the Euro/Asian model type versus an Afrocentric focus at present. As the designers move toward a more Africa-inspired or futuristic-inspired style season, would that open the door to greater opportunity or, am I being very nave?

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  2.   dave_74 says:
    Posted: 21 Sep 13

    Wow these stories are really interesting. Please keep them coming. One of the things that really stuck in my head was watching a documentary on the modeling industry and hearing someone say the reason models look the way they do is that "clothing looks better on a hanger than on a person" so this is why generally tall, (too) thin, and minimal curves, min breast type of women are chosen. Basically the clothing needs to look like it is still on a hanger. That in itself leaves most women out (even though IMO, they are MUCH more beautiful than those walking down the cat walk) I also don't think most super models are all that. I think Heidi Klum is just plain looking, Claudia Schiffer IMO was much more beautiful. I was never a fan of Campbell either but my all time favorite is Sudanese super model Alek Wek, super charcoal black and stunningly beautiful. But I agree it would be nice to see more women of color in this industry. I do recall not too long ago Miss World/ Universe was from Angola, although she was a bit on the lighter side of the spectrum for an African women. I wouldn't be too surprised if many fashion houses hired one or two black models just for publicity and went back to their old ways. This is capitalism and these businesses will exploit anyone to earn money.

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    • DarkHoney1 says:
      Posted: 25 Sep 13

      Ditto! Couldn't have put it better. Besides, my humble opinion is there's no law that bars people of African descent from launching mega fashion labels and employing whatever [African] models they deem fit - I guess that'd balance things out nicely - after all, it's a free world!

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