By Shaneli Mirpuri
The annual New York Fashion Week is one of the world’s most renowned fashion shows in the world, with models from across the world and most of the top fashion designers and celebrities in attendance. The 2015 show was one of many firsts as well: the first male amputee, the first model with down syndrome, a few models in wheelchairs, and even a model with the skin condition vitiligo.
Despite all these advancements in the modeling universe, there are still huge problems with racial diversity. Between 2008 and 2014, the percentage of white models at New York Fashion Week has remained at about 80%. On the other hand, less than 6% of Fashion Week models and only 3% of designers are African-American. The situation on the runway only reflects the extreme divide between races within the power structure of the fashion industry.
“There were more high-profile black designers in the 1970s than there are today,” Bethann Hardison, founder of the Diversity Coalition, said in an interview. “We’re going backwards.”
The lack of diversity in the fashion industry is not just an issue of African Americans not receiving enough attention, but all races. Even Asians and Hispanics, who also make up a large proportion of the American population, are rarely seen on the runway or receive any appreciation when they are present. As of 2013, only about 9% of models were Asian and 2% were Latina despite their huge racial demographics in the nation. Thirteen companies, including Calvin Klein, J Brand, and Juicy Couture, at the 2013 New York Fashion Week had no models of color whatsoever.
“A few times I got excused by designers who told me, ‘We already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’ I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘We don’t want you because we already have one of your kind’, it’s really sad,” African-American model Chanel Iman told The Sunday Times Magazine.
The lack of diversity is shown off the runway as well, especially in popular clothing stores for teenagers, such as Brandy Melville. Brandy Melville’s lines of clothing are allegedly “one size fits all” while advertising all of their clothes on skinny, Caucasian models who all look the same, despite the occasional different hair colors, rather than their advertised “diverse California girls.”
Teenager girls are heavily influenced by the fashion world around them and by not offering several sizes or opening up to an array of diverse models, companies alienate curvy or colored girls into feeling like minorities and outcasts.
Within the fashion industry, women of color receive far less opportunities and are worth far less as models than models with white skin. Outside of the industry, the magazine covers, cosmetic campaigns, billboards, and TV commercials all promote the idea that beauty means having white skin.
The lack of diversity within the fashion industry does not just control the lives of the models and designers trying to make a break, but also the lives of teenage girls who feel inferior after not fitting into the cookie-cutter expectations of society.
When youth do not see their image and likeness in the jobs that they want to approach, it discourages them from striving towards their dreams. Girls need to be shown their ability to work in any job, including the fashion industry, is not influenced by the color of their skin.
The importance of racial diversity in the fashion world cannot be overstated. Different races must be represented in order to truly reach equality in society and to prevent generations of teenagers and women from developing false senses of identity and perceptions of beauty.