On Diversity in the Fashion Industry

During the fall semester of 2014, I was enrolled in “Intro to the Fashion Industry,” a basic class for fashion majors. At one point, my professor played a video of a show during New York Fashion Week, which displayed models with physical disabilities and models of color on the runway.

He then asked the class if we agreed that the world’s fashion industry is becoming more diverse and accepting.

My answer? No, and here’s why.

In December 2015, Alexander McQueen was sued for the third time due to racial discrimination. Two employees stated in the lawsuit that they worked in the back room of the building because the brand didn’t want people of color on the floor.

Zara employees took a survey (2015) and 57 percent of them said the workers were given a code for “special orders.” Meaning, black people in the store were seen as potential thieves and thus, needed to be followed around the stores. The data from the report also showed that black people that work for the brand tend to receive less hours and are the least likely group to receive promotions.

Beyond lawsuits, brands have had trouble with social media. An H&M representative tweeted along the lines that “White models portray a positive image for H&M.” This translates to people of color deluding the brand. Under pressure, H&M recanted and apologized.

As a woman of color studying fashion merchandising, this can all be a bit much to process. When my favorite brands display signs of racism, I’m forced to sit and think about my career path.

Quite frankly, I’m tired of brands apologizing for saying something racially insensitive because the damage is already done.

Diversity in the modeling industry has issues as well. Though models like Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman, Naomi Cambell and many more have broken down barriers and opened doors, there’s still a major lack of diversity on the runway.

Of the 143 shows in New York Fashion Week, 71.6 percent of models were white, while 10.7 percent were black, 8.7 percent Asian and 4.2 percent Latina.

Though there is a long road ahead before we see significant change and equality, some brands are taking initiative to correct this issues. Brands like Diane von Furstenburg and Zac Posen have taken strides to challenge this issue by having models of color open and close their shows.

So, the fashion industry is moving toward the right direction by addressing racial discrimination and advocating for diversity in models, but the progress must only continue.