Connections between the recent developments in social media/internet activism and the ostensible racial discrimination within the industry have become increasingly prevalent in the past 5 or so years. Those that fall victim to these injustices have been given a platform to speak out about their experiences, and people are listening.

“Why do I have to bring my own makeup to a professional show when all the other white girls don’t have to do anything but show up?”

Back in July, Sudanese model and former face of Louis Vuitton, Nykhor Paul, posted a critical open letter to “white people in the fashion world” (Cherrington 2015). The post was mainly focused on the lack of makeup artists equipped for dealing with varying skin tones, however the central message of the post is synonymous with the recent harsh criticism of the fashion industry’s ever-apparent racial discrimination (Cherrington 2015).

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Taken from Nykhor Paul’s Instagram

In an interview with the Guardian, Jourdan Dunn, a model of colour that has been booking international runway gigs for nearly a decade, states that, “people in the industry say if you have a black face on the cover of a magazine it won’t sell” (Freeman 2014) This is due to the fact that models of colour are too often relegated to token status. One model of colour amongst a sea of Eastern European, fair-skinned models is enough to keep the cries of racial discrimination from general audiences at bay, however, to have a model of colour be the sole focus of the voyeur is still considered a jarring concept.

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Joan Smalls walking for Tom Ford 2014

Something that really perplexed me amidst my research for this topic was that, the actual scale of “inspiration” of people of colour (particularly African American people) on the fashion industry does not match how people of colour are treated en masse both within the industry (models, designers, retailers etc) and outside (consumers). For example, internationally acclaimed recording artist, and woman of colour, Rihanna, received the 2014 CFDA Fashion Icon prize last June, with Vogue naming her as the biggest influence on the Spring 2014 runways (Friedman 2015). However, the February 2014 runways were significantly white-washed, with 78.69% of models being white, and a mere 7.67% being of colour, a very meagre increase from the 2007 shows where 87% of models walking were white, and a mere 4.9% were models of colour (Friedman 2015).

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Gypsy Sport s/s 2016

While imperative progress has been made in addressing and acting on social injustices within the industry, there are still multiple sectors of the industry that perpetuate this oppressive culture. Fashion editors, designers, and to a degree, casting directors, are not acknowledging the diversity of their consumers and we aren’t going to take it lying down.

Cherrington, R 2015, ‘Nykhor Paul Instagram: Model’s Open Letter to Makeup Artists About Dealing with Black Skin’, huffingtonpost.com, accessed 3rd October 2015, <http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/07/24/nykhor-paul-instagram-makeup-artist-racism_n_7862804.html&gt;

Freeman, H 2014, ‘Why Black Models are Rarely in Fashion’, theguardian.com, accessed 19th September 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/18/black-models-fashion-magazines-catwalks&gt;

Friedman, V 2015, ‘Fashion’s Racial Divide’, nytimes.com, accessed 24th September 2015, <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/12/fashion/fashions-racial-divide.html?_r=0&gt;

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