Since it’s conception in the second half of 19th century, modeling has seen immense growth and has developed exponentially, becoming an almost self-sufficient industry that in a very powerful way, tailors trends and influences how masses see fashion and glamour, but also how they process and accept aspects of contemporary popular culture. Seeing as we are living in a materialistic society it is only normal to expect large brands to further reinforce their status by appealing to their customers in any way conceivable. However, we would not expect exclusion of any model that is not white to be the efficient way of generating good publicity.
We would expect 21st century to be quite progressive and with zero tolerance for any form of discrimination based on someone’s racial features, but modeling industry still remains one of the harshest work environments if you happen to be a model of color with ambition. James Scully, an American casting director who now has over two decades of experience in the high-end fashion industry is disgruntled by the amount of racially discriminatory practices that go on among agencies, managers, casting directors, makeup artists and fashion photographers. As a fashion enthusiast, and someone who happily recalls better times in the industry, he is avidly outspoken about issues that involve treating girls as ‘numbers and objects’.
” In Europe, not being diverse is not a problem for us.”- this is the refrain I heard all too often. We have black and Asian casting directors being told not to cast black and Asian models to their face! A prominent photographer once said to me, point blank: I don’t shoot blacks. ” (Scully, 2016)
This issue persists, Scully says, but with the rise of social media, models who have been discarded by the industry are getting a voice and power to grab the careers that they deserve. Many of these models are direct about their struggles and will openly call out large brands and designers on social media. And as much as reasons for not hiring them are outrageous by today’s standards, through repercussions started by these social media posts – designers, agencies and other fashion industry entities get an opportunity to review their business practices and see how it molds their reputation in society. Still, we are not seeing the change we’d want. Models of color such as Marcia Mitchell, Joan Smalls and Jourdan Dunn have publicly stated they are not getting jobs because of their race. Sarah Ziff, president of the Models Alliance, states that this problem is difficult to tackle in the industry that is so highly exclusive and hires people based on their physical appearance. She adds that Civil Rights Act strictly prohibits refusal of employing due to racial or ethnic origin; but this anti-discrimination law does not cover models because they are considered ‘independent contractors’.
Another controversial case of racial discrimination within fashion industry has been reported by an US student who, in her time working for Abercrombie & Fitch, has witnessed all employees and models of color being sent home before arrival of the former CEO, Mike Jeffries. Student claims that managers made sure all employees that didn’t fall into ‘thinnest and whitest’ category would be sent home before company’s CEO was scheduled to visit – one hour before their shift normally ends.
Some say that it is perfectly acceptable for a company to have preference while hiring but this preference alone may have a very destructive impact on what we teach our youth – and we cannot allow ourselves to teach them to think that being any other color than ‘white’ is inadequate or destined to fail in modeling world one day.
1. Covert, 2013, ‘The Fashion Industry’s Race Problem: Models Of Color Rarely Get Hired’, Think Progress. Available from: https://thinkprogress.org/the-fashion-industrys-race-problem-models-of-color-rarely-get-hired-d00d3ca36b1/ [9 August 2013].
2. Dearden, 2015, ‘Abercrombie & Fitch model tells of ‘racism, sexual harassment and discrimination’ at store’, Independent. Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/abercrombie-fitch-model-tells-of-racism-sexual-harassment-and-discrimination-at-store-10175646.html [15 April 2015].
3. Hoang, 2016, ‘Models Face Bullying, Cruelty and Racial Discrimination at Castings’, Business of Fashion. Available from: https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/voices/fashion-and-race-inequality-privilege-diversity-inclusion [4 December 2016].