The Fashion Industry Needs More Black People in Power
Recently, the media has pushed the fashion industry to represent Black, plus size, and other modern looks. The industry listened and continues to make an effort to be inclusive of all people, not just “beautiful” people. But not really…
An article published in Essence titled “The History of Black Models” details the achievements of 40 prominent Black models since 1950. Each model is afforded a couple of sentences that layout various modeling achievements and their impact on the fashion world.
The article designs the idea that Black models have been on the rise for decades. However, there still were 20 years between the first Black woman featured in an advertisement (Sara Lou Harris, 1954) and the first Black woman featured on the cover of American Vogue (Beverly Johnson, 1974).
Many of the women on this list undoubtedly advanced the standing of Black models, even on a global scale. Winnie Harlow, the burgeoning and beautiful Jamaican Canadian, has become an industry icon — from the Victoria Secret runway to the covers of Vogue, she is a trailblazer and is just getting started.
But the success of Black models has still been continuously stifled by the oligarchical position of white superiority in the industry. Thankfully, people are now beginning to share the true history of Black models.
Six years ago, Ashley Chew spearheaded #blackmodelsmatter in response to the failure of designers and directors to hire well-trained hairdressers and makeup artists. Chew noted that on numerous occasions makeup artists did not have the necessary shades to match her skin tone or did not know how to work with curls and natural hair. As a result, she began doing her own hair and makeup.
“Designers can put models of color in cornrows at their shows, but if the people behind the scenes don’t even know how to braid textured hair and if the backstage staff isn’t diverse at all, maybe we should call it cultural exploitation rather than representation.” (Chew)
Black models are given less attention backstage, yet fashion companies rely on these individuals to represent their supposed progressive mission of inclusion. This is why the blame does not completely lie on the hairdressers themselves, but those in a position of power. However, the fate of equal representation in the industry might be promising. As of 2018, 37.7% of international magazine covers featured a non-white model. Elaine Welteroth rose to the top of Conde Nast and became the youngest Editor-in-Chief of Teen Vogue. While at Teen Vogue, she created and hosted the Teen Vogue Summit, which brought in Hillary Clinton, Maxine Waters, Yara Shahidi, and more. The public is also monitoring the successes and failures of the fashion industry through Instagram accounts like Diet Prada (which now has 2m followers). We also must applaud Bozoma Saint John for her highly decorated career and recent exit from WME — joining Netflix as CMO. Absolute power move.
The fashion industry has taken a massive leap to reach their increasingly diverse representation. How laborious and error-ridden of a journey it has been when the answer seems more clear than ever. The vision of directors and casting companies must take the responsibility of leading the normalization of equality within popular culture. This evolution will flow much more naturally with the diffusion of Black people into decision-making roles.