April 18, 2014 by Courtney Denton
In September 2013, the fashion industry was called out on its overall lack of racial diversity. Former model and founder of the Diversity Coalition Bethann Hardison penned an open letter to the directors of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, as well as analogous organizations in London, Paris and Milan, where she cited numerous designers whose most recent runway shows and presentations consisted of white models only. Now that these designers have had a season to revamp their model wall and address the greater societal issues associated with their casting choices, where does the industry stand?
Among the designers cited for their absence of a racially diverse cast were industry heavyweights such as Calvin Klein, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Donna Karen, along with brands such as Proenza Schouler and rag & bone. According to Fashionista, the aforementioned designers featured anywhere from six to eight models of color in the latest presentation.
However, according to an infographic published by Jezebel, a resounding 78.69 percent of the outfits at New York Fashion Week for the fall/winter 2014 season were shown on white models. Trailing rather far behind was the percentage of black models at 9.75 percent, Asian models at 7.67 percent and an even more miniscule number of Latina models at only 2.12 percent.
The greater issue associated with this racial imbalance is ultimately the contemporary notion of beauty. According to The New York Times, American designer Prabal Gurung assured that color is not a factor in his casting decisions, while Daniel Silver of Duckie Brown insisted that agencies with a more diverse roster encourage a more diverse cast.
“Beauty is beauty, and I can honestly say I do not see color when making those decisions,” Gurung said.
These numbers are even more perplexing when taking into account the percentage of business luxury goods firms have in nonwhite markets. According to the 10th Luxury Goods Worldwide Marketing Study conducted by U.S.-based marketing and consulting agency Bain & Co., China is poised to overtake the United States as the largest luxury goods market, and over 50 percent of luxury goods sales in European cities such as Paris and Milan are made by Asian tourists. Beyond the moral implications behind the lack of nonwhite models, the underutilization of Asian models could even be considered poor business practice.
Hardison, who started working as a model in the late ‘60s, went on to own her own modeling agency where she made a personal effort to promote models of color. According to The New York Times, she founded the Diversity Coalition in the late ‘90s when she noticed that the trend for more individualized models shifted to a pattern of sameness. According to The New York Times, the goal of the coalition is to achieve more balance in the industry, and while Hardison has noted progress, that progress has not been stable or consistent. Now that awareness has been raised, it’s time for the industry to become accountable.