Over the years, the lack of representation in fashion for people of color, both in front of and behind the camera, has been a controversial subject. So, every so often the topic of race becomes widely salacious and brands flock to reflect the current political climate in their advertising to monetize the trend of diversity. Advertisers, booking agents, creative directors, casting directors, editors, photographers, presidents, and CEOs work in cohesion to remain politically correct in the eyes of the majority consumers they typically overlook. However, once the spotlight shifts from the issue of diversity, the loud parade of celebration for the beauty in black culture turns to whispers and awkward staredowns in offices, showrooms, runways and stores around the globe.
“My world, I’ve always seen it as inclusive. Coming to New York making a career out of modeling, they reminded me ‘what we see you as,’ not who I identified with….I feel like brands need to be open-minded and mindful when they choose their cast because they do hold a social responsibility to the world to represent their consumers” — Joan Smalls, IMG Model
According to the U.S Census Bureau, 40.9% of the American population are people of color, with an estimated buying power that exceeds 1.1 trillion dollars. It is also no secret that the minority population is the largest consumer of the fashion industry by helping brands make quarterly quotes through the purchase of entry-level luxury items like Gucci belts, Louis Vuitton wallets, in addition to buying fast-fashion items. Yet we do not have an infrastructure that supports diversity beyond a trendy campaign and niche market.
Having such a large impact on a company’s bottom line makes it hardly believable that we go unnoticed. Companies and advertisers have been able to program this demographic into idolizing beautiful things often created by our foreign kin overseas for pennies on the dollar. As women and children work in deplorable conditions to provide us with items that are unreasonably marked up and often outside our budgets, we continue this cycle to feel acceptance through fashion that we don’t see celebrated enough in that world.
“It’s an illusion that the fashion industry is progressive. Besides, it was a little tiny island before. Fashion has become popular because of popular culture.” — Bethann Hardison, Fashion Activist
It has been proven by several economic researchers that diversity in business is good for the global economy. In 2016, Rihanna single-handedly increased Puma sales by 3.7%, bringing in almost $1 billion in sales. Given this fact, why is it that the global majority must plead the same arguments for acceptance within the fashion industry and the world? The perpetual image that fetishizes diversity and ignores inclusion is a distraction that directly influences the temperament of society. Advertisers and big businesses understand the psychological games they play with the public intellect. However, the internet has brought us such outstanding examples of possibility, and shown that it has become much harder to silence the victims of injustice. It is our hope that we protect this new territory of free will and free speech in the name of more acceptance of self, as well of others.
“Once I was told the numbers, it was kind of startling to me. It made me start thinking about, is it the numbers that will make people feel that they are seeing diversity on the runway or is it the specific designer collections and the specific ad campaigns that are really sort of making such a broad statement about the industry, so that if there is diversity there that the impact carries much farther than some other aspects of the industry?” — Robin Givhan, Fashion Critic, Washington Post
Accepting diversity and advocating for inclusion is a complex task that cannot be crammed into a giveaway bag that reads “Thank you for attending.” This multiracial society is not able to truly thrive without a unanimous understanding that the image of culture spans through a rainbow of colors. As a creative industry, the illusion that colorism and racism is a myth that goes unseen and unspoken is now a derogatory defense to an unwillingness to change by our own volition. We as a creative collective are capable of reshaping the narrative that is currently being sold by using our eyes to see the world around us, our ears to listen to the unheard, and our hands to craft a new image that represents the people that help paint our world in different hues.
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