Season after season, the lack of diversity in fashion is a glaring issue under the bright lights of the fashion week catwalks. Despite efforts from industry activists—including Bethann Hardison and Naomi Campbell—to create more opportunities for models of color, the increase in non-white castings has been slight. A study conducted after New York Fashion Week last season revealed the number of models of color rose less than 5 percent from the season before. But a new piece by The New York Times shows that times might finally be changing.
While we still don't have numbers from the latest round of shows, designers appeared to have been making an effort to diversify their runways. By now, we expect to see a range of skin tones on display at shows by Hood by Air and Kanye West, the NYT highlights Zac Posen and Lamine Kouyaté, the designer behind Xuly.Bët, who both selected a predominately black cast of models. Kouyaté had originally been hoping to cast an entirely African-American line up, but it proved difficult since there weren't many to choose from.
"There still aren’t that many black models at the agencies, and the ones that there are tend to be inexperienced. They haven’t had an opportunity to walk in many shows,” his publicist Kelly Cutrone told The New York Times.
Still, Hardison, who sat front show at Xuly.Bët, was pleased with the progress this season and the advances made for black models, in particular. But, even after seeing a more diverse runway, she doesn't lose sight of the decade long battle she personally has been fighting against fashion's race problem. Over the years, Hardison has been very vocal about the problem with designers using just one or no black models in their shows, saying it needs to be more than just an aesthetic choice.
“Racism lays so dormantly, but it’s there,” Ms. Hardison said. “That’s why you have to keep after it, poking away.”
We can only hope that this is the industry starting to poke, too, by offering more opportunities for a wide range of models, regardless of the color of their skin.