Diversity in fashion still a work in progress

March 7, 2016

Shades of blue were popular hues in many fall 2016 collections, including looks by Vivienne Tam, who showed her collection on Feb. 15, 2016 at Skylight at Moynihan Station in midtown Manhattan as part of New York Fashion Week.

NEW YORK — Women’s fashion comes in all colors and sizes. So why doesn’t the same typically go for the models who wear the looks on the runway or in magazines?

Diversity in fashion — or rather, a lack thereof — has been a potent topic for years. At any given fashion week in New York City or abroad, it’s not unusual for a runway show to consist of a dozen-ish pole-thin Caucasian models, flanked by an Asian or African-American one (or occasionally both).

According to a 2015 diversity report by, out of 143 fashion shows and more than 3,700 models cast during New York Fashion Week’s September shows that year, more than 70 percent of them were white. Statistics for diversity represented in fall fashion print ads that year were even worse. The report also calls out designers it claims are most guilty of whitewashing their runway shows, including Erin Fetherston, Pamella Roland and Monique Lhuillier.

Not everyone has sat idly by as cookie-cutter models march down the catwalk time and time again. One of the leading advocates for the cause is Bethann Hardison, a prominent black supermodel from decades past. She’s the founder of the Diversity Coalition who, along with other fashion notables (fellow models Naomi Campbell and Iman, for instance), has rallied for more opportunities for models of color.

There were, however, signs of some improvements at New York Fashion Week earlier this month. Zac Posen was praised for sending down the runway quite a few models of varying skin tones. Same went at Xuly.Bet and, on a smaller scale, at Tory Burch and Sophie Theallet’s shows, among a handful of others.

But the consensus at large is that there’s still work to be done.

So who’s to blame here: designers, modeling and casting agencies or the media? Or perhaps a combination of them all?

Well, it depends on how you look at it. Sure, the onus is on designers to be more proactive when it comes to including women of color in their campaigns and fashion shows. But, first, they need enough options to even consider casting.

"That wasn’t easy," publicist Kelly Cutrone told The New York Times in regard to finding models for the Xuly.Bet show. "There still aren’t that many black models at the agencies, and the ones that are tend to be inexperienced. They haven’t had an opportunity to walk in many shows."

The media plays a role in all of this, too. Writers and editors need to do their part to step up the stories done on women and men of varied races and backgrounds. (And the public needs to hold them accountable; if they’re not seeing this, write a letter to the editor or sound off with a constructive comment on social media.) At the end of the day, though, the media is a mirror on the community. If there aren’t models of color being given their chance to shine, they won’t be reflected in the looking glass of life represented in the pages of a newspaper or magazine.

Take lookbook photos, for instance. Lots of media outlets (including regional or moderate-sized publications, such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) don’t have the resources to cast and shoot their own fashion spreads on a regular basis. Therefore, they rely on fashion houses and their respective public relations teams to share photos of designers’ collections that can be run in print or on the Web to illustrate whatever trends a story is talking about. It’s challenging to create something that embraces women from different walks of life if it’s the same size 0 Caucasian model in most of these photos.



McClatchy-Tribune Information Services