Despite What You’ve Heard, the Fashion Industry Is Still Racist

As detailed in a pair of recent stories from Fast Company and NY Mag’s The Cut, racism still runs rampant in every corner of the fashion industry, despite its seeming dedication to progressivism and social justice.

“The fashion community has shown, over and over again, that it is willing to fight for social justice and progressive causes,” Fast Company’s Liz Segran writes, “So it’s worth asking why it hasn’t done more to grapple with the racial injustice within its own ranks.”

In her research, Segran found that, “Within the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)… only 3% of members are black. Less than 10% of the designers at the last New York Fashion Week were black. And only 15% of the models that walked the runway were black.”

“These statistics paint a picture of the systematic marginalization of black people, their aesthetic sensibilities, and their bodies,” she argues. “The fashion industry has deliberately crafted itself to be an arbiter of taste and beauty. But to the many people observing the industry from afar, the message telegraphed through these figures is that blackness is not beautiful.”

And though, as Segran notes, “there has been progress” — she points to Virgil’s Louis Vitton appointment, Tyler Mitchell’s Vogue cover and Edward Enniful’s British Vogue EIC title as not-insignificant evidence — the headlines generated by those examples “mask an uglier reality underneath the surface.”

“As you take a closer look at the industry, it’s clear that black people still face many barriers to entry” that aren’t experienced by their white counterparts.

And those barriers were brilliantly explicated in a must-read piece by NY Mag’s The Cut. Author, Lindsay Peoples, “spoke to more than 100 black people in the industry, from models to designers to magazine editors,” and discovered a broad spectrum of mistreatment and marginalization, felt by everyone from burgeoning wannabes to major figures like Tracee Ellis Ross and Kimora Lee Simmons.

(Peoples also mentioned that several big names in the industry that were asked to participate “declined to… [citing] fear as the reason,” a line that should serve as a gut check for, well, all of us.)

So, despite the industry’s recent bout of inclusiveness, Peoples openly wonders if “progressiveness is… just another fad.”

Let’s hope not.

You can (and should) read more about it at Fast Company and The Cut.

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