A Call to End Racism on the Runway

The lack of racial diversity in the modeling industry has been a hot button issue for years. But while it's sparked outrage, it hasn't lead to much action. Until now.
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Hayley Phelan
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The lack of racial diversity in the modeling industry has been a hot button issue for years. But while it's sparked outrage, it hasn't lead to much action. Until now.
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The lack of racial diversity in the modeling industry has been a hot button issue for years. But while it's sparked outrage, it hasn't lead to much action. Until now.

Bethann Hardison, a former model agency owner who has been campaigning for greater diversity on the runway for the past five years, is publicly calling out designers who consistently cast only, or mostly, white models in their shows. Along with a memo posted on the site Balance Diversity, Harbinson has sent out letters to the CFDA, British Fashion Council, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana in Milan and the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers and Créateurs de Mode in Paris.

The letter reads:

Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use of one or no models of color.

No matter the intention, the result is racism.

Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond “aesthetic” when it is consistent with the designer’s brand.

Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society.

It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model.

Hardison's language is worth noting. In all the discussion about the lack of models-of-color in the industry, the r-word is rarely invoked; if it is, it's tip-toed around. Hardison, however, isn't shying away from using strong language to make her point; instead of phrasing it is as merely a "lack of diversity" she calls designers who've consistently used all-white casts a "guilty of [a] racist act."

Designers called out include Calvin Klein, Marc by Marc, Proenza Schouler, Victoria Beckham, Rag & Bone, BCBG, Rodarte, Mulberry, Preen, Prada, Versace, Marni, Celine, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, among many others. It's immediately apparent that, far from being leaders in the industry, big-name designers are some of the worst offenders.

According to Robin Givhan, who wrote about Hardison's campaign for The Cut, Hardison and a volunteer spent nearly a month sifting through thousands of runway images from last season to come up with the list of guilty designers.

The truth is, the designers may not be the only people to blame. Daniel Silver of Duckie Brown, one of the labels named by Hardison, told The Cut: "We cast our show based on the boys we see--who is in town--and who fits the clothing best...We feel that if the modeling agencies had a more diverse roster, our casting would in turn be more diverse.”

But Hardison's point is that regardless of whose "fault" it is, the result is racist. And that's what matters most. Designers, stylists and casting directors would do best to stop pointing fingers--and start making changes.

Click through to see Hardison's letters and the full lists of designers she calls "guilty of this racist act."