Racism on the runway has been a hot button issue for years now–but it’s really gaining speed this season.
Somali-born supermodel Iman, Naomi Campbell, and Diversity Coalition activist Bethann Hardison recently joined forces to call more attention to the blatant lack of diversity in fashion, which Iman tells the Evening Standard “sends a message to our young girls that they are not good enough, they are not beautiful enough.” Earlier this month, the coalition sent open letters to international fashion councils, scolding them for the runway white-out they seem to support–either knowingly, or through ignorance.
But while Iman has thus far gone the diplomatic route–describing designer and casting agents’ actions as racist rather than their persons–she’s now admitting that she purposely boycotts certain labels’ merchandise for their racist tendencies. One particularly guilty designer, in her eyes, is Céline creative director Phoebe Philo.
“She’s a cool girl,” Hardison told the Standard of Philo. “But Céline has never had a colored person showing in their collection. Ever. And yet, they have the best accessories; every black woman who has money buys her accessories.”
“Not me,” Iman shot back. “I walk the walk. I can get another It bag. I have my wallet. I make a conscious decision not to buy that stuff.”
It’s a dilemma Iman and other models of color have had to endure for decades. While the 58-year-old former muse to Yves Saint Laurent says that there were “more black models on the catwalk when [she] started in the 1970s than there are today,” she also hints at racism she experienced from the outset: “Many companies had a different price rate for black models and white models. So I refused to take jobs–if I wasn’t going to be paid the same as them, I wasn’t going to do it. I just sat it out.”
It takes a strong woman to turn down work in an industry where jobs are few and far between to begin with–and we’re hoping that strength will inspire changes to the industry’s views on diversity as a whole.
“Photography and the runways are such powerful tools, and say such a lot about our society,” Iman explains of her plight. “It is so much bigger than the catwalk.”