The demand for melanin is creating quite a buzz this fashion month. From Kanye West to Zac Posen, many New York designers cast more non-white models than ever before, and The Fashion Spot reported that fall 2016 was the most diverse season in the city's recent history. It's gradual progression.
We're almost there — but not quite. It still seems that the masses have negative opinions regarding melanin and exotic features, and the shaming of blackness is still a major issue. Recently, model Ajak Deng briefly left the modeling scene due to discriminatory negations based on her skin tone. (She has since decided to return and "fight this war with kindness, forgiveness, love and support to all humanity.") Meanwhile, model Aamito Lagum was harassed by crude and demeaning comments when MAC posted an image of her lips to Instagram. Plus, it is still rare for fashion brands to not saturate their imagery with Europeans and Euro-Americans, suggesting only a white model can convey a "positive" and "inspiring" image — actual words used by H&M’s South Africa marketing team last November in response to a Twitter user's request for more black models in its store campaigns.
But in the absence of diversity in brand imagery in the industry, several online communities that celebrate both black beauty and talent in fashion have emerged. Two cultural blogs in particular stand out: Devout Fashion, a Tumblr started in 2010 showcasing black and African designers and models, and Black Fashion, a Tumblr started in 2009 that features street style images of people of color. "A collection of images rarely seen in the media," it states at the top of every page. But a new and increasingly popular movement has emerged online: #Blackout, or as it is also commonly known, #BlackoutDay, which hit its first anniversary on Sunday.
"For people who aspire to enter the fashion realm, whether it is to become a designer or a model, they have to be encouraged by people who they can relate to — people who look like them," said Marissa Rei, a co-founder of the revolutionary social media trend. She started it on Tumblr with two friends a year ago as a reaction to the "lack of representation and celebration of everyday black people in mainstream spaces such as movies and television," according to the movement's site. The idea behind the movement is all about self-sustainment and exposure within the black community. You post a selfie, a little bit about yourself, and boom! Your talents are then streamed through a virtual network designed to uplift, make connections, and inspire.
The hashtag quickly spread to Twitter (#BlackOutDay is most popular), Instagram and Facebook (#Blackout is the most popular of the latter two) and has become a growing movement in online culture to increase visibility for black people, and celebrate the many manifestations and nuances of blackness. The popularity received press attention from major black-focused publications, including Essence and Ebony. Celebrities such as Russell Simmons, Gabrielle Union, Amandla Stenberg and model Adonis Bosso have also participated in #BlackoutDay along with the masses. "We saw a lot of people posting for the first time yesterday," said Rei via email on Monday. "It's definitely evolved from what it was last year since people were more prepared to participate this go around. This year, we saw over 130,ooo tweets by the time we stopped trending."
After marking five days in 2015, #BlackoutDay will take place seasonally in 2016 — on Jun. 6, Sept. 6 and Dec. 6. (The founders encourage followers to use the hashtag whenever they want, but to really "break the Internet" on the scheduled days.) "Blackout Day is all about creating a space to promote, encourage and inspire the black community to chase whatever dream [is] desired,” said Rei. She hopes the movement allows participants to showcase themselves and their talents, as well as to build a strong network of encouragement and support. "We are focusing on getting the word out about who we are and what we want to offer people outside of just a cool hashtag for their photos," said Rei. The movement's team is looking to expand beyond a trend to structure themselves as a nonprofit organization featuring black art, artists, and businesses while simultaneously performing volunteer work in black communities. But those are long-term goals.
Improving the visibility of black people within the fashion industry is definitely underway, but in the meantime, #BlackoutDay has created a supportive community to celebrate the beauty of blackness. It encourages participants to keep fighting for what they believe in and go after their destinies — whether they hope to be designers, models or a professional in a completely different field. It also proves that until the industry finally understands the need to present diverse faces to its customers across the board, there's a dynamic source of inspiration living and growing online.
Note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Marissa Rei's name and correct the 2016 Blackout Day dates.