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We Don’t Need Color, It Is Already White Washed-Racism In Fashion Industry

“Racism is so out of style, it’s long gone, 2020 is all about diversity and acceptance, we are featuring 3 black models in our campaign, and it’s stupid of you to even talk about it”. These are some of the many comments that you will hear whenever the topic of racism is brought up. For the time being, we actually thought that racism has ended. The fashion industry is so much glamorized with beautiful models, artistic campaigns and shiny shimmering gowns that we sometimes are not aware what lies behind the curtains. As the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest started gaining momentum back in March, things that were brushed under the rag finally came into the light. Instagram handle ‘Diet Prada’ pulled up pieces of evidence that showed lot of big fashion houses and labels rejecting black, transgender models to be a part of their campaign.

Images from Black Lives Matter Protest

Even with all the debate on racism, Dior went on to release their Autumn-Winter 2020-2021 campaign with no black or colored models. It seems like these brands doesn’t care about the colored, black models and just want to portray everything white in their campaigns. The debate on racism is going on for years. Still, no great results have been achieved. As the protest of #Blacklivesmatter was rising, many brands like Reebok, Old Navy etc. came forward showing their support and encouraging the same from their customer. Also, there have been instances like appointing Virgil Abloh as the creative director of Louis Vuitton, Edward Enniful as the first black editor-in-chief for Vogue British shows industry is imbibing the change. More instances such cases include, earlier Dior Cruise 2019 collection which featured white actress Jennifer Lawrence. The fashion campaign was inspired by Escaramuzas – traditional horsewomen of Mexican decent, known for their skills. Plus, she is also the female characters from The House of the Spirits, the classic novel from Chilean writer Isabel Allende. But unfortunately, a well reputed luxury international brands fail to acknowledge Mexican community. If you are benefitting from other cultures you need to give credit to them, thank them for inspiring such campaigns. Not only giving credit encourages them but also highlights it at international level.

Jennifer Lawrence in Dior campaign

Another incident, Gucci released a blackface inspired turtle neck in 2018. It was sold for almost 1 year without being noticed and after facing backlash from customers, they took it down and apologized for being unaware. It’s hard to believe that an international brand where decisions are taken at every level and no one knows its offensive towards African culture. Besides that, fashion is known for taking inspiration from different cultures of the world be it religion or culture. In the past, fashion brands have taken elements of black /Mexican cultures, whitewashing the whole campaign, and failed to include models from that ethnicity and to give credit to them. Brands do racist or blackface collection, apologizes for their action, society forgets about it and then they continue to do racist remarks time and again. It has become cyclical in process. We need to hold them accountable.

Gucci Blackface inspired collection

Besides that, the main problem lies when people are not allowed to raise their voice in order to highlight issues that are still polarizing the industry. Model Munroe Bergdorf is one such example. After being fired from L’Oreal’s Paris campaign, she had the courage to speak out against the racism and white supremacy. In return, the brand left her alone to defend herself against all the hatred she faced when she talked about things that used to bother her publicly. Even the relic of the fashion industry, glossy fashion magazines are also not as innocent as they behave in front of the media. There have been numerous instances that showed the ill-treatment and micro-aggressions of black employees in some of the major fashion publications. Diet Prada showed many receipts/ evidences that shows most of the black employees are overqualified; the ivy-league graduates were working as a social media manager and were forced to work long hours on weekends. Some colored female employees had to perform the role of two jobs at the same time with every little to pay as compared to their white counterparts. The biggest mockery is when the executives and directors refused to acknowledge such matters within the organization.

Systematic racism is so deeply rooted in this industry that it is hard to bring a change at bigger level. Models of color who are working in the industry face racial discrimination every day. Leomie Anderson shared her experience regarding hair & makeup backstage. Most of the hairstylist hired for fashion show doesn’t have any experience in dealing with Afro hair. Makeup artists don’t have the proper foundation to match the dark skin tone. Dealing with intangible issues on a regular basis will definitely take a toll on your career. As per some interviews of black models- most of the designers hire one black model in their campaigns as “the diverse poster girl” without being actually changing their casting rules for their shows and photoshoots. Colored/ Black models are always pitted against each other. Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks feud are the biggest of them all. Two successful black models were forced to hate each other because there was an unwritten rule that only one black model can be a part supermodel league.

The industry runs on the blood and sweat of colored and indigenous people. Garment workers are overwhelmingly people of color. Most of the manufacturing is done in Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar where majority of the population is colored and marginalized. Whereas the manufacturing in the U.S.A or U.K is done by immigrants from countries like South America, Mexico, or India. With the protest of #Black Lives Matter, so many brands came out publicly saying they are anti-racist yet most of them refused to pay their garment workers or canceled their order during the pandemic. Garment workers were the most vulnerable people during the pandemic still no support was extended to them.

Now, it is understandable how deep racism runs within the industry. We need to call out all the brands that are racist be it corporate racism or ill-treatment of garment workers. We need to re-build the entire industry with the principle of diversity and inclusivity. Fashion is a creative process; creativity comes from different cultures and religions all around the world. So, it must include people from different colors and cultures too. It’s really hard to succeed in a place where you have to change your natural features or to change the way you speak just to fit in. Plus, you have to worry about racism, violence, and micro-aggressions when you have done nothing to provoke it. To all the brands either they are big or small, both need to hire people of color not only because of the “diversity poster” but with the real desire to bring change into society. Pay them equally, give them chance to grow, give credit whenever there is a need. Everyone else, educate yourself, hold them accountable. The end of racism is a long process, it won’t end in just one night. We have to start now.

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