This past year has been — on a rhetorical level, at least — a significant one for racial diversity in the fashion industry. Fed up with a long-standing, egregious tradition of whitewashing in the industry, Bethann Hardison launched the Balance Diversity campaign in September, which "named and shamed" designers who only use white models. Fashion insiders rallied behind her; six months later, she was awarded the prestigious CFDA Founder's award for her work.
All of this is deeply admirable and hugely necessary. However, the industry has been immensely slow to respond: in February, we noticed hardly any change in the percentage of non-white models who walked during New York Fashion Week. On a panel about race in the industry the following month, however, designer Tracy Reese said she thought change was occurring: she noted a "fair improvement" in modeling agencies' commitment to diversity. Asked to expand, she said, "If I broke it down by agency, I'm sure there would be some agencies that are doing a lot better than others."
Over at the Fashion Spot, Nika Mavrody does just that. Her findings are not-so-encouraging.
Mavrody counted the number of models of color included in show packages over two seasons: Spring 2014, which took place before the Balance Diversity campaign was launched, and Fall 2014, which occurred after. Comparing numbers in 19 major agencies, she found that representation of models of color improved only one percentage point from the previous season: in Spring 2014, 18.16% of models included in show packages were non-white; the following season, the number was 19.17%.
Some agencies are far better than others, though: a standout is Fusion Model Management, a small boutique agency, which has an average of 46.5% non-white models per show package. Wilhelmina and Women, which are both large agencies, have 33.35% and 31.67% percent, respectively — but these percentages are actually both smaller than last season.
Some good news: Roman Young, the board director of Women, told the Fashion Spot that he thinks the industry is changing. He dismissed the idea that "ethnic diversity isn't what designers or magazines want" as "propaganda," noting, "This past season was the first season that more than just one designer or casting director actually REQUESTED ethnic models to account for greater diversity."
Again, though, change is slow. As Fusion founder Jody Gordon told the Fashion Spot, "There is definitely more work and a greater demand for Caucasian models." This means that change has to occur on multiple levels: not only do agencies need to represent more diverse rosters of models, but magazines and designers need to start offering them work as well. We likely won't see an improvement until both things occur.
Images via Getty.