The old, ‘there’s not enough people of color’ in fashion feels like a dead horse that keeps getting beaten with each new headline announcing the obvious omission. But if that is the case, then every blackface ad campaign or editorial, or article that has to out-rightly triumph the appointment of a person of color to a lead editorial position—because the occasion is so few and far between—is the proverbial water that keeps giving the aforementioned horse life.
The NYTimes.com recently published an article, “Fashion’s Blind Spot,” analyzing fashion’s persistent, and even worsening, rac1st practices despite the dialogue on it that was opened 5 years ago, stemming from the lack of women of color on the high fashion runways. The NYT reports that black models only accounted for 6% of those cast during last season’s fashion week—a noticeable decline from the previous season’s 8.1%.
It was also only yesterday that Fashionista.com reported on former US Vogue fixture (and bestie to Anna Wintour) André Leon Talley’s comments made about racism in the fashion industry in an upcoming issue of Vanity Fair. Fashionista reports that according to Talley, “He admits to wondering why, with such a packed résumé, he’s never been the editor of a major magazine” and says, “People stereotype you. What person of color do you know who’s in a position like that, be it a man or a woman, unless it’s Essence magazine?”
Well, it’s about 3 now? Keija Minor made the news last summer for becoming the first person of color to hold an editor-in-chief title for a Condé Nast publication. She was name the EIC of Brides magazine. Since then, Elaine Welteroth became the health and beauty director of Teen Vogue, while Shiona Turini was just named the new fashion market director of Cosmopolitan less than two weeks ago. Yea, that’s three; three in over a hundred years.
With a 2.1% drop in models of color on the fashion week runways, and a less than 0.1% rise in upper level titles held by people of color in fashion journalism, it feels like African-Americans and other professionals of color are still being left to try and catch a ride on the waves of hiring trends coming and going in fashion rather than setting them for the multi-billion dollar industry that that we actively participate in and support. With that said, where do we go from here?
No race can really, adequately allot the resources for another without an intense experience to help define what the group needs and wants. An early example of that was in post-slavery America, African-Americans got “40 acres.” In post-polite ‘racism in fashion’ dialogues of five years ago, people of color got 6% runway models and 3 titles. So the answer, even though it may be too obvious to be groundbreaking, is ownership.
Although professionals of color should still continue efforts to break down color barriers in the predominantly white industry, we should definitely also aim to start fashion publications; especially pubs that will provide holistic coverage, featuring African-Americans and other races, because we are a group equipped to do it—contrary to many people’s readiness to callously write off black-owned businesses from a belief in our inability to produce work of a certain quality that can appeal to a wide range of consumers.