The former model and diversity campaigner says designers want models of colour, but they aren’t being presented by some agencies.
"I've got so many calls from designers, this season, saying that the agencies were not sending them black girls. Brands that really want to diversify, that don't want to have an all-white cast -- they can't get the girls," former model and diversity campaigner Bethann Hardison says in a new opinion piece for Business of Fashion.
Hardison is a founding member of the Diversity Coalition, an organisation that campaigns for more diversity on the catwalk and in fashion imagery. In 2013, the Diversity Coalition sent a game changing letter to the fashion councils behind the international fashion weeks. The letter, which was co-signed by fellow legendary models Naomi Campbell and Iman, was about the prevalence of all-white model casts on runways, stating that, "Whatever the intention, the result is racism".
Hardison says she remembers a time when, before New York Fashion Week, "Casting directors would send out notices to all the modelling agencies in the city, saying 'no blacks, no ethnics' — we don't want to see them". The situation has improved, however, Hardison sees one surprising but major glitch in the new push for diversity within the industry: the black models on the agency books aren't being shown to all the brands that want to see them, instead they are being saved as "exclusives" for only the very most important clients. "Agencies hold these girls for well-known brands with important casting directors and stylists, leaving other brands with less choice of models of colour," she says, adding, "I also received complaints from certain magazines and beauty advertisers".
"Today, we have many more models of colour in the industry, and many more agencies fighting to work with those models," she explains, "But the problem is that, while they are fighting to work with those girls, they begin to narrow the girls' opportunities. Once the girl starts to develop, she is not sent to all the companies that request her, not allowed to work with a 'non-worthy' client, nor allowed to be seen in 'the wrong place'. This is due to the fact that there aren't as many models of colour as their white counterparts, so there are less for brands to chose from".
"Of course, agencies make some Caucasian girls exclusive too," she adds, "But comparatively, we don't have many non-Caucasian models being accepted into the industry, so it's very important not to let this become a permanent trend. We want these girls to be seen working more and more, spread out across the industry. The more a minority is seen, the more it blends into what society should expect to see -- and the more other young girls are encouraged to do this job".
"No one should think, 'Oh my God, I'm never going to make it as a model,' because of their race," Hardison concludes, "Imagemakers, too, need to be more responsible when it comes to how our industry is seen. We do have the power to make the difference".
Text Charlotte Gush