New York Fashion Week, which ended on September 12, featured 4,637 “looks,” or outfits displayed on the runway, and white models were hired to show off 80 percent of them, according to Jezebel’s yearly analysis. Fewer than 1,000 looks were given to women of color, and women of some ethnicities, like Middle Eastern women, barely made an appearance.
At least 14 designers had models of color show three or fewer looks, with some hiring zero. Many also “boosted their numbers only because of a select black or asian model who wore more than one look,” Jezebel author Kate Dries writes. Other designers made a more reputable effort, with at least 13 hiring about 30 percent or more models of color.
The numbers have barely changed over the past four years:
Many of the same models of color also appeared this year as in past years, indicating that the industry isn’t hiring new models who aren’t white but instead relying on the same faces.
The lack of representation for women of color at big shows like Fashion Week makes it difficult for them to break into the industry. Models who aren’t white have to compete against each other for the few available spots, putting downward pressure on their wages since they have little power to bargain. It also makes agencies less willing to take on models of color. One model of color, Marcia Mitchell, describes being told by the owner of an agency, “We’re not doing black girls right now.”
Sara Ziff, president of the Models Alliance, an organization that seeks to organize models to push for industry change, sees this discrimination as a labor issue, as she previously told ThinkProgress. While in most industries hiring and firing based on race, color, or ethnic origin, in modeling workers are hired based physical appearance. On top of that problem, models aren’t even covered by most labor and anti-discrimination laws because they are considered independent contractors.
While modeling strikes are probably “unrealistic,” Ziff said, given that individual models could face immediate retribution, boycotts could put pressure on the industry to change. Well-known model Iman has raised the possibility of such a strategy to change the industry’s hiring practices.