Is The Fashion Industry Racist – The Fashion Debates


“We’ve already got one”.

Four words, one phrase, a colossal representation of institutional racism in the fashion industry. Jody Furlong drew a mix of grasps and frustrations in telling the crowd at Fashion Debates the response he frequently gets when trying to place black models.

Being born a white male in a powerful nation is a position of inherited privilege , I will almost certainly never personally know racism or prejudice because of it, however I do have eyes and ears and I can see it and hear it in the industry and in the wider world. The fashion industry like the wider word has a problem and it needs to admit it. There are those that won’t, that will hide behind the odd statistic or piece of data such as over 20% of models at the last LFW weren’t white, we see no problem here.

Why is the population not accurately reflected in the fashion industry? – Naomi Mdudu

But you can’t close down the debate the industry needs with a singe stat, I could equally point to the debate around Demna Gvasalia and the position that in five seasons the designer has used just one model who isn’t white in his shows for Vetements and Balenciaga. But also what about the other 51 weeks of the year, or the years that preceded it, what about the industry off the catwalk?

The panel at Fashion Debates weren’t the only ones with stories and examples, story after story from the audience gave personal testimony to how embedded racism is, either intentional or unintentional from the use of “ethnic” to cover any inspiration that isn’t Euro-centric through to active exclusion from campaigns.

I return to the point that this isn’t only an issue of the catwalk, it’s in advertising, it’s in merchandising in stores, it’s in magazines, it’s in the diversity of the people who work in the industry. How often do we see tokenism, where it’s clear someone has been selected just to meet a quota, how often do we see someone from Bangladesh or the Philippines looking out from a glossy page. Right now it feels like we say if you make the clothes we don’t want to see you wearing the clothes.

Racism in the fashion industry is an issue of global inequality – Anna-Mari Almila

Can we change, yes we can. We can do that that by seeing diversity not as giving up privileged positions but sharing the great things about them with everyone. Inclusion isn’t about giving up something, it’s about fairness for all.

It takes a real commitment to change though rather than gesture politics of an all black models magazine edition or for a single show which isn’t actually progress if its used to defend previous or future issues, that yeah but remember when the ycan put in the bank. It’s about doing whats right in the long term for our society.

What does success look like?

It looks like everyone feeling included, it’s really that simple. We as consumers, photographers, writers, bloggers, agents, designers, or whoever ca be that change, but we have to demand it and understand who and what needs to change.

Is the fashion industry racist? I’ll leave that answer to the Fashion Debates Panel. . .

Yes, the fashion industry is racist, but no more than society as a whole – Jody Furlong

You can watch the debate if you missed it over on The Fashion Debates Facebook page.

Naomi with quoteJody with quoteAnna-Mari Almila

About Ross Pollard

Since starting writing on my 31st birthday in 2011 I have held a number of positions at magazines and websites as well as regularly producing articles for numerous publications alongside contributing to TV & radio shows as a freelance fashion journalist including Hoxton Radio & Fashion One TV. Alongside writing, I have worked in other industries helping to design & grow digital platforms, develop businesses and support operations practices. This experience has proved invaluable in building an understanding of how businesses work, and the landscape in which retail, B2B commerce and other commercial operations develop. Knowledge of commercial interests has helped shape my fashion industry insights beyond critiquing of garments

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