In a world where ethnic minorities are finally being represented more on runways and campaigns, one would think that the diversity within fashion workplaces would follow. However, that hasn’t entirely been the case, representation in the fashion industry is currently at only 9%, although BAME residents make up 30% of London’s population and 13% of the rest of the country1. So, this makes you think, are the people behind these campaigns representing the real diversity of the United Kingdom?
Prior to Edward Enninful becoming the editor in chief of British Vogue, the entire editorial team was Caucasian. As of 2017, many BAME individuals have found that it is harder to break into the industry upon graduating and find that they have to work differently in order to stand out.
One of the minor actions the industry has taken to fight back against this following backlash, is ‘tokenism’, this is where designers or employers recruit a small number of ethnic minorities to prevent themselves from receiving bad press. “We wouldn’t even have to question it if the industry did not take part in tokenism,” Frederica Boateng, the founder of Fashion Business Education states. It can be argued that this way of thinking reinforces the fact that there is a problem when it comes to representation in the industry.
With that said, the industry has seen slow progression over the years. “The industry has become much more open and there are now so many platforms supporting young BAME fashion creatives unlike when I graduated,” Boateng explains. Jason Forrest, Fashion Retail Academy lecturer, supports this view; “With the increase of social media opportunities within fashion, there is more representation of BAME people, yet there is still work to do.”
On runways in recent years, major milestones have passed; the first Muslim Hijabi model Halima Aden to walk the high fashion runway, Jamaican-American model Winnie Harlow becoming a role model for all vitiligo sufferers. During on New York Fashion Week, the catwalk had the most diversity up from 20.9% to 37.3% of BAME models. The question to ask is; why isn’t this consistent throughout the industry? “The difficulties I faced when getting started on my career were cultural fit and rejection,” Forrest explains, demonstrating the inconsistency he experienced.
In other creative industries such as music, there appears to have been more progression in terms of diversity. This year, hip-hop became the most popular music genre, eight of the top ten currents artists are from the hip-hop genre with Drake and Kendrick Lamar topping the charts. This was a genre that was started in the mid-1970s in New York by African-American people, following in the footsteps of other genres such as blues, funk and jazz.
When one tries to think of prominent mainstream ethnic minority designers currently in the industry, the list is embarrassingly small. It isn’t just limited to design though, it is the same across the board for stylists, photographers, writers and art directors and models.
It is difficult to ascertain who is working for established fashion houses, other than Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing. That isn’t to say that there aren’t talented and successful contemporary black designers – Martine Rose, Grace Wales Bonner, Virgil Abloh, Samuel Ross and Telfar Clemens are a few who immediately come to mind.
Why aren’t there more?
Even though the biggest fashion models to date are ethnic minorities such as Naomi Campbell, the Hadid sisters and Neelam Gill, ethnic minorities in the industry is still a problem. “There are barely any ethnic minorities at the top of the hierarchy that are decision makers, so it makes it difficult to implement change within the industry,” Boateng stresses. When you look at the industry as a whole, the dominant race still takes over the majority of the industry – “I don’t believe that there are enough ethnic minority models, there’s only a handful” says Frederica.
When asked about qualities you need to have as an ethnic minority going into the industry; confidence, knowledge and a practical approach were the top three things Frederica advised, alongside Jason who said agility, dedication and hard work are the most important.
It has been documented that the BAME community needs to work harder in order to be seen, but in recent times minorities have risen to success sending statistics soaring “Work incredibly hard because nobody can take away your knowledge and work ethic” Boateng emphasised whilst Jason advises finding a mentor, especially when starting out in the industry, as this is classed as one of the hardest industries to ‘break’ into, it can be difficult to be noticed. So, finding someone who has been in your position is essential to the birth of your career”.
But what will happen if there continues to be a lack of representation in the fashion industry? “This will affect everything from creativity, sales and to the overall image of brands” describes Frederica. Does this mean that fashion’s profits will suffer and so will the industry’s reputation? At present, no one has the complete answer to this, ultimately only time will tell.
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Edward Enninful - FT.com
Halima - Vogue.com