“I grew up in a world where a woman with my kind of skin and hair was never considered beautiful” – Zozibini Tunzi, Miss Universe 2019.
The landscape of fashion is changing, with trailblazers like Naomi Campbell and Edward Enninful leading the helm the industry is in good hands. We are seeing a poignant shift in regards to diversity within the industry, but is it enough?
The supermodel told BBC: “To see more than one woman of colour on magazine cover is a big deal but it really shouldn’t be, it’s not a trend.”
It is clear that more needs to be done. Diversity in the fashion industry shouldn’t still be an afterthought or about including the token person of a different race. People from all walks of life need to be represented both on the glossy covers AND creatively behind the scenes.
In recent years Campbell has become even more vocal about the need for diversity in the industry, and I am completely here for it. Her voice is extremely powerful and speaks volumes. She is one of the first supermodels of colour to break boundaries in a mainly white dominated industry ; so when Naomi talks, the world listens.
Ignoring the demands of consumers has proved to be detrimental to the success of fashion brands. For the first time in 24 years, the infamous Victoria Secret Show was cancelled. Each year dozens of slender models strut down the runway sporting oversized angel wings and lingerie, while interacting with celebrity stars belting out their top hits. Many of these models bear a striking resemblance to each other as their blonde and brunette tresses bounced along to the sounds of hits like ‘Moves like Jagger’ by Maroon 5.
We have seen a few models of colour dotted about here and there, but no plus size representation in sight. The cancellation of the show follows 2018’s dwindling ratings and an increased public outcry about the need for diversity.
With the rise of refreshingly diverse shows like Rihanna’s Fenty X Savage… Victoria Secret didn’t stand a chance. This show redefined what it means to be a model today and gave an accurate representation of ALL women. RiRi herself stated: I’m looking for unique characteristics in people that aren’t usually highlighted in the world of fashion as it pertains to lingerie “
She continued: “It’s very important that the casting tells the narrative of the what the brand stands for. What we stand for here mainly is inclusivity”
The women in her show described by Ri as ‘performance art’ were of all shapes, sizes and races. It was a powerful celebration of art, culture and as the beauty mogul stated – inclusivity.
The owner of Victoria’s Secret L Brands cancelled 2019’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, stating the decision was part of a move to “evolve the messaging of [the company]”. Which only proves Naomi’s previous comments about certain fashion brands: “I can see clearly when brands want diversity because they get it and think it’s the right thing to do, and the ones who just think it will look bad if they don’t”.
Changing who represents their brand would only be a calculated move from Victoria’s Secret. It is something they have almost been forced to do due to dwindling viewers. It is clearly not something they want to or even care about as a brand, as they have been very vocal about that fact in the past. If they decide to bring back the annual show and conveniently decide to include a diverse cast – I think it’s too little too late.
Diversity behind the scenes
Often not spoken about enough is the lack of diversity behind the scenes. The decisions made in these spaces directly influence what we consume as the ideal representation of beauty. Just because the staff are not on the covers, it does not mean they can’t be seen; the lack of diversity is relayed loud and clear through the images and articles put out on our newsstands.
It was only until Enninful became editor of British Vogue where we saw multiple women of colour shown both on the glossy covers, and penning the articles for the infamous magazine. For representation to be at the forefront we need people like the Ghanaian native leading the charge.
In 2017 there was an uproar about the lack of racial representation on the pages at British Vogue during former editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman’s reign. It soon became clear as a photograph was captured of her surrounded by 54 members of her staff on her final days at the magazine – all 54 members were white.
When questioned further about the decision making when when non-white candidates applied to work for her, she said: “I’d say they almost always did in fact get the job. But relatively few came up through the pipeline, for whatever reason”. I honestly find this hard to believe, I know for a fact there any many people of colour who want to be in these rooms but will YOU make room for them?
Naomi told WSJ last month: “Diversity needs to go deeper than the runway. We need to see it within the actual companies and in the offices. Are you going to give the diverse staff a seat at the table to advise and be part of the projects that you do? Instead of when things arise – when there’s a hiccup, when there’s a mistake, when there’s an accident – having to then build these advisory boards”
This is a statement I couldn’t agree more with. In the past many brands have made fatal errors; take a look back on the Vanity Fair’s skin lightening scandal in 2014. The magazine were called out by many for lightening Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o skin on their cover. It is imperative to have people in the room who can point these things out and educate others who might not.
British Vogue’s Enninful has big hopes for the future, not just Vogue but for the industry as a whole: “I want to see the marginalised normalised. I want the new generation to look at an image and think, ‘A gay couple, what’s the big deal?’ ‘A mixed couple, what’s the big deal?’ It’s very important that I show images that make the world think it is normal to be who you are.”
He added: “Until we’re not talking about diversity [and] it’s just a given, that’s what I’m trying to work for.”
My hope for the future of the fashion industry is that it continues to be a progressive space. A space where young girls or boys of colour and different sizes can grow up knowing they can be on the covers of major magazines. The same way they will be able to write, write,photograph and be creative directors behind the scenes. The goal is for this to be a reachable reality, not just a dream.
So, I hand the baton back to the fashion industry, with the hope that this new decade opens the door to a new wave of diverse talent.