White Models Still Dominate the Runway

Fashion is a global affair, but diversity in models continues to be low. The fashion market is ever-expanding, so there is a greater call today for diversity than there ever has been. Quite a bit of current sales in luxury goods are from the Asia-Pacific region, so there should be at least a larger diversity of models hailing from that region, as opposed to the meager 6.5 percent that modeled for this coming season’s Fashion Weeks.

Fashion Diversity Gap: White Models Still Dominate the Runway

In this season’s Fashion Month, only around 20 percent were models of color (which accounts for models classified as black, Asian, non-white Hispanic, and other), as calculated by Business of Fashion. Ten percent of that number were black models, showing a clear lack of diversity even among the minority ethnicities.

For the spring/summer 2016 seasons, there was a lot of ethnic inspired apparel (think Valentino, for instance!), so it is surprising to see a lack of diversity with the models. Some designers were meticulous with choosing their inspirations and their models, and it showed on the runway, but the majority of designers use primarily white models for their shows.

This isn’t always a matter of a designer not wanting to conform to modern ideals of diversity, however. Some designers create their garments in tones that appear more striking when shown on Caucasian models, due to their skin tone. In this case, it is not a matter of stereotype, but rather about what the designer knows will make their garments take the runway by storm. Not to say women of color wouldn’t look just as amazing in the looks, but that color tone can play into how a garment is accepted on a runway as large as those put on during the Fashion Weeks. At other times, more diversity could have really upped the excitement for garments, for the same reason as listed above, but some designers are trapped inside the box and are unable to see what spicing things up with ethnicity could do for their collection.

The lack of diversity isn’t restricted to the runway, and extends into the editorial world of fashion. Fashionista has boiled down the statistics for 2015 “September Issues’ for fashion magazines, because it is one of the most crucial months for editorials. They were left with cold, hard data, showing that only 12 out of 41 covers featured a model (male or female) of color. Most of the 12 were celebrities, leaving a slim place for models of color.

According to The Fashion Spot, 85 percent of models cast in campaigns were white, showing advertising as the most lacking in diversity. Even further than that, the data show severe undercoverage among designers, as under three percent of fashion designers who showed at New York Fashion Week for autumn/winter 2015 were colored. This could just be a lack of designers who have reached the necessary level to show at Fashion Week, or that their perspectives just aren’t as widely received as other designers. That being said, it is unlikely the ratio would be that skewed.

“It’s not a particularly diverse industry,’ said Robin Givhan, fashion editor of The Washington Post, in like-sentiment to the debate at hand today. “We are drawn to people who look like us. Unless they’re making a conscious decision to deviate from the standard, then the standard is what they go for.’

With the majority of fashion designers in the industry being white, there is little room for fresh perspectives on the big stages, such as the Fashion Weeks. Having various ethnicities as inspiration from so many renowned designers is a huge, but surprising step that isn’t supporting yet within the industry. For a move like that to be pulled off, it is important to take everything about the show into consideration, especially the models.

There could be any number of factors playing into the incredible imbalance in the fashion and modeling industry in today’s society. Regardless of what the real reason is, it will be crucial for designers and buyers in the future to make a conscious effort to support diversity and the significant change it could bode for the industry. There are great things happening on the runway, but we just need those few extra steps to reach the level of equilibrium, in the name of fashion.

Photo courtesy of Vogue

Written by Courtney Dobrzykowski
Courtney is a student majoring in mass communication and professional writing. She works as a writer and editor, and has a wide variety of hobbies, such as fashion, reading/writing poetry, sewing, and playing video games.