Bethann Hardison on diversity in fashion

Posted by janelle | September 24th, 2013

Diversity in the fashion industry has been a hot-button subject for years, but the issue came to a head this season with Bethann Hardison & The Diversity Coalition‘s open letter to the CFDA. With a concise list of designers who have either eschewed minority faces on their runways altogether, or engaged in tokenism, the Coalition succinctly captured the gravity of this enduring problem. Nowhere is the issue of race in fashion more visible than on the runways every fashion week. The runways of New York, London, Milan and Paris serve not only as a showcase for clothing, but also a powerful representation of the industry’s physical ideals and beauty standards. When women and men of color are all but excluded from that vision, what does it say about the industry as a whole? How can a business, praised for its creative spirit and tolerance be willfully ignorant about the messages it sends out with regards to diversity?

In this MDX exclusive interview we connect with the pioneering Ms. Hardison to discuss the roots of fashion’s continuing diversity issues, the impact of her now famous letter and the road towards a more inclusive fashion community.

A interview by Janelle Okwodu

Cover Photo: Bethann and Iman – Getty Images / Mike Coppola / Staff

J: On the one hand it’s amazing that you’ve called designers out, but on the other hand it’s a shame that you have to call them out.

Bethann Hardison: That’s what Eric Wilson (of The New York Times) said to me. He said that to me when I was saying to him that one time I had asked Franca Sozzani,  “Why do you think that it’s so difficult to get people on board with diversity in fashion?” I was asking a question that I already had the answer to but I wanted to hear what she said.  Franca answered “You know it’s simple Bethann, people have to be reminded” and I told Eric she said that and that bothered him. He said “I don’t understand why does anyone need to be reminded?” But obviously they do and they shouldn’t need to be, like you said.

I had asked Franca Sozzani,  “Why do you think that it’s so difficult to get people on board with diversity in fashion?” … Franca answered “You know it’s simple Bethann, people have to be reminded.”

J: It speaks to the way fashion doesn’t concern themselves with social issues these days.

B: You’re right on point. Before it was just a quiet little island that nobody knew anything about because unless you were a buyer, retailer or one of the few editors, no one was allowed to go in and see fashion shows and no one was interested. Now it’s gotten to be such a part of popular culture, and now anyone can see a fashion show if you turn on the TV. Before manufacturers were frightened to let anyone see anything because of fear that they would be copied. Now it’s become jazzy but with that jazziness it’s become kind of sad that they’ve gotten elitist. Fashion was always naturally elitist before because it was a quiet little place on its own, but now it’s become elitist to the point that the ignorance and the arrogance becomes more prevalent.

I think that it’s unfortunate that anyone has to say, why would you need to tell people to do something that’s so obvious because it only seems to be helpful to the greater all, but in this particular case they got stuck following the leader, no one even remembers how it got started… We’ve always said that the designers all follow each other even though they all think they’re individual; they all follow what’s going on for who did what- they don’t want to go “here” for fear they might miss out on what’s going on over “there”. It’s unfortunate that it is that way. That’s why it’s not a problem for us, or myself, to speak on this point so blatantly because they do it so blatantly.

J: Looking at the shows that just concluded in New York, would you say that there has been a reaction to your letter? I mean Calvin Klein had more black models than ever before. We haven’t seen the big girls as much this season though.

B: I don’t want big models—just give me really good. Everything from head to toe should be like slammin’, you know, and they’re still trying to be like, oh we have to discover and all that, but how much of that is true? At Marc’s last show, you didn’t recognize any girls in that show but they were diverse. You don’t know who any of them are per se, but that’s the whole fun of it all.  

If you’re going to use a girl of color, don’t just grab a girl of color, you really make sure that girl of color is competitive to her white counterpart. Just the way you scrutinize her, please scrutinize us because I’d rather them use none than use one or two bad ones. And I don’t mean they’re bad, because it’s in the eye of the beholder.

Joan Smalls at Michael Kors, photo by Billy Rood /
Jasmine Tookes at Calvin Klein, photo by Betty Sze /

J: Why do you think that designers are still so caught up in these old school ideas? You know when it’s summer and you need somebody to wear a leopard bikini it’s like.. black girl. Or when the collection is centered around a stereotype about geisha designers go for an Asian girl. It just feels like designers just feel very entrenched in these incredibly old ideas. 

B: That’s very interesting because Iman was saying the same thing, you know because she heard me say it, and now she’s reiterating it every time we do interviews. I said it’s like in the winter, they all think we stay in the house and wear dashikis, and when it’s summer it’s like oh put it on the black girls. Spring/Summer, it looks better on their skin coloring, or if they do an ethnic collection, let’s use the black girls. They need to get it together.

Just take a hint, look at television, take House of Cards you know, Newsroom, or Ray Donovan, just look at shows that are so diverse, I wish that our designers would really make an effort…

Just take a hint, look at television, take House of Cards you know, Newsroom, or Ray Donovan, just look at shows that are so diverse, I wish that our designers would really make an effort… I’ve worked with designers and they’ll use one brand new girl, bad weave, just starting out, doesn’t know how to walk, scared to death, you have to hug her just to get her to relax, and then the rest they save for someone else.

Because it’s so political now, I feel so bad for the model agencies. I’m a little mad at them in my own way, because when I was an agent I was always trying to educate the girls and the clients, but not everybody is here to educate; there’s more followers than there are leaders but they just really are caught up in the politics of it all. [Agents] really have to try with the dark girls that they start to make appear- they want to make them better and better so they get caught up in this idea of “well if I put her with this unknown designer, what will it rank her in the sense of what this passing person or stylist will think of her and not want to use her…”. All this stuff they do, it’s not nice.

Look, I’m a former model, all we want to do is walk down the runway. The models just want to walk. They’ve gotten stuck in this political game; they have to be concerned with a stylist and those casting directors. Oh my gosh, why, why, oh why do they exist? That whole world of allowing someone to get between the designer and the model? I mean when you come from where we come from, there’s no longer a muse nowadays… Maybe because she’s so out of orbit and genius, I’d say that Karlie Kloss is as close to a muse I can imagine, maybe in the last 20 years. It’s terrible. And these people, they decide who and it’s just not good.

Grace Mahary at Michael Kors, photo by Billy Rood /
Cora Emmanuel at Helmut Lang, photo by Billy Rood /
J: It is definitely hard for a girl to even connect with a designer because you have to go through all these other people before you can even get to the person at the top  And a lot of the time you have these people at the top that left to their own devices they would cast a very diverse cast. Look at Raf Simons, when he did his first collection he did like his own street casting; those were always very diverse, but at Dior…

B:  When we came up it was the job of the house to find models to develop so they were much more committed to the girls. It was not their job to just find models. Their interest was to find girls who made their collections and their clothes look good, a girl who had style, a girl who put the coat on and would change the whole vibe of how to wear it. I used to go and help Calvin himself and sit there with him and talk about things and give him ideas. You have something great and this whole relationship… and this is all gone because these other people come in and it’s their job to find a girl, to tell you which girl to use, to tell you, oh please don’t let a black girl open the show because then that’s taboo. The average designer won’t do that. They won’t open the show with a black girl or with a black guy. It’s always wonderful when someone sees the right guy or the right girl and just says ‘that’s the one’ and never thinks about the color.

J: That’s very, very true.

B:  It’s gotten to a place that… I think that they don’t care so much about being conscious of making sure they have girls of color or boys of color. I think that the menswear is just as equally important as the womenswear because for me, when I look at the men’s show that’s when I get more upset. I really do, because there’s so many good black male models; these black kids that I think are really significant. What is so unfortunate about not having these kids work is because the fact they exist… this goes back to what young girls of color will think when they constantly see it’s white, white, white, white, and you know I’m always concerned about what young white kids will think. That’s my concern I don’t want them growing up thinking it’s okay. For me it’s more important to educate whites because black, Asian, Latin and mixed people, they all know what’s going on and the people that seem to not know what’s going on are the people of Caucasian descent. It is very important to me to help because the young designers are coming up and doing exactly what the one before them did, exactly what they’ve seen been done, because that to them is how to do it.

J: I looked at your list and I noticed that so many names on the list are from my generation of people and it’s like you didn’t really grow up in a world without diversity. You’ll have designers who are themselves people of color, yet you don’t see people of color on their runway. What I wanted to ask you, how would you compare sort of the fashion industry and the racism faced by models in the 1960s to what’s going on today? Would you say that it’s different or sort of the same?

B: You know it’s interesting that you say that. In the 60s it was completely different because we didn’t have what you call a fashion industry; it was the garment district. It was so different- a different mentality, a different attitude. The people who were working in the 60s worked for print, advertising, they were commercial models and they were good ones who eventually became actors or moved into other things, but they were good. We have some that worked also and did designer shows and things like that and it wasn’t so hard I think, because of the world we lived in. Until it changed to what it is now; back then, you had models that worked for design houses and they did runway and it was a whole different division for print girls who were never on a runway, never worked with designers, they never worked in the garment district, they just did catalog and editorial and advertising.

So in the 60s when black became beautiful, it was really a moment. The young white advertising kids, after that whole slogan ‘black is beautiful’ they took it up and noticed how media was all so milky, boring, flat, and they were looking for something, to change what was going on. Someone that came along at that time period, talking about the mid 60s, was like a Lauren Hutton, completely unusual because she was a not tall girl, yes she was blonde and blue eyed but she had a flaw, this big gap in her teeth. The discovery of Naomi Sims, that was a switcheroo. Here they found this very tall, beautiful, dark like my skin coloring, gorgeous girl, and they put her on the cover of Look Magazine.

You didn’t have to have money, you didn’t have to be anybody, if you had style you could go to a lot of fancy places. So it was a whole different thing. People appreciated people for much more authentic things; fashion was more organic than it is now. Now it’s subsidized by celebrity and confusion.

That was the beginning of black is beautiful. So it wasn’t like the same as it is now, the struggle. Everybody was happy at that time and we were embraced by people who had style and people who believed that if you had style you were in. You didn’t have to have money, you didn’t have to be anybody, if you had style you could go to a lot of fancy places. So it was a whole different thing. People appreciated people for much more authentic things; fashion was more organic than it is now. Now it’s subsidized by celebrity and confusion. So we don’t have the same struggle.

Conrad Bromfield at Michael Kors, photo by Billy Rood /
Malaika Firth at Calvin Klein, photo by Billy Rood /
J: Andre Leon Talley had mentioned how difficult it is for someone who’s of color to become an editor, or to rise through the ranks of the magazine business. Do you feel that’s part of the problem?

B: I think always that’s the case but the issue is complex. Many young people that want to be designers, or editors and are of color they think that they’re being held back just based on their color but that isn’t necessarily the case. Our business is elitist and nowadays you have to look a certain way, you have to know the right people, you have to act a certain way.

I do think that it would be really wonderful for the industry to have people of color behind the scenes and rising up the ranks, but I don’t really think that would change a lot for what’s going on in front of us. What winds up happening, if you’re the only person of color in the room, is that you start getting shut down. If you start talking too much about what they’re not talking about, eventually they start making you feel like you’re in the wrong.  “Why are you always talking about black stuff? What’s with you?” It becomes the elephant in the room, so I think it’s a little hard especially at the higher levels. I do think that it would be helpful if there was someone around who was conscious, didn’t get in and get lost, but got in and loved what they did.

J: I think sometimes people don’t think of these things, sometimes people don’t see beyond their own perspective.

B: The ignorance is there, it’s like the Italian lawmaker said, you know we have a law for the girls being underweight, for ones who have anorexia, and the underage girls, we made that a law but we’ve never deliberated on skin color. Fair enough, but Milan is very big and powerful when it comes to advertising and designers.

They don’t have a big community of blacks there and that’s why it’s really hard for people to imagine necessity of having black models on the runway and pushing for it. You’‘ll hear people say “Oh I don’t expect much from Milan.” I give Milan a little of a pass because they don’t have, like we do here, many black people walking into their stores like Dolce & Gabbana or Versace. When they do, it’s like Jay Z and Beyonce or Kanye and Kim. You know what I’m saying? It’s people who have money, but it’s never like the local person that you’re going to see at Bloomingdales here or walking down Fifth Avenue in New York. That diversity just isn’t there.

J: But in other cities there is no excuse –  London and Paris are incredibly diverse.

B: Paris is like Detroit.

J: Ha! With regards to brands and their casting directors, your letter got people talking.

B: I’m sure. It is their brand, they pay attention to the public consensus. At this point it is uncertain whether it’s the designer, the casting director or the stylist who makes these final decisions, but the casting directors and the stylists really have become a real point of this whole thing, because the designers have allowed themselves to relax a bit and let these people come in and guide them and I think they’re not doing an appropriate job.

You look at the presentations that you see and you don’t even notice the clothes, you’re so shocked by the girl. It isn’t even just about race; this isn’t a Linda Evangelista, a Christy or Stephanie Seymour, this is like, what is this?  Where’s the style, where’s the glamour as Johnny Casablancas would say. The train is going down some tracks we ain’t ever gonna see again because the glamour and the style of the business are gone..

J: Why do you think that the glamour is gone? What do you think caused that overall?

People sit there and they look at shows like they’re at a funeral, they’re really unhappy, they’re like so sick of this being show #16 or something, they just don’t give any energy to anything anymore. At the last couple of Zac Posen shows, Pat Cleveland and I would sit together and we would just yell when clothes came out – just to make it fun again!

B: I think it was the development of the casting director, which is not their fault in this case, and the opening of Eastern Europe, and having that opportunity to go and search for girls. What helped to ignite it further was when Miuccia Prada said no more to the supermodel and she decided to do a strict editorial, where they all looked alike and you only noticed the clothes. They were all the same height you know, and that became a trend that never ended.  So if you take away the glamorous girl you definitely can’t see a girl with color, because you want to take away anything that has any sort of spirit, or individuality and once that ended it never came back.

People sit there and they look at shows like they’re at a funeral, they’re really unhappy, they’re like so sick of this being show #16 or something, they just don’t give any energy to anything anymore. At the last couple of Zac Posen shows, Pat Cleveland and I would sit together and we would just yell when clothes came out – just to make it fun again! So our industry is really needing a little oomph even to just make this letter and say to people and tell it, because the industry needs a little tickling. It’s flat!

J: You’re right, people are just over it; there is too much of everything.

So the glamour and the style of the business has changed because it’s not that anymore. It’s Instagram now. It’s quick and fast. It’s like, let me show you my crazy stuff and then I keep it moving; but there is no nurturing, you know?

B: They are! I think people are over it but they have no choice- they gotta do it, you go and you go and now it’s turned into a circus. The Bryant Park tents were one thing, that was calm, then they started having all these things inside the tent and now Lincoln Center is like a true circus. Every fool is outside taking pictures – it has gotten out of control. So the glamour and the style of the business has changed because it’s not that anymore. It’s Instagram now. It’s quick and fast. It’s like, let me show you my crazy stuff and then I keep it moving; but there is no nurturing, you know?

J: It’s that with the girls too. So many times you’ll have a beautiful girl one season, do every single thing, and then she’ll fall off the face of the earth.

B:  That’s because the designer is not involved and the job of the other guy is to keep it moving. If his job was to develop girls things would be different.  We’ve lost control and that is an unfortunate thing because it should be a little different, it really should.

J: Now would you say, is there any small glimmer of hope? Are there any designers that you think are doing it right? Or models that you think are making things exciting?

B: Perfect old-time examples are Issey Miyake and you could count on Jean Paul Gaultier to do it right. I got a little worried because someone told me that Marc Jacobs only had one girl of color this season, but my assistant and I sat there and we looked at his whole show and true to form he had 4.

J: What started that movement in the 80s with the rise of all those great black models?

B: Well thank god Régis Pagniez came in from Paris from Elle Magazine when they needed to put an American Elle here. Thank god for that man; that changed everything because Régis Pagniez loved women of color, he loved women and he didn’t hesitate putting black girls on the cover. That magazine changed so fast that Condé Nast, all of a sudden they had to jump with it just to stay relevant.

And there were a lot of great girls. It’s not like today where they grab anything and they think that’s a good one. Those girls had figures, they had legs – the legs of these girls today are so bad, I can’t get over how they don’t look at it. They think that because that’s what they have, let’s accept it, but you can’t.

That said, I think now we can make a difference.  When you start hearing them say, they’ll take a girl, a brown girl, but if she becomes famous or successful, then she’s too famous. And then they’ll take a brown girl for a season and then they get rid of her because they all used her that season. I mean, you know, the girl that’s really good sometimes can’t catch a break. It takes a good fight for an agent to keep a girl afloat, especially a girl of color, I know the fight that they have.

I think that we have a chance now. I’m not here to help black people though, white people need help. They need to see what’s happening here is not going in the right direction. Black people don’t need the help. It’s the other guy that really needs the help understanding. I think that now we have a chance… I do think there’s a chance now, I don’t know how much and I don’t know how permanent it will be.

J: Which designers need the most help in that regard?

B: Céline needs a wake up, because people really love their stuff. They really do. And I think that Phoebe has got to be a cool girl, but she’s just never thought about being diverse. I don’t know why, because I just believe that she’s a cool person. You know of course someone spanked me a bit in my Twitter account, I think she was from Germany, she said, “You cannot write letters accusing racism and then turn around and say that designers are good people, it’s confusing” and I thought, “Wow”. And I don’t respond to comments or anything but there are so many things I wanted to say to her.

I don’t want the people whose names are on the list to think that I think that they’re bad or racist, but the act is definitely.

I don’t want the people whose names are on the list to think that I think that they’re bad or racist, but the act is definitely. It can improve a little bit, but the thing I’ve learned from what I’ve done, is that activism has to remain active. You can’t be an activist and then go on too long a holiday. Because everything will slide right back.

J: That’s very wise words. I mean I feel like fashion doesn’t have as much of an activist spirit anymore, not many people speak freely about things that go on.

B: Not anymore, definitely in the past you may have had people speak up about things, I mean everyone is pretty much excited about their emails and their social media. They quoted me saying in the paper, “that someone of power needs to slap these guys around” “Do you want to explain that?” I didn’t mean you have to do it physically; I meant that someone in power, in a way of speaking should say, “You know I think we need to change this”, and if that person in power does that, then things would be like that (snaps). Because things would be under that light. A designer was told by her stylist that if she used this many girls of color she wouldn’t get editorial recognition, and she said, well I guess I’m not going to get any editorial recognition, because I have to use these girls of color. I also had someone say to me that just using this particular girl that the editorial world has sort of stopped using, no one is coming and trying to support them.

People have said to me… Are you afraid of their backlash and I said, if they’re not afraid, I’m not. I mean what is there to be afraid of? I’m not going to get a garment? There’s none of that. I know my industry. I grew up in this business before most of these people were even here. It’s a business… it’s a simple industry business that’s apparel driven… They just don’t realize the effect they have and that’s where ignorance is bliss.

Cindy Bruna at Calvin Klein, photo by Billy Rood /
Grace Mahary at Helmut Lang, photo by Billy Rood /
Kai Newman at Calvin Klein, photo by Billy Rood /

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27 Comments to “Bethann Hardison on diversity in fashion”

  1. K.M. says:

    Fantastic interview. It’s nice to know a bit more about the drive and substance behind the issue. I’ve seen this issue come up over and over again, but nothing really changes. We gets short spurts of change on occasion, but that’s it. The fashion world is obsessed with the Kate Moss-blonde-type model. Apparently, the public is, too. I’m pro-diversity and pro-all ages, and lean toward a curvier(not obese) figure. But the more I analyze these issues in fashion, the more frustrated I become. I just don’t understand why the fashion world’s general perception of beauty continues to be so one-dimensional.

  2. evr says:

    great interview

  3. someone says:

    Philip Plein is king this season! His show, the casting was epic. Minus Cora Emanuel who Michael Jackson her skin…
    Fashion is about diversity…This is great thing. I love Jil Sander, very sadly this season her show was ALL WHITE BORING!
    This has to go away. Its time the designers to be involved in their casting, styling. Anna W maybe made fashion global…
    But this is far from global many people are puted in between that honestly should go away…
    Mrs.Vreeland herself had assistants…But she always found time to encourage people. Oscar, Missoni, Carolina Herrera, Calvin, Avedon…They once were start ups…
    She was approachable…
    There will be time when corporate fashion will end…Fashion will become like the 30s… Designers will once again be approachable to clients…
    We need editor like Vreeland who wasnt afraid to say – The woman in Arizona cant buy the 1500$ dress…She can get paper, fabric and make one for herself…
    Can Wintour say that or dare it? No, of course she cant coz the Prada freebie will be put in question…

  4. Joe says:

    Wow. Really interesting interview. I’m really interested to see if there will be any change in Paris now because of this. The list of guilty Parisian designers was long. There’s an excellent group of black girls doing the shows this season so fingers crossed!

  5. Jessica says:

    I’m so angry at fashion with regard to this issue. Designers pride themselves and strive for original, modern and fresh designs for their collections. Yet they seem incapable of this line of thought when an entire city of designers collectively casts almost no models of colour for their show… Get a brain Fashion

  6. L says:

    Calvin Klein did indeed hire a lot more black girls this season but they still refuse to hire Asians girls which is really disturbing considering the fact that they need the Asian market for growth. Francisco is a racist designer.

  7. Nengi says:

    This is a superb interview and you have hit the right spots within this conversation.
    The most disgusting of them all is ‘black face’. I know there was a major issue with that and in some places there still are, so I strongly believe that such articles being accessible on the internet will raise awareness and hopefully bring change, with regards to diversity in Fashion.

  8. someone says:


  9. LadyT says:

    Such a relevant and critical interview.
    Thank you for highlighting what should be a call for action.
    Your “boys daily duo” today is timely!
    Here’s to keeping the industry real and relevant for ALL!

  10. L says:

    If we have about black models ,wheres the latin models speak here ? Each of us speak to their convenience …

  11. A says:

    Loved this interview. This is exactly what the industry needs, more people speaking up! Thank you Bethann and Janelle. Hopefully more people take action instead of brushing this issue under the carpet like they always do. Designers, editors, casting agents get your sh*t together.

  12. I liked the fact that Dsquared2 used all black male models for their menswear collection. For the womenswear they focused largely on Asian and Black models. This was defininately a change. But there needs to be more.

    The other thing I would say is that all the top black models right now seen to look a like. It is like they used Joan Smalls (whom I lov) eas the marker for a black model type to cast. Back in the 90s you had Naomi Campbell, Kiara Kabukuru, Lana Ogilvie, Oluchi Onweagba, Beverly Peele, Alec Wek, Louise Vyent and Kara Young for example of the diverse range of female models.

    Tyson Beckford has been the sole black man to reach superstar heights and the only one that has come close since is David Agbodji and that is a crying shame if you call that top model work today.

    Just take a look at the top 50 male models on this site and they look virtually all the same. White mostly with full lips and very Sean O’Pry’ish.

    I think with the trillions of dollars spent by Blacks, Asians and Latinos around the world as well as whites the indsutry needs to start reflecting its diverity of consumers mores.

    And then I would finally like to add that I would love to see more ad campagains with People of Color as the sole model representing a brand not thrown in with white models because of fear that the sales will drop if the it is only a black model or asian model leading the show. They did it in the 80s/90s and can do it again.

  13. Fashion says:

    Nice article.

    Lets just hope this diversity initiative focuses on all models of colour and not just black models.

    Please remember that Asians/Indians/Native/(non-white Latinas) and other women of colour are still marginalized and under represented in this industry.

    It’s about diversity people. We need to keep that in mind.

    The Philip Plein, or whoever he is, show was done in bad taste. It’s just as bad to have an all black runway show as it is to have an all white show.

    Again it should boil down to diversity and inclusion. Not excluding one group of people for another.

    One more point… with the exception of Grace Mahary, Kai Newman and Conrad Bromfield those other models like Joan,Malaika, ect…. Are not black models but Bi-racial/multi-racial models. When we start to acknowledge the obvious the more slots will be open to for black, bi-racial/mixed and other women of colour at the same time. Not interchanging one for the other.

    We need real diversity not tokenism.

  14. J says:

    It is good that they are doing this.

    But I do NOT like the fact that they are supporting black models more than others. They claim to be supporting diversity, shouldn’t they support it of all kinds?

    I can tell by looking at the shows they called out. They themselves judged this list on the amount of ‘models of color’ that were seen in the shows, but it doesn’t add up:

    For example, Chanel last season (RTW) out of the non-white models had 8 Asian model looks and 1 black model, they called this act as racist.

    But in Versace (men), out of the 47 models the non-white ones were 3 black models. No asians, no others. They weren’t named and shamed.

  15. Issa says:

    Great article: to fellow commenters she mentioned other people of color several times; I also thinks its important when talking about the past in the fashion worldthe “Latino” and Asian market in United States and abroad was basically non-existent in the 70’s; thirdly “Latino” is not a race and when talking about Latino esp. on the east coast you mostly are dealing with Puerto Ricans and Dominicans who are of the African diaspora with people like Joan Smalls being half black Anglo Carribean on top of that.

    Most importantly Hardison is speaking from a personal experience; she does not have the experience of an Asian or “Latino” she speaks from the perspective of a black woman in the industry calling out the lack of ALL women of color on the runway.

    Let’s get back on topic and not knitpick

  16. the interview was very long so I didn’t read it through but my take is that the issue of diversity in fashion mirrors the same reality in life. it’s exacerbated in the world of fashion because fashion is elitist, has always been and will always be. fashion thrives by defining an arbitrary notion of beauty, develop concept around it and with heavy fanfare sell it to the masses. white people dominate the world of fashion at all echelons. they’re the designers, the editors, the manufacturers, the buyers and to a large extent, since white women tend to be more affluent, they turn out to be the biggest purchasers of fashion. if that wasn’t enough, because of the influence of hollywood – another island of elitism – most of the fashion ‘icons’ are also white. some progress has been made but I’m afraid the struggle will continue for a few decades before it get better.

  17. Mia says:

    Wow! Amazing interview!

    Living in London, I always see so many tall, striking & modelesque black girls when shopping around in busy areas like Oxford Street, Selfridges, Covent Garden, etc. I’ve met a few who have even attempted to pursue modelling in London & have been rejected by most leading agencies for simply being black or too dark (skin shade wise). London is such a diverse city so I always find it alarming that most agencies will have under 5 black, Latin or Asian models; even more shocking is that most of them are discovered abroad!

    During LFW, I attended several shows and I saw so many horrible looking females on the runway; dead eyes, short legs and even terrible skin! The industry don’t realise the negative message they are giving to the people outside the fashion world! I love fashion but the attitude to diversity is so backwards!

    To summarise, I agree with the point made about “just picking any black model even if she’s not as striking as a model should be”. That’s a problem in all races though. Apologies if I spell names wrong – Jourdan Dunn, Melodie Monrose, Jasmine Tooks and Ajak Deng always looking phenomenal on the runway! Although it’s great to see more black new faces this season, I don’t think many had the IT factor, amazing bodies but average faces.

    I also wish to see & hear more about supporting Asian, mixed race & Latin models. Diversity is so beautiful to see on the runway! Good work Bethann!

  18. Joye says:

    I agree that women and men of all races should be represented, but the fashion industry has made billions of dollars off of making us feel fat and ugly. Asking it to change is like starting the French Revolution. Plus, 98% of the garments would make Tim Gunn shake his head if he saw them on Project Runway. The fashion industry has to be taken with many grains of salt, as there are few free thinkers and lots of middlemen with their hands out, ready to torpedo anyone that comes between them and the bottom line.

  19. Bertrand says:

    A M A Z I N G I N T E R V I E W ! ! ! T H A T W O M A N I S G E N I U S !

  20. VSfan88 says:

    when it comes to “ethnic collections” it’s always a dilemma. When they don’t use ethnic models, it’s like “isn’t this collection supposed to be ethnic?”. But if they do use ethnic models it’s like “this is so stereotypical”.

  21. Bruce Edwin says:

    Congrats on this very interesting and important interview. I agree here with Bethann in most regards. One thing that she touched on, that I would like to see discussed further, is how she stated that back in the 60’s, a girl didn’t have to have money to be be seen and make it. That is an important statement because that now is not so readily the case. As a model and talent manager, I have seen thousands of models of all ethnicity and race, and at one point I got it down to a science of what percent would show up after they were scouted based on numbers (some would get scared, some changed their mind, some got lost, some were late, etc), what odds a girl would show up based on her ethnicity, and what percent of girls would make it and last with me based these things and more.

    The reality is, it costs money to get started in the modeling industry. Even if a girl is lucky enough to have her agency sponsor her and advance the cost of her prints and book, she still has to afford to make a living when she is between booked jobs, get around, and survive. It is not easy for a model- especially a girl starting out that has not yet made it big enough, to make a living off of modeling-which most don’t.

    And, the girl that has everything paid for including school, her wardrobe, her eyebrow wax, her car, and the rest of her nice standard of living by her parents for example, has a clear advantage over the girls that don’t. And the sad fact is- many girls of color do not have that economic advantage.

    Another thing to consider with Asian or Middle Eastern girls, is socialization. Not all, but many Asian and Middle Eastern girls are socialized into being more shy, passive, submissive, and less outgoing and aggressive than white or even Latin girls. Parents of many Asian or Middle Eastern girls often put extreme pressure on their daughters not to model- as they consider it a hobby, and not a real job, or worse, a disgrace to the family. True, some white girls experience this backlash too, but overall, not as badly.

    So, instead of pointing the finger entirely at the designers- who really just usually work with who the agencies and managers supply, and instead of even totally pointing the finger at the agents and managers- who have to make a living too, and often try to sign ethnicity, but can only work with what exists in the market, it is important to look at the whole socio-economic big picture.

    I applaud Bethann’s agenda and efforts. As a producer and model and talent manager, I personally love women, and I love all women of all race, ethnicity and color. I would suggest that Bethanny may also focus on the bigger spectrum of reaching girls in their very young years- helping to empower them with confidence- that, like she said existed in the 60’s, opportunity can be theirs- you just have to make it happen. The more that girls learn confidence at a young age, the more they can get over the socialized racism that has and does exist. More girls of color should start their own fashion line, start their own magazine, start their own website. The only limitations on a person are the ones placed there by themselves- of they only choose to give themselves the power they were born with. Use it.
    – Bruce Edwin, Starpower Management LLC, Santa Monica, California

  22. Devin says:

    Hi great interview,
    but how come the only person of color you casted for Michael Bastian was Paolo Roldan whos and Asian/Hispanic Asian, not black?

  23. Jennifer says:

    Perhaps having house mothers like they did in the 80’s and early 90’s would benefit the girls that don’t have a socio economic advantage. Bruce Edwin made an excellent point about socio economics coming into play.

  24. Doug says:

    I take my hat off to Bethann. She is a revolutionary and is once again helping to change the face of fashion. We need her.xxoo

  25. Ryo Stylin says:

    This is a very important discussion and I am glad that Bethann and Iman are championing it. Black girls are usually seen as exotic, but never delicate or expensive, in a word: UNSUITABLE, unless she is ‘mixed’, multi-racial or sporting the pre-requisite ‘straight hair’. If she has an afro, as Wakeema Hollis made mention of in a blog entry, then forget about it.

    It is a very stereotypic and racist way to think or race and colour, which unfortunately still exists in the consciousness of many persons of influence, and gets represented in our forms of expression: art, fashion and the media. For the longest while growing up, I thought African-Americans had curly or straight hair based on what I saw in ads and on television. So I agree with their stance: if I, or persons looking like me aren’t good enough to be marketed to, then my money isn’t any good either.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Best wishes to Malaika Firth, on her VS Christmas tv debut. Rain or shine Cindy Bruna is a plus. Grace Mahary is up there with the best. I’m awe-struck by British actress Naomie Harris. I first saw her in the James Bond thriller. The flag-waving British actress and socialite in the Fast Fury movie is superb. Bethann Hardison is all for human rights.