Posted by Irene Ojo-Felix | August 26th, 2020

Sea of Voices

By Xavier Scott Marshall

“What does it mean to be black in fashion?” For some, it feels like the radiating warmth that pride instills, happy to be the “first”, elated to pave the way for others to follow. For others, it feels like screaming into a vapid void; dismissed, overlooked, told to be satisfied with or tolerate trivial microaggressions that manifest themselves into tangible policy. Never hearing. Hardly changing.

For the model community, it has been a transformative, galvanizing 7 years thanks to ample organization in the #MeToo movement and the initial efforts of the Balance Diversity Coalition. However, as the world has become increasingly connected thanks in part to social media, so has global protest benefitted from ever-moving feeds and influencers’ collective efforts. The largest protest movement in decades ignited this summer, permeating into the discourse of every subsection of fashion, calling into question standard practice. Whether it was the 15 Percent Pledge or the Black in Fashion Council or the Pull Up for Change campaign, many businesses have heeded the call to commit to breaking glass ceiling hiring policies and committing to hiring and promoting black people and people of color.

Yet the social ails that have continued to particularly plague black models of color globally are still in question. There are black models that still avoid the Milanese market due to direct racism and lack of opportunities. The recent chance for Milan fashion’s governing body, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, to address concerns brought by Black Italian designers Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan were deemed to be not in their “sphere of responsibility.” This is on the heels of the CNMI’s Diversity and Inclusivity Manifesto released in 2019, that many have deemed an empty gesture as “not one Black designer based in Italy has ever been speak at the Diversity and Inclusion table.” Fashion does not exist in a vacuum. Racism is not solely an American problem and a global industry must answer to the overarching sins that imperialism and colonialism have manifested.

It is in this vein, that went direct to the source – black models themselves, of all shades, creeds, and nationalities – to ask their perspective of how the industry is doing today. Shot by photographer Xavier Scott Marshall, this wide sea of voices highlights the range of beauty that represents the black modeling community today and how there is much work to be done. From icons to new faces, these 50 faces are a part of the massive framework that keeps this industry going. We must support them just as much as we support all others.

Features Editor / Irene Ojo-Felix

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