The Fight For Models Of Color In The Global Fashion Industry

“I’ve received so many calls from designers with requests for black girls. Brands really want to diversify. They want to avoid the white cast”, says former model and diversity campaigner Bethann Hardison.

Hardison, a pioneer runway model in the seventies, has become an advocate for diversity in the fashion industry for models on and off the runway. She is also a founding member of the Diversity Coalition, a campaign spearheaded by Hardison, Naomi Campbell, and Iman that is working hard to provide awareness about the lack of diversity in the fashion industry. The coalition’s goal is to tackle the issue of racism and reinforce the advantages of having diverse models for brand campaigns, and throughout the industry. Over the years, Hardison has spoken frequently about the adversities ethnic models face on assignments from well-known brands in contrast to their Caucasian counterparts. Hardison also speaks about the extent to which some casting directors go – some who go as far as sending out notices to agencies to prevent black models from being hired. Thankfully, Hardison has been very active in bringing an awareness of this problem to designers, models, agents, editors, and stylists.

According to a recent study by the FashionSpot on 460 fall 2015 print ads, nearly 85 percent of the models featured are white, which is approximately the same rate that has been reported in previous seasons. Asian models represent about 6.2 percent, while Black and Latina models account for 4.4 percent and 1.7 percent of all models respectively. In addition, when compared to statistics based on the spring 2015 campaigns, both black and Latina models were cast in fewer campaigns. For purposes of this study, ‘models of color’ refers to those who appear to be nonwhite or of mixed backgrounds.


In 2007, with the attention of the fashion industry, Hardison held a major press conference expressing the struggles of black models and the barriers in access to well paid modeling jobs. Last year, she also wrote a letter to the governing bodies of Fashion Weeks in New York, Paris, London and Milan ahead of New York Fashion Week (NYFW), asking why fashion design houses consistently use one or no models of color, hinting at racism within the industry.

Years ago, Hardison worked with a then up and coming supermodel Naomi Campbell, who learned to find her own independent path in the world of fashion. Thankfully, with Hardison’s support, Campbell is still a model in demand. As a co – founder of the Diversity Coalition, along with veteran model Iman, Campbell is using her voice to help bring attention and awareness to these agencies and end racism within the fashion industry.

According to Campbell, even though things have improved, many designers have stopped using diverse models. “We are not a trend, it shouldn’t have to be this way…I didn’t work twenty-eight years for this to be a trend.”

While the situation has improved, there are still hurdles to overcome within the industry, and Hardison personally understands how difficult it can be. Overcoming casting dilemmas, she has learned to embrace her uniqueness as a runway model. “I did not look like anyone else in our industry,” said Hardison. “I was bohemian and militant — I was like a cute little boy. The other girls of color were more sophisticated, and they had hair that moved.”

In 2014, the Council of Fashion Designers of America voted to present Hardison with the Founder’s Award in Honor of Eleanor Lambert for her work with Diversity Coalition and years of helping to mentor models of color.

A long time resident of Brooklyn, the mother of actor Kadeem Hardison is also proud of her work with male supermodel and actor, Tyson Beckford. Her mentorship and guidance has helped Beckford become one of the most recognized black male supermodels of all time.

These days, Hardison devotes her time to the development of her upcoming documentary Invisible Beauty, which will describe the evolution of the modeling industry and addresses the gaping absence of diversity within it.  As she continues to work on the direction of her documentary, Hardison vows to remain a voice for all models of color around the world.

“The more designers use people of color, any color, not just African-American, Negro or black models, the better.”

Image: Style Like U

Shavonda Miles is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, GA, who enjoys partnering with media outlets to provide quality content. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.