Exposed: The Fashion Industry Gripped By Racism
One of Jamaica’s leading models has offered insight into the disturbing racial discrimination holding back the careers of black models in the fashion industry, around the world.
Jamaica-based supermodel Gaye McDonald has spoken out about racism in the fashion industry, and revealed how Paris casting agents “drop black girls like they’re hot.”
The eighteen-year-old, who took the world by storm with her striking looks after winning Caribbean’s Next Top Model, has spoken out about the lack of black faces on catwalks.
McDonald is one of the few fortunate black models to have featured during London, Paris, and New York Fashion Weeks this year.
Speaking exclusively to The Voice while on a modeling casting trip in the UK, McDonald said: “The world is not white, so why should catwalks only feature white models?”
She added: “I’m often the only black girl when I go to castings, which is horrible because everyone looks at you as if you are so different. But I have learnt to make my experience empower me.”
The 5’9” stunner with flawless skin is the new face of United Colors of Benetton.
“I count my lucky Jamaican stars that I have been successful within my modeling career, but from what I can tell, black girls don’t get picked and it’s not because they are not good enough. It’s down to racism,” she said.
McDonald, who is signed to Next modelling agency, is not the first model to speak out about the lack of black faces on the catwalk.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell has consistently been vocal on the matter by criticising magazine editors.“Black models are being sidelined by the major modeling agencies,” Campbell once stated.
Five years after her last cover for British Vogue, Campbell highlighted the racial inequality within the fashion industry and the media.
“I even get a raw deal from my own country. For example, I hardly come on the front pages of London’s Vogue magazine,” she said.
“Only white models, some of whom are not as prominent as I am, are put on the front pages.”
The 37-year-old is contemplating setting up her own modelling agency in Kenya to redress the balance.
“I don’t want to quit modelling until I find that black models get equal prominence and recognition by the world media and information instruments,” Campbell said.
“Women of colour are not a trend.”
This new debate has overshadowed the ‘size zero’ furore, which questioned the promotion and relevance of extremely thin models.
Fashion insiders claim there are now fewer black models seen on ramps and in fashion magazines than there were in the 1990s.
Of the 100 plus shows and presentations held during the 2007/08 fashion weeks in London, Paris, Milan and New York, more than a third did not feature any black models.
Elite Model Management, which discovered Naomi Campbell, has only two black models. Its Paris agency says there is not enough work for more black models because people do not like to see black women.
Echoing Elite’s comment, McDonald, who has strutted her stuff for designer collections such as Diesel, Heatherette, Diane Von Furstenburg, Marc Bouwer, and Mary Ping, stated:
“Paris is the worst place to go for castings. Even though you can have a strong walk and look they will never chose you because they don’t like black girls.
“It makes you feel very uncomfortable and you begin to question yourself as to say ‘what’s wrong with me?
“But, I have to always remember where I’m coming from in order to feel proud about myself, despite being rejected due to the colour of my skin.”
Carole White, co-founder of Premier Model Management, which supplies models to top fashion brands, admitted that finding work for black clients was significantly harder than for the white models, because both magazines and fashion designers were reluctant to employ them.
“Sadly we are in the business where you stock your shelves with what sells,” she said.
“Black models don’t sell. People don’t tend to talk about it, but black models have to be so beautiful and perfect because we can’t have a lot of diversity with black models.”
She added: “It’s harder work for the agency because there’s not so much on offer. White models can have more diversity.”
The co-founder of Acclaim Models, Maya Schulz, agrees with White’s views and points the finger at those organising model castings.
“I have had endless casting briefs which say ‘no ethnics’, which in my view is blatant racism,” Schulz said.
“When putting forward my models for casting for London Fashion Week this year, my business partner and I were told over and over again that designers were not looking to use black or Asian models.
“I have been told outright by a designer, ‘please do not send me any black models as they do not suit my clothes’. I have also been told that black models do not know how to carry themselves in a high fashion manner, which is utter rubbish.
“We all know how elegant and graceful Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell and Alex Wek are.”
Continuing Schulz said: “Signed to my books is Sarah Butler and Jasmia Robinson who became household names after featuring on Britain’s Next Top Model. Unfortunately, Sarah and Jasmia have both experienced racism, especially Jasmia.
“Jasmia is known for her amazing features and walk on the runway, but is often told that her hair and features are ‘too Afro’, meaning African.”
She added: “When Jasmia attended a casting for London Fashion Week February gone, we were told by a very famous designer that she looks like a monkey.”
Speaking to The Voice about the racist comments, Robinson said: “I felt sick. How can someone say I look like a monkey?”
The 20-year-old mixed race beauty added: “This is the typical type of racism that black and mixed race girls like myself often experience and it’s wrong.
“Fashion decision makers always say that black girls don’t sell their designs or products, but why don’t they prove it by putting it to the test? They won’t because their excuses are based on lies.”
However, one designer who is attempting to end the racial divide on the catwalk, and setting his own trends, is Gavin Douglas.
“The shortage of black models signed to modelling agencies is very obvious. Very rarely do I come across black models, which is why this year I went out of my way to seek and find,” said Douglas.
Douglas’ designs are exclusively sold in Harrods and he has dressed stars like Kelly Rowland from Destiny’s Child.
“There should not be a colour issue within the fashion industry because designers like myself dress the world’s population, which should be reflected on the catwalk,” he said.
“The fact that the fashion industry does not have a fair cultural and racial representation on the catwalk, magazines and on billboards raises serious societal problems that need to be addressed immediately.”
Another designer blasting the fashion industry is Katharine Hamnett, who told The Voice: “The catwalks are full of white dogs. Cosmetic companies don’t like black models – the racist bitches.
“I have no idea why, when it’s obvious that black girls are just so genuinely much more beautiful than Caucasians, who have clearly got the short straw.
“Black girls have much better body shapes and it’s such a shame. I just think there should be a bit more of a balance.”
While the debate about the lack of black models in today’s industry grows, The Voice is challenging the fashion racial status quo by organising a black model search in conjunction with Select Model Management – The SUPLIGEN® Brand Nu Model 2008.
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