Racial Inclusion in the Fashion Industry

In the fashion industry I’ve been privileged because of the color of my skin. From the number of opportunities that I get to the ease of being able to walk onto set without hearing any comments or concerns about the texture of my hair or a makeup artist not having foundations to match my skin tone. My physical attributes have given me an enormous advantage. But in the last year the tide has started to change. The industry is starting to embrace diversity, and as a white model, although I’m shocked it has taken this long for the conversations to be held, and I think we still have a long way to go, I am truly thankful our industry is shifting. 


Growing up in Toronto I was exposed to different cultures at a very young age. In my elementary school, there weren’t any cliques because of what race you were. I learned about inclusion and saw it firsthand. A lot of my friends had interracial parents. There wasn’t even a conversation about it because it was so normal. So to then be a part of an industry that seemed so backwards, it really bothered me. I want to be a part of a workplace environment that I respected and believed in. And there have been a lot of things I’ve disagreed with thus far. 

Only within the past few years, as Instagram grew in popularity, models were able to share much more about themselves beyond their looks. We were able to share our stories, the good and the bad. My story enabled me to show the world Britt as a whole package and to me, being booked because a client liked my personality, my story, or was interested in my passion projects beyond modeling, always felt so much more special to me than being booked for the way I looked. 

There were also people’s stories of struggle, people’s stories of type cast, people’s stories of the biggest elephant in the room of the discrimination they were facing as minority individuals trying to make it as a Black, Asian, trans, plus size, you name it model*. Through social media platforms, the obvious racial inequality, especially evident on the runway, magazine covers and editorials because of their visibility, became apparent to all and thus was hard to ignore any further. Brands were getting called out for not being inclusive and diverse and the discussions began to flow.

In fashion, whether for good or bad, oftentimes if there’s some sort of issue (sustainability, inclusion of size, inclusion of race…) the solution may become a trend. People try to “fix” it because it seems like it’s the “thing to do”. What’s missing in that sentence is that companies should be doing it because it’s the right thing to do.  

So, when people started speaking out about the lack of diversity in fashion and especially on the runways, a few shows thought their solution would be to use one Black or Asian model. [1] One doesn’t mean inclusion. In and outside of the shows, there were issues of cultural appropriation and a profound sense of insensitivity. [2] We weren’t there yet. People thought we were there, but we were far from representing equally. **

The Fashion Spot is an online magazine that began tracking the diversity on runways and reporting its finding to its readers. Only recently, we found articles reporting that Spring 2019 (September of 2018) was one of the most diverse runways that we’ve ever seen. Out of 229 shows that were analyzed, 36.1% of all shows included models of color, a 3.6% increase from Fall’s 2018 report. In Spring 2017, only 17% of runway models were nonwhite. [3] In New York specifically we’ve seen the most improvement with nearly half, 44.8% of cast models being nonwhite (which should be noted, may have skewed other fashion capital’s results). Fall 2019 took a 2.7-point jump with 38.8% of model appearances representing models of color. [4]

Of course this looks like we’re changing for the better, and perhaps we’re getting there but even still, “looking” like we’re on the right track isn’t fixing the issue at heart. Now that models on the runway are being more represented (I say more, not fully), there’s room for more inclusion inside the entire industry. From designers to casting directors, art directors, creative directors and beyond, we need more representation and support of all races and only then, can we see a drastic change in fashion. We need it from all angles and we need to continue to educate ourselves. How can we change if we continue to support those who are unwilling to change? How can we change if we’re stuck in our ignorant patterns? Don’t dismiss the issues. Look into upcoming designers from different backgrounds who are trying to make it on their own dime with little to no connections to help them. Support them. Appreciate them for their talent and what they are offering and appreciate their fight that was undoubtedly harder than anyone else who made it through their privileges or connections. 

In fashion and beyond, we need to diversify and support those who have been marginalized. I love this article that brings up the issue at hand but goes on to offer a solution to the problem. (Click here to read more). We can’t keep going through cycles of outrage and outcry for it to then be forgotten and happen time and time again. Who knows if this current outpouring of support for nonwhite models is merely a temporary trend or a long term solution? For instance, we may ask ourselves: “How did we let runways and fashion in general be so white?” But are we really surprised this keeps happening? This will continue to occur in a predictable and regular manner only because fashion has created an industry that chooses to not see color.” [5] Clearly, in and beyond the runway, the lack of diversity in fashion leads to situations of inequality to occur. More people of color must be in positions of power in the fashion industry as a whole so that we can all equally have a voice, work together, learn from each other a grow together. [6]

Here’s a list of some of my favorite designers, models, art directors, photographers and creative directors in the fashion community, all who have made a name for themselves in fashion, however perhaps much easier said than done. Let’s celebrate them for their grit, their skill and their approval of inclusion. Listen to how they got to where they’re at, empathize with their background and read about their stories of perseverance and strength. 

• Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow

• Telfar Clemens

• Kerby Jean-Raymond

• Tracy Reese

• LaQuan Smith

• Lyfestyle

• Hannah Stoudemire

• Campbell Addy

• Dana Scruggs

• Tyler Mitchell

• Edward Enninful

• Elaine Welteroth

• Shiona Turini

• Anok Yai

• Estelle Chen

So, what sparked this article? Frustration comes to mind. We’re still nowhere near where we need to be in terms of inclusion, and I pray this is a trend that continues to grow and will LAST. I’m so thankful the industry is getting better at inclusion. The conversation is there. It’s about time for fashion to represent all and to ensure we’re representing equally. For that means as a collective, hopefully we are steering away from workplace ignorance. Because ignorance in this case, is anything but bliss. 

* [All discriminations are separate issues that all need to be addressed but definitely not clumped together. I will focus on race for this article.]

 **[ Diversity is the “measure of difference” in a workplace. Inclusion, on the other hand, describes a climate where people of all types feel comfortable expressing themselves, creating a scenario where everyone is able to contribute their best work.] [7]