The issue of diversity throughout the fashion world

The annual New York Fashion Week is one of the world’s most renowned fashion shows, with models from
across the globe and most of the top fashion designers and celebrities in
attendance. The 2015 show was one of many firsts as well: the first male model amputee, the first model with Down syndrome, a few models in wheelchairs, and
even a model with the skin condition vitiligo.

Despite these breakthroughs in
the modeling universe, there are still huge problems with racial diversity.
Between 2008 and 2014, the percentage of white models at New York Fashion Week
has remained at about 80 percent. Less than six percent of Fashion Week
models and only three percent of designers are African-American. The situation on the
runway only reflects the extreme divide between races within the power
structure of the fashion industry.

“There were more high-profile black
designers in the 1970s than there are today,” Bethann Hardison, founder of the
Diversity Coalition, said in an interview with the New York Times. “We’re going backwards.”

The lack of diversity in the
fashion industry is not an issue of just African Americans not receiving enough
attention, but all races. Asians and Hispanics, who also make up a large
proportion of the American population, are rarely seen on the runway or receive
any appreciation when they are present. As of 2013, only about nine percent of models
were Asian and two percent were Latina despite their huge racial demographics in the
nation. Thirteen companies—including Calvin Klein, J Brand, and Juicy Couture—had no models of color whatsoever at 2013′s New York Fashion Week.

“A few times I got excused by
designers who told me, ‘We already found one black girl. We don’t need you
anymore,’” African-American model Chanel Iman said to the Sunday Times Magazine. “I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘We don’t want you
because we already have one of your kind’, it’s really sad.”

The lack of diversity is shown off
the runway as well, especially in popular clothing stores for teenagers, such
as Brandy Melville. Brandy Melville’s lines of clothing are allegedly “one size
fits all” while advertising all of their clothes on skinny, Caucasian models with different hair colors, rather
than their advertised “diverse California girls.”

Teenager girls are heavily
influenced by the fashion world around them and by not offering several sizes
or opening up to an array of diverse models, companies alienate curvy or
colored girls into feeling like minorities and outcasts.

Within the fashion industry, women
of color receive far less opportunities and are worth far less as models than
models with white skin. Outside of the industry, the magazine covers, cosmetic
campaigns, billboards, and TV commercials all promote the idea that beauty
means having white skin.

The lack of diversity within the
fashion industry does not just control the lives of the models and designers
trying to make a break, but also the lives of teenage girls who feel inferior
after not fitting into the cookie-cutter expectations of society.

When youth do not see their image
and likeness in the jobs that they want to approach, it discourages them from
striving towards their dreams. Girls need to be shown their ability to work in
any job, including the fashion industry, is not influenced by the color of
their skin.

The importance of racial diversity
in the fashion world must not be overstated. Different races must be
represented in order to truly reach equality in society and to prevent
generations of teenagers and women from developing false senses of identity and
perceptions of beauty.

—Shaneli Mirpuri