IMG Models director Mina White has guided the careers of fashion’s top curve models and has helped change the conversation around size inclusivity in the industry in the process.
She chalks it up to inexperience.
In 2014, when five curve models who were dropped by Ford Models — including Ashley Graham — came to IMG, looking to be signed as a group, she scooped them up. At the time, she was only representing one curve model, or model wearing larger than a sample size 2 or 4.
“The other agencies [in the space] didn’t know that they could push for more money,” she said, noting they worked exclusively in the curve category or had a dedicated curve team, and their models made a quarter of the industry average. “In our eyes, it was not only a great opportunity for revenue, but also a great opportunity to change the messaging going into the marketplace.”
She made a point to feature IMG’s curve models on the main model board, rather than on a separate landing page, which meant great client visibility and, eventually, top jobs.
Ahead of fashion month, White discussed why the fashion industry has been slow to embrace size inclusivity, how she’s instigating change and why designers should hire curve models, regardless of their size run.
How would you describe the evolution of size diversity in fashion?
It’s been a battle, a constant conversation — a kind of hammering away at everyone, one brick at a time. We’ve still only scratched the surface. Everybody is sitting here and celebrating all the momentum, but there’s so much work to be done — and until you’re seeing a curve model in every single magazine, then we haven’t made real change. It’s a conversation similar to that around women of color: When they started being featured in advertising and in editorials, it was very much a one-off. If we’re not having this conversation all the time, and we’re not constantly challenging everybody to be more inclusive, [these categories] will wash away as fads or remain niche businesses.
What do you make of designers who don’t make clothing in extended sizes, but feature curve models on the runway or in ads?
I actually wish more brands would take that chance, because it changes how they look at their consumer. When Ashley [Graham] was asked to shoot a Rag & Bone campaign [earlier this year], we had a conversation beforehand: Rag & Bone doesn’t do curve, and this is definitely going to stir up some conversation. I said, “Why don’t we get ahead of that and say, ‘We’re going to do it, and we’re going to do some interviews, and we want Rag & Bone to be on board with the interviews and approve them.’” We went ahead, and one of the interviews was to British Vogue, and [IMG] said: “We were so honored to be asked to be a part of the campaign, and we wanted Ashley to be a part of it. But it was a hard decision for her to make because the clothes aren’t available in her size.” After the article ran, Rag & Bone got hit left, right and center [by the press and on social media], and a few days later, they announced they will be offering extended sizing in November. That’s what we want. Sometimes, you do have to, kind of, put the cart before the horse with this, so that you can show those brands that the consumer does exist and that they do want a seat at the table.
So what’s the hesitation for brands to cater to women beyond a Size 8?
Some designers do still fat shame, and then some look at it from a financial perspective: They say grading up and offering more samples costs more money — but they’re looking at it wrong. If they considered the outcome, they would spend the money. They’re alienating most women in the United States from being a consumer of theirs. These women want their clothes; to assume that if you’re plus size, you live below a certain income level is wrong. A lot of [brands] are closing brick-and-mortar stores on a daily basis, and they’re leaning into these social media girls to help generate sales. But if they just lean back into who their consumer is, they would see sales. If [brands] are not showing what the American woman actually looks like, how do they expect the consumer to want to support them?
Do NYFW castings look the same for curve models as for straight models?
We are sending [curve models] out to see just about everybody, just because we are constantly trying to push that conversation — but we aren’t seeing that evolve into actual bookings. The same four or five designers are the ones using curve models, and that’s where it’s frustrating. We’ve been having this conversation for the past five or six seasons now, and the designers should be prepared to have some size diversity. It’s a complete shame.
Can you do anything beyond sending them to castings and crossing your fingers?
We’re fortunate to have a seasoned team that knows a lot of the key players in this industry: I’m friends with Prabal [Gurung], and somebody else is friends with a stylist, and somebody else is friends with a casting director — so we’re all having those conversations. Right now, we’re working on getting one of our girls to walk Coach, so somebody’s talking to [creative director] Stuart [Vevers], and somebody else is talking to [casting director] Ashley Brokaw. We’re hammering it in from all angles. We’re going to be so persistent that we’re either going to break them or they’re going to ignore us. Those are the only two outcomes, so we might as well be annoying.
How do international markets differ?
The conversation internationally is only beginning to happen, and it’s a slow burn. In the Italian territory, because of brands like Marina Rinaldi and Elena Miro, [brands] are a bit more susceptible to it. And now Dolce [& Gabbana] is celebrating it. London has always been amenable to the conversation, because the British woman is, in a lot of ways, similar to the American woman; they’re a bit fuller — and the UK market has been one to want to disrupt and challenge the norm. But in the French territory, it’s a very difficult conversation to have.
Does the press on one designer working with one plus-size model help?
Until it really is the norm, and we’re seeing curve girls on all the runways, it’s important to still be telling that story. At one point, we want it to just be: “It was a beautiful, diverse cast.” But until we’re seeing that across the board and [diversity] is being celebrated by every designer, I want to see those stories on the individual designers. After Ashley [Graham] walked the Michael Kors [fall 2017] show, it brought a lot of newfound attention and love to Kors, even though Kors had already had a curve business. I want stories on how that brand is doing after using those models, too.