Halfway through New York Fashion Week, the topic of runway diversity has gone from a sideshow to a subject almost more compelling than the event itself.
Kanye West landed himself in hot water when he began casting for “Multiracial” models only, last week. West, who’s known for being one of the most diverse in his castings, caused a social media stir about his choice of words. One woman protested topless at the casting and wrote a lengthy post in which she claimed West’s parameters meant “Black can only be beautiful when ‘MIXED’ with another RACE.”
On Thursday, the first day of New York Fashion Week, “Runway For All,” a hashtag initiative started by Instagram in June to highlight diversity in fashion, was mentioned 139,636 times alone, according to PMX Agency which pulls data from Netbase.
On Instagram, there have been 13,002 posts with the hashtag #blackmodelsmatter since artist and model Ashley Chew wrote the saying on a bag last year. According to PMX, the term was referenced 1,283 in the last month alone, with 44 percent of those on Instagram, and 100 percent of the Instagram posts, Tweets and Tumblr posts were positive.
When you see that one black model on the runway and get all :crown::raising_hand::ok_woman::no_good::information_desk_person::crown: #blackmodelsmatter #blackgirlsrock #blackmodel #heygirlhey #doitforallofus #strut #walk #saunter #dothenaomicampbellwalk #NYFW #AtTheNightShow #fashionweek #springstudios #i:heart:ny #danielsilverstain #therunway #thenightshow #havingatime #igers #ig_nycity #ig_daily #runway #fashionblogger #instafashion #fashiondetails #style #statementlifestyle #nyc #newyorkcity #instavideo
From #BlackModelsMatter to #RunwayForAll, social media is abuzz with references to both terms in the form of hashtags or in general conversations. In the past month, the exact term “Runway For All” was mentioned 926 times across social platforms, but was mentioned in the form of a hashtag or wider conversation 408,842 times, in relation to “model diversity,” “NYFW,” and “black models matter,” according to PMX. Twitter accounted for 52 percent of the conversations and Instagram 20 percent.
According to a study by The Fashion Spot, which tallied 120 shows in NYFW this February, 68 percent of model castings were white, and 31.9 percent were nonwhite. That’s compared to the Spring 2016 fashion week, where only 28.4 percent of models casted were people of color.
While the issue around fashion’s lack of diversity comes up during almost every fashion week, Toni Box, senior director of social media and content at PMX, said there were far fewer conversations during NYFW just this past February.
“The conversation is much more relevant and important during this September fashion week,” something she puts down to the general public having greater access to shows, with the rise of designers live streaming shows and offering behind the scenes glimpses through Snapchat and Instagram. Instagram is where a lot of the conversations are happening, she said. “It’s not surprising. It’s where the fashionistas hang out and they’re playing a big role in advocating redefining beauty with their friends and followers.”
Each year, the Council of Fashion Designers of America provides guidelines on racial diversity on behalf of its “Diversity Coalition” to its 500 designers. The guidelines urged designers to ask model agencies to proactively “include and send models of color.”
“The shift is happening,” Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA told Glossy. “I see it on the runways of New York Fashion Week. Action influences others.”
The head of the Diversity Coalition, Bethann Hardison, a former model who’s worked in the fashion industry all her life, concedes that a shift is underway, but would like to see more. “There is an improvement. Is it where it should be? No. Is it where it could be? No.”
Hardison quickly named designer Zac Posen as a good example of a designer that casts diverse models, along with Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg and menswear designer Michael Bastian.
“Lack of diversity does not end on the runway,” said Hardison, who added that it’s the responsibility of the entire fashion industry from casting agencies to designers to editors and fashion publications to increase diversity.
It’s too soon to tell whether this specific NYFW will bring with it a bigger shift towards diversity, although Kolb and Hardison remain optimistic. “Right now I can only say that I think people are doing what might be considered their best,” Hardison said.