Category Archives: Tyson Beckford

Racism on the Runways: Bethann Hardison and Naomi Cambpell Demand Change

Hey Glamazons,

With New York Fashion Week days away, the discussion about African-American visibility in Fashion has resurfaced—thanks to Bethann Hardison. The former model and agent, who also happens to be my hero, hosted an informal meet-and-greet with models and casting directors last night called the Paradigm Shift. Held at the Deitch projects, the meeting is the latest effort in Hardison’s crusade to give models of colors a significant presence on the runway.

Designer Sophie Theallet famously used only black models in her Fall 2009 runway show.

The mother of actor, Kadeem Hardison, Bethann is responsible for initiating the discussion with industry heavyweights about diversity in Fashion, which indirectly led to the wildly-popular Vogue Italia issue and the i-D magazine September cover that features four rising supermodels, Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn, Sessilee Lopez and Arlenis Sosa. Hardison acknowledged how her efforts made the i-D magazine cover a possibility: “…the fact that they can find four girls is genius. That means something,” she told “It’s much improved from 2007. i-D’s always been cutting-edge. But the fact that you can find four girls? That’s a tribute to the work we do.”

Here are recent covers depicting black models from Trace’s Black Girls Rule! issue to the legendary Vogue Italia “All-Black” issue.

Bethann Hardison’s own career is just as groundbreaking: a successful model in her own right, she’s guided the careers of such prominent African-American faces as Tyson Beckford and Veronica Webb. Though her strides toward diversity in Fashion should be heralded, she acknowledges that racism on the runways persists. For example, Naomi Campbell made headlines recently by asserting that ad execs, in fear of losing consumers during a recession, refrain from using black models for their campaigns: “I don’t see any black woman, or of any other race, in big advertising campaigns,” said Naomi. People, in the panic of the recession, don’t dare to put a girl of colour in their campaign, full stop. Nor of any other race. It’s a shame. It’s very sad.”

When I interviewed Hardison last September, she explained that yet another impediment to creating diversity is that designers don’t see their aversion to use black models as racist. “Though their actions aren’t necessarily racially motivated, there are racially-conscious results,” she said. “Designers claim they want uniformity simply because it’s editorially appealing, but they have to modernize their thinking. Uniform-looking models don’t reflect the world.”

Why aren’t designers using black models for campaigns or runway shows? Do you think it’s a product of racism, because they want uniformity or because they fear that they’ll lose consumers?
Do you think diversity in Fashion increased after the Vogue Italia issue proved that black magazine covers sell? Do you anticipate that more designers will use black models this Fashion Week? Discuss.