All Articles Tagged "fashion industry"
Fifteen years ago, Alain Lafontant was an intern at BRAG (the Black Retail Action Group). On Thursday, he was accepting the organization’s BRAG Special Recognition Award in front of 600 guests alongside other awards recipients, Macy’s CEO and president Terry Lundgren, and Iman, supermodel and CEO of Iman Cosmetics, Skincare and Fragrances.
BRAG is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing African Americans and other people of color into the retail and fashion industry fold. This year, they hosted the 43rd Annual Scholarship and Awards Gala, which was hosted by style expert Lloyd Benson and featured a special performance from Nick Cannon, who just recently launched a line of ties at Macy’s. In addition to the awards, the organization handed out 67 scholarships, more than double the previous year. The event raised more than $1 million, including $35,000 at a live auction during the event.
Since the days when Lafontant was working on his BRAG project focusing on the changes in retail on Harlem’s iconic 125th Street (today there’s a MAC, an H&M, a Starbucks, and an American Apparel steps from one another), things have changed in stores. But diversity continues to be an issue. Each year it seems, diversity gets attention around Fashion Week, when people notice how few models of color are walking the catwalk.
“Fashion Week always brings diversity to the forefront because it’s an easy visual to see the lack of diversity,” Lafontant told MN Business during a phone call. But for him, it’s not just about racial diversity, but a “diversity of background” that’s missing. And, just as important, is the lack of diversity at the upper ranks where decisions are made is an issue.
“This sea of sameness doesn’t promote evolving changes,” Lafontant added. “I’m interested in the diversity on the business end.”
To that end, it’s worth noting that Lafontant is the VP of business development and brand manager at Sean John, Diddy’s successful fashion line. This is his second time with the company. In between, he was the VP of men’s sales at Rocawear.
“In my career, whether it’s Shawn Carter or Sean Combs, they saw a void in the market and they filled it themselves,” he said. This is a model that other aspirants in the fashion industry should follow. “You don’t have to wait for the company to come and hire you. The industry is fueled by big dreamers.”
It also benefits from both diversity of culture and diversity of ideas. While the Ralph Laurens and Armanis of the industry continue to garner name recognition, there are others coming up behind them like Alexander Wang, who Lafontant noted for his “innovation in product.”
“Creativity is one portion of it,” Lafontant said.
One of this year’s BRAG scholarship recipients, quoted in information we received from the organization, may have listed the other components best: “Because of BRAG scholarships, we are given the character, confidence and education we need to succeed. To us, these scholarships not only represent funding for school, but it affirms our dreams, our hard work as students and our individual ambitions.”
Fashion Week is currently underway and there is no better time to chime in on the gross negligence displayed by major fashion designers when it comes to the under usage of black models.
Former model and the woman who launched the careers of Naomi Campbell, Tyson and Iman, Bethann Hardison, has been known to voice her opinion when it comes to the unfair treatment models of color consistently receive, and considering her exposure and endearing fortitude, she has managed to garner the right amount of attention whenever she sounds the alarm bells.
Hardison is appalled at the fact that major designers like Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, BCBG, Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Prada, Versace, Celine, Louis Vuitton, are all practicing racial bias by not bequeathing black models the same opportunity seamlessly afforded to their white counterparts.
She was compelled to mention the culprits in order to emphasize the severity of the issue and of course to ensure that there is a level of recognized accountability.
She expressed her game plan to the Huffington Post; “This way there’s no hiding, if you say [who], then nobody can say. “This has nothing to do with me”. I am trying to educate those with a careless attitude or who just don’t care. But you have to care. This is a responsibility to many”.
It is hard to believe that in 2013, things have not improved much since Hardison was a young up and coming model in the 70’s but Alas! This is the brutal reality and it certainly has to be addressed head on without any purposeful restrictions.
Hardison isn’t all talk without action; she has unrestrictedly immersed herself in spearheading efforts to help encourage diversity in an industry that seems reluctant to the idea of embracing the symbiotic idea of diversity. She has implemented interactive strategies including town hall meetings in an effort to facilitate prolific dialogue, and this led to a breakthrough in 2008 when Vogue Italia produced their much-heralded “Black Issue.”
As honorable as that milestone seemed to be, even Hardison acknowledged that it wasn’t exactly what she was aiming for. Black models need to feel included in the process, not given their own separate platform.
So the self-inducted activist has decided to embark on a voluntary mission with the companionship of The Diversity Coalition to help highlight a dilemma that remarkably still persists despite the ongoing homogenization process taking effect globally. The itinerary includes four letters sent to the principals attached to the organization responsible for the fashion frenzy that seasonally grips the world; the recipients are the Council of Fashion Designers of America (New York), Federation Francaise de la Couture (Paris), British Fashion Council (London), and Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (Milan).
Here is an example of one of the letter:
Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches design houses consistently use one or no models of color. No matter the intention, the result is racism. Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond ‘aesthetic’ when it is consistent with the designer’s brand. Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society. It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model.As expected, the response has been mixed and somewhat calculated which further intensifies the fact that this is a problem that will linger on for years to come.
Old habits die hard, and it’s very clear that Hardison with all her best intentions, is fighting an uphill battle and her passion is understandable since she has been feted by the very industry she is now is now bringing to task.
The truth is that until people of color position themselves in areas that allow them the ability to be valued decision makers and elite forecasters, the fate of models of color will always be foggy at best.
Click here to access the four letters Hardison immaculately conceived with the aid of Balance Diversity.
It seems that week after week, we learn more about the despicable horrors faced by Black models working in the fashion industry. Last week, Victoria’s Secret Angel, Chanel Iman revealed that she had been turned away by racist casting directors and designers who had no problem telling her, ‘We already found one Black girl. We don’t need you anymore,’ or ‘We don’t want you because we already have one of your kind.’ Now, British supermodel Jourdan Dunn is doing the same.
During her career, Dunn has graced the covers of Vogue Italia and Teen Vogue, in addition to being featured in campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger. Despite these major accolades, during a recent interview with Net-A-Porter, the 22-year-old Jamaican bombshell revealed that she too has been pricked by the fashion industry’s racist, venomous stinger. She told the magazine that there were instances where she was literally on her way to a call and had to turn around because the person in charge of casting “didn’t want any more Black girls.” As if that isn’t discouraging enough, Dunn recounted a situation where in the middle of a photo shoot, a makeup artist hired for the shoot openly stated that she refused to work on Dunn’s face because Dunn was Black and she [the makeup artist] was White.
The beauty went on to express that situations such as the aforementioned used to upset her, but the encouragement and the determination instilled in her by her mother hasn’t allowed her to quit.
“I grew up wanting to be my mom. She always seemed to make things work without ever complaining. She whips me into shape,” the model expressed.
Though we often come across stories of racism and discrimination such as Jourdan’s, the frequency never seems to lessen the sting.
What are your thoughts on Jourdan’s revelation?
The lack of diversity in the fashion industry seems to be a never-ending conversation, as it appears that Black models are always being slapped in the face by casting directors and designers who make it obvious that they have a specific “Black girl quota,” which they refuse to exceed. Earlier this week, model Chanel Iman told The Sunday Times that she was no stranger to racism in the fashion world.
“A few times I got excused by designers who told me, ‘We already found one Black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’ 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,” she regretfully revealed.
It appears that instances such as this one have caused young, up and coming models of color to want to disassociate themselves with their ethnicity, just so that they have more of a competitive edge in the industry. It was rather heartbreaking to watch Devyn, a contestant on Naomi Campbell’s modeling competition, The Face, reveal that she doesn’t consider herself a “Black girl model,” during an interview with Wendy Williams, which was seemingly a part of one of the competitive tasks given to contestants by the show’s panelists. The first red flag that appeared during Devyn’s interview was when Wendy asked her what advantage she believed that she had over her competitor Ebony, who just so happened to have darker skin.
” I feel like I have an international look and I have a story that can relate to everyone,” Devyn replied.
While her response seemed a bit suspect and a tad slighting, the way she answered the next question was mind-boggling and sent Naomi Campbell off the edge. When Wendy asked “Is it hard to be a Black girl model?”, Devyn responded:
” I don’t really consider myself a Black girl model. I know what my ethnicity is, but I’m fair-skinned and I feel like I have an international look.”
The moment those words left Devyn’s mouth, Naomi Campbell could be heard in the background, going off.
“What the f**k does she mean? That’s a disgrace. She’s a Black girl,” Naomi said to the other judges.
Since the airing of her highly criticized comment, Devyn took to her Twitter page to apologize to offended fans and suggest that the producers over at Oxygen edited her response.
Is “international look” the new code word for fair enough to pass the brown paper bag test?
Turn the page for footage of the interview. What are your thoughts on this? Was Devyn’s response misinterpreted?
You know people in the fashion industry stay trying to one up each other. See what happens when these two style frenemies cross paths at the wrong place and at the wrong time.
If you thought the days of Blackface were over, you are sadly mistaken. International fashion magazine, Numéro recently printed a two-page editorial entitled, “African Queen”, in which 16-year-old Caucasian model, Ondria Hardrin is depicted wearing heavy bronzer, as if the publication was attempting to pass her off as Black and many are wondering why? Why didn’t Numéro just hire a Black model?
Jezebel revealed that the same agency that represents Hardrin also represents several Black models. It’s unfortunate when Black models aren’t even considered for jobs that common sense would make most assume are for them.
“why hire a black model when you could just paint a white one!” blog Foudre said of the ridiculous spread.’
Now we won’t play ignorant, we know that there are White people living in Africa as well, but according to the Huffington Post, Ondria is from North Carolina and judging by the heavy amount of bronzer that she is wearing in the spread, it seems quite clear that the glossy was attempting to have her to appear “darker” than what she actually is.
I suppose this only serves as a reflection of the scarce number of Black models who are employed by the fashion industry. Jezebel recently reported that this past New York Fashion Week, 82.7% of the participating models were White, while only 6% were Black.
No one can say whether or not Numéro meant any harm by the model that they selected for the spread, but it appears to be the message that it sends to Black models and the world in general that people are finding to be offensive.
What are your thoughts on this?
You know those clothes you plan to give away to the Salvation Army/Goodwill in the holiday spirit of cleaning out your closet? The charity probably won’t be able to sell them to anyone in the States. Mostly because it is already inundated with the literally tons of secondhand clothing donations that come in every day, not to mention the spike it takes in over the Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, and New Year period. Textile recyclers will take the bulk of your donation off the charity’s hands, then sell it to rag merchants who go on to sell it to African entrepreneurs. These African businessmen and women then retail the used clothes to a ready market.
In Ghana, these secondhand retail points are known as “bend down boutiques” in reference to the fact that buyers have to stoop to browse the bins of clothes for sale, spread out on the ground. Ghanaians call the clothes in the bins “obroni we wu” or “white man’s deads” and in Togo, they are also nicknamed “dead yovo” or “dead white person” for their assumed former white owners. But in Kenya and Tanzania, they are known for their sheer volume—“mitumba” or “bales”—a good indication of their impact.
Between 1989 and 2007, the U.S. exported nearly 7 billion pounds of used clothes to over 100 countries. These clothes are Tanzania’s number one import from the States. With recyclers netting an approximate $2 per pound for wearable clothing, and even the dregs fetching in the neighborhood of 25 cents per pound, the global trade in secondhand duds is a multi-billion dollar industry.
According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, America exported over $605 million worth of used clothes in 2011 alone. The market is so lucrative, SavannahNow.com reports, some charities and for-profit clothing recyclers are engaging in a donated clothing war, with the latter looking to cut charities out as drop-off middlemen.
This booming market disproportionately favors the American and European players—and in many ways, undermines the ability for an Africa-based fashion industry to grow. With most Africans living on less than $3,000 a year, designers, seamstresses, tailors, and retailers based on the continent are competing with the low prices of used clothes. Add the fact that imported secondhand threads enable African fashion-philes to rock the global styles they see touted on countless blogs and in international fashion magazines, and the competition becomes steeper.
Though more and more fashion weeks are sprouting across Africa with Vogue Italia and Mercedes Benz sponsoring high-profile events in Ghana and South Africa respectively within the last few weeks, the lack of a widespread buying infrastructure where retailers buy and distribute designers’ wares make it difficult for more than a handful of African fashion industry stakeholders to thrive.
So what’s the solution? Should you donate those clothes to Goodwill after all?
New York-based journalist Abi Ishola visited Ghana and Nigeria to report on the issue. In her opinion, African governments need to subsidize the homegrown fashion industry, from designers to retailers to exporters. “China…has come in and they’re counterfeiting a lot of the wax print and… selling them at cheaper prices,” she observed, explaining they can do this because the Chinese government subsidizes their fashion and exports. “So it’s easier for the Chinese to, you know, not charge as much as the designers in Ghana or in Nigeria.”
Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, says part the solution lies in promoting the craft—and value—of fashions specific to different regions. “What we’re seeing even in the United States is, ‘Oh wait, yes we are able to walk into a store and buy a $5 dress,’ but,” Cline continues, “we lost all of these incredible craftspeople, and people with so much knowledge and skill.” Cline adds, “In America where we’ve gotten to the point where that history has almost virtually been erased and now we’re trying to reconnect with it, hopefully, in other countries it won’t go that far before someone says, ‘Wait, this heritage needs to be preserved. This knowledge is important.’”
Aisha Obuobi, founder of the wildly popular Ghana-based fashion label Christie Brown, would agree with Cline. “Although our clothing has a modern/contemporary feel, the whole idea is to infuse African elements in each piece… this is something that can’t be found in “secondhand” clothing.” She says designers and all stakeholders in a successful African fashion industry need to understand that the African market is not the American or European market, and treat it accordingly. “It is important to observe and understand the African consumer’s buying behavior and retail needs and tailor our products, services and merchandising efforts.”
With so many Africans earning wages below the poverty level, the main consumer need is affordable price. Obuobi says, “Being able to mass produce is really what will drive down the cost / retail prices of the clothing. Once that takes off, I am certain that will birth retail outlets that can easily support lower income consumer needs.”
To that end, Nora Bannerman, CEO of Ghana-based Sleek Garments, has opened a factory in Accra with the capacity to mass produce garments at competitive prices. This needs to happen en masse across Africa with the support of government and private sector investment.
In the meantime, Ishola says go ahead and give that old coat to Goodwill. Even with all the challenges, your donated clothing has potential to benefit the African economy. Textile recyclers say the secondhand clothing trade has created over five million jobs in Kenya alone. In Nigeria, where the government has banned the import and retail of secondhand clothing in a move to protect their homegrown fashion industry, the trade thrives on the black market, also creating jobs. One used clothing trader told Al-Jazeera, “If you close [the] Nigerian border today, within two, three weeks, the Republic will be shaken.” He said the countries that supply the secondhand traders with the illegal clothes would feel the pinch too. “The revenue they get from Nigerians who import these goods in this country goes a long way.”
When last we spoke with Cecily Habimana, she had just raised $11,700 on Kickstarter to manufacture the latest collection for her fashion line, Simply Cecily. We caught up with her last week and she told us that she just showcased some of her spring/summer designs at DC Fashion Week. So, it sounds like things are going pretty well, which is much-deserved after 10 years of work.
Fashion is everywhere. If we’re not out shopping for ourselves, we’re looking what other people are wearing on the red carpet recaps we find online. Or we’re watching shows like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model. Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week was only a few weeks ago, and if you couldn’t get a front-row seat on the catwalk, you may have participated in Fashion’s Night Out. The ladies living the high life on reality TV (or trying to give off the vibe that they’re living large) have handbag, swimsuit and various fashion lines. Or they’re dressing themselves while we sit on our couches and critique.
No doubt there are many people out there who have a creative streak and want to start a fashion line of their own. While it’s glamorous and fun, fashion is big business. Labels like Prada and Michael Kors, for instance, are public companies, answering back to investors and global financial onlookers. But even Miuccia and Michael had to start somewhere.
For Habimana, the start was custom work. “It might be a good way to start so people will know your style,” she says. Even though she began with one-off custom pieces, she still participated in fashion shows. “You can start small and stay small for a while,” she adds.
As evidenced by her Kickstarter campaign, another thing that Habimana needed was capital. Besides the money she raised through the campaign, Habimana says that she and her hubby have been investing their own money into the business. To start, Habimana suggests $25,000. Her budget also has to take into account trips to Africa to purchase materials (her designs are based on African fabrics). If you want to manufacture, that’s a cost you have to factor in. Or if you want to open a brick-and-mortar store, that’s a separate budget. Habimana wants to stick with online sales and sales through boutiques.
“The first normal thing that a business student would do would be a business plan,” she says, describing the first step after one decides they want to start a fashion design business. She decided to forego the plan-making stage. “I would’ve had to postpone the launch of the line until next fall if I did that.”
That’s another necessity for getting started — knowledge of the fashion calendar. Habimana started the company this past January and knew she’d have to have samples for Spring/Summer 2013 by July. “Know what the fashion industry calendar looks like because it’s all mapped,” Habimana advises. Indeed, all you need to do is check online for the various fashion shows and you’ll know exactly when the buyers and the press will be looking for the new season’s offerings.
Quick. Which of these looks is “high-fashion”? Which is “urban”?
The answer to the second question is none of them, according to Mychael Knight, the designer who created all of them.
“I will correct someone very quickly when they say I am an ‘urban designer’ or a ‘hip-hop designer,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with [designing hip-hop-inspired sportswear], but it’s just not what I do.”
As for the answer to the first question, Knight, who is black, cites an “invisible barrier” that reserves “high-fashion” anointing for a privileged circle of designers—very few of which are black. “Tracy Reese and Rachel Roy - they’ve penetrated that, but I don’t ever really see any placement of them in fashion magazines”—an indication that Reese and Roy are not readily on the mind of prominent editors and stylists.
Perhaps observant of this trend, some black designers early in their careers choose to use white models, particularly for lookbooks, which are prepared for press and buyers, and on their websites where customers seeking high-fashion looks (assumed to be white) can immediately imagine themselves in their pieces. Though Knight regularly casts models of color for both his runway shows and his lookbooks, he can guess why some African-American designers skip over black models altogether.
“When you open up a fashion magazine—a Vogue or an Elle,” Knight points out, “you never see black models. You think, as a black designer, ‘well, if I need my brand [or] my product to get noticed I need to use the white models.’” It’s like high school, Knight explains. “People feel like they to need fit in.”
Model booker Carole White gave New York Magazine the racial breakdown as it applies to models. “Asian girls do really well. You can’t have too many, but they do really well, and it’s quite easy to book them. For Black girls, it is more difficult.” White is further quoted as saying, “[Black models] have to be utterly amazing. There will be less work. It takes much longer to establish them… because clients don’t take the risk on black girls so much.” For this reason, White admits agencies are “very, very picky” when it comes to signing black models. “Maybe you’re not as picky with the white girls, because there’s more work for them.”
With African-American models facing a shrunken market, getting passed over by black designers only further threatens their livelihood. It also perpetuates old school notions of what, and who, represents luxury versus the aesthetic of the street.
Tags:african american designers, African American models, black designers, elle, Fashion, fashion industry, fashion magazines, gelila bekele, high fashion, magazines, Mychael Knight, mychael knight spring 2012, nana ekua brew-hammond, powder necklace, Project Runway, rachel roy, street wear, tracy reese, urban fashion, Vogue, white models
Alek Wek probably has one of the more recognizable faces in the fashion industry. Largely because she doesn’t look like anyone else on the runways.
Find out how the Sudanese super model was first discovered on the streets of London and how she defines beauty at StyleBlazer.com.
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