Supermodel and actress Beverly Johnson collaborated with the Model Alliance to advocate for the Fashion Workers Act and combat the discrimination Black supermodels encounter in the fashion industry.
In addition to the lack of representation in the modeling realm, Black models endure discriminatory practices from the modeling agencies and clients they work with—from insufficient pay transparency and work protections to job opportunities. Further, as the world technologically advances, companies use these mechanisms to cut corners in the diversity department, limiting opportunities for Black models.
The Fashion Workers Act promotes equality and would limit the control model agencies, which are considered management companies, have on supermodels and grant Black models more say in their careers and transparency with their pay.
Johnson, the first Black supermodel featured on the cover of American Vogue, spoke at the Model Alliance’s press conference on Feb. 4 to express how crucial the Fashion Workers Act is for Black models.
“Fifty years ago, I broke barriers by gracing the cover of Vogue magazine, becoming the first Black supermodel to achieve this milestone despite being repeatedly told that it was unattainable for a Black woman,” Johnson said. “Today, after decades in the fashion industry, the challenges of underrepresentation and inequality for Black models continue to persist, and it remains challenging for Black survivors to speak out about abuse and be believed.”
The 71-year-old fashion trailblazer believes the act could bring forth equality.
“The Fashion Workers Act is a critical first step in protecting Black fashion models: to provide every model with fundamental labor protections and ensure everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”
Johnson is among the handful of Black models who helped shape the fashion industry and advocated for representation and equality. Other Black supermodels, like the late and great icon and supermodel-turned-journalist Gail O’Neill, pushed to diversify the white-dominated fashion industry and combat discrimination through the Black Girls Coalition, risking their careers.
Unfortunately, O’Neill died Oct. 10, 2023, at 61, but her influence will never be forgotten. The two women were also part of the Black Girl Coalition– founded by veteran model, agency owner and activist Bethann Hardison.
A discriminatory practice Black supermodels have encountered is tokenism, where companies recruit one or very few models of color to elude accusations of racism and discrimination.
Levi’s, a famous clothing brand known for its denim, announced in March 2023 that they would use an AI-powered digital fashion studio called Lalaland.ai, which creates realistic fashion models, diversifies their models and increases their diversity instead of hiring more models of color.
Model agencies aren’t transparent about contracts and negotiations with clients requesting their supermodels. Models would work gigs unaware of whether or not it’s a paid gig; they’re reportedly abused and kept in the dark about what is getting deducted from their pay and uninformed about the creation and use of their photos—rate of pay, purpose and duration of use.
Models have attempted to fight for equality and better treatment, but some have faced company retaliation.
This Fashion Workers Act would protect them from retaliation and terminate the cruelty.
It would also prevent agencies from “engaging in discrimination or harassment of any kind” against models regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.
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