Is the fashion industry racist?

The next issue of the Italian edition of Vogue is to feature mainly black models. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Franca Sozzani,  says she is doing it because not enough people in the fashion industry use black models.

Ms Sozzani is the latest person to suggest that the fashion industry is racist.  Is she right? Does it promote a white world?

38 Responses to “Is the fashion industry racist?”

  1. 1 steve
    April 28, 2008 at 20:04

    Honestly, who cares what the fashion industry does? It’s devoted to materialism and superficiality, anyone that pays attention to what the fashion industry does is materialistic and superficial.

  2. 2 manuel
    April 28, 2008 at 20:20

    But what about the well known Benetton campaigns that plenty of people found shoking? In that case fashion industry seemed to be concerned abount racial problems and tried to do something from it’s artistic point of view. Lot of people has thought it was only a marketing operation. It can be seen as another wrong choice that fashion industry did in that way?

  3. 3 Scott Millar
    April 28, 2008 at 20:36

    She’s wrong – very wrong! Its just another bourgeois half-baked search to be the first expose an alleged bigotry.

    It’s obvious: in the countries that create the majority of the worlds’ fashion – blacks are a minority so it follows that they will not be represented as the majority on the runaways.

    -Portland, Oregon

  4. April 28, 2008 at 21:31

    Just a note, I just finished viewing rocawear and baby phat’s website and saw no white models…

    Now a statement like this may be considered counterproductive and I’m sorry if it is taken as so, but it is a factual statement and should be noted.

    Race and culture are tightly bound together as we noticed in the recent racism debates on the blog. The fashion industry will chose its models based on the target population which they would like to reach. Just as rocawear doesn’t plaster Indians or Caucasians all over its advertisements, many other brands don’t fill their adverts with blacks, or asians, or any other classification based on skin color or physical appearance.

    Fashion is thought of by some as a reflection of society. So then the correct question then is, is society racist?

    A similar question came up in a recent TIME article about the lack of blacks and women in the anchor position in the media in the US and how the media is lacking behind the presidential race and becoming unreflective or their viewer base and society as a whole.

    Now I do agree that the industry is biased against race as a whole, not just blacks. Look at any niche market magazine (fashion or otherwise) and you will find that the typical target race or culture of the magazine will be reflected in the ads run in said magazine.

    The fashion industry is an enormous industry and again is separated by race, culture, class, and target markets in general. Does it promote a white world? No, is it racist against all races outside of the brand or advert program to reach target markets? Yep, often times so.

    PS. Tyra Banks isn’t ‘white’ and she is the hostess of one of the many dumbing and one of the most popular TV reality shows America’s Next Top Model. She has also done quite a bit for African Americans in the ‘white’ fashion industry.

    Kudos to Vogue for featuring mainly black models in their next issue. Everyone and every race is beautiful and deserves the right to be able to portray such beauty in fashion and print.

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  5. 5 John Smith
    April 28, 2008 at 22:05

    I share the sentiments of Steve. Frankly, in this day and age, race is no longer the big taboo and buzz word that it once was. We live in a multicultural, multi-ethnic world where barriers have been broken down by the Internet and other forms of communication. If the fashion industry chooses not to use black models, then so what. How many Hispanic, Taiwanese, Philipino, Malaysian, Aborigine, native American (both North and South) are there in the fashion industry. Do we hear any complaints. It is high time we stopped playing the race card, pitting blacks against whites.

  6. 6 Scott Millar
    April 28, 2008 at 22:11

    @ Steve
    Everyone that pays attention to the fashion industry is not materialistic and superficial—some people, maybe many—not everyone. There are many deeper then you who are interested in fashion.

  7. April 28, 2008 at 22:13

    May be.I don’t many black models on catwalks or fashion magazines.But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the industry is racist.I think the designers have to find out what formula sales their product best and if it’s white models,why not use them?


  8. 8 Will Rhodes
    April 28, 2008 at 22:16

    Is the fashion industry racist?

    Never thought of it – nor do I care if it is or isn’t.

    It’s the fashion industry.

  9. April 28, 2008 at 23:00

    BBC, Keep it real please.

    There is an awful lot of competition in the fashion/advertising industry, and if black models make better cover faces than the industry seems to think right now, somebody go make a fortune with this knowledge!

    If the fashion industry is racist, it’s also “heightist”. If one of the many special features vogue models are generally wanted to possess is brighter skin, so what?
    Nobody cares that there are few big breasted models.

    And it isn’t even like that !! I have a couple of magazines lying around here and there are quite a few black models in there, looking pretty good.

  10. 10 John in Salem
    April 29, 2008 at 04:40

    Does the fashion industry promote a white world?
    Weren’t we just were talking about the fashion industry promoting anorexia?

    Is the world in some kind of danger from the fashion industry that we aren’t being told about?

  11. 11 Omunyaruguru
    April 29, 2008 at 06:01

    I agree with brett on many issues. When it comes to making money, race is not an issue. The fashion industry is about making money by targetting the population with the money. The money is with the whites, not the blacks!!! I actually expect to see a shift to more oriental models as the eastern economic giants grow stronger. I come from a culture rife with tribalism but in my four and a half decades of life, I have seen that money making transcends tribalism(in this case, racism)

  12. 12 Ivan Lindau
    April 29, 2008 at 11:29

    We are forgetting something considerably more important. Why shouldn’t non-europeans be featured in car adverts more? Say scaling sheer cliffs, partying in some industrial port night-club and swimming with sharks in their brand new X car?
    My brittle sarcasm has come to an end…

    Fashion is not a good measure of anything worth measurement.

    The fashion industry wants us to believe their products are tied to greater issues; I hope we look with scorn on such paltry devices of the fashion industry.

  13. April 29, 2008 at 12:52

    John in Salem
    Is the world in some kind of danger from the fashion industry that we aren’t being told about?

    Didn’t you see Zoolander?!

  14. 14 Ana Milena, Colombia
    April 29, 2008 at 12:58

    Hi there! 🙂
    Keeping in mind they want to promote a prototype, it’s obvious that a black girl doesn’t usually fit into their purpose.
    I think the fashion field IS racist, and one of the reasons is becasue society is racist.
    Who are the most popular models? Why are black models underestimated in some cases? What would the black girl represent in an ad, for instance, if it’s not the same meaning of a white girl?


  15. 15 VictorK
    April 29, 2008 at 13:04

    WHYS has time for this but not for DR Congo or Somalia?!?

  16. 16 steve
    April 29, 2008 at 13:38

    I’ve got it! We can kill two birds with one stone here. Replace fashion models with metallic colored robots. There will be no more issues of race, and women hopefully will find the intelligence to not want to starve themselves so they can look like something that isn’t even a human being. Problem solved!

  17. 17 Katharina in Ghent
    April 29, 2008 at 13:55

    I’m not sure that the fashion industry per se is racist, I think one has to see this in the context. In Japan, most modells are of Asian origin (I couldn’t say whether they were japanese or not) and in India there will be mainly Indian modells. Western society still defines itself as being a “white” society, even if we appreciate and embrace multiculturalism. Therefore, as a white person, I wouldn’t think twice about seeing a white modell in a fashion magazine (even though I don’t even remember when I last have picked one up). A western magazine that features solely non-white modells seems like a rather strange idea to me, why do they not rather choose solely Italian modells? (They are usually not blond and blue-eyed.)


  18. April 29, 2008 at 14:05

    Replace fashion models with metallic colored robots. There will be no more issues of race,

    Yea, but now we’ll have a problem with which robots look better based on the shineyness and depth of their metalic color. Because you know no one is gonna want a sterling silver robot… Its all about platinum and stainless baby!

    … and women hopefully will find the intelligence to not want to starve themselves so they can look like something that isn’t even a human being. Problem solved!

    Unless the robots are toothpicks, then we’ll just have a bunch of women walking around in shiney clothes with society still wanting to just give them a pile of hamburgers so they can put some weight on.

  19. April 29, 2008 at 14:36

    Someone just sent me for free a copy of the latest issue of New York Look magazine, which all about the fashion industry and modeling. In an article about all of the hottest new young girl models, they show a huge number of their photos. The page is only about 5-10% black or non-Caucasian. That settles it, don’t you think?

  20. 20 ZK
    April 29, 2008 at 15:19

    Martin! I thought you got a promotion to the World Service as its West Asian correspondent (or something similar)? Good to see you’re still with WHYS.

    Got to agree with Will Rhodes (not often I agree with a Man Utd fan on things) — I could care less. It’s the fashion industry.

  21. 21 Nick in USA
    April 29, 2008 at 15:39

    Sorry WHYS, but I’m going to pull a “who cares” on you. The fashion industry pretty much embodies all that is bad in our society. It attempts to separate people by class, uses sweatshop labor, wastes natural resources, adds to landfills, and has enabled the bravo network to exist (no offense, top chef).

  22. 22 Nick in USA
    April 29, 2008 at 15:40

    @ Brett

    That was an awesome Zoolander reference.

  23. 23 John in Salem
    April 29, 2008 at 17:25

    Guess I’ll be out of the loop on this one. I try to avoid films with Ben Stiller.

  24. 24 selena
    April 29, 2008 at 17:38

    The fashion industry is primarily interested in money.

    That being said, we are *encouraged* to like things, even types of models.

  25. 25 steve
    April 29, 2008 at 20:06

    Hopefully one day we can all take part in saying a Eugogoly for the fashion industry.

  26. April 29, 2008 at 21:47

    Of course the fashion industry is racist.

    Where are the Eskimo models? The Sioux? The Pygmies? The Kazhakstanis? The Afghans? The Aborigines? The Maoris? etc?

    Or, what exactly is meant by racism?

    and White?

  27. 27 Shakhoor Rehman
    April 29, 2008 at 22:48

    No. Worse. It needs a psychiatrist.

  28. April 30, 2008 at 07:56

    After a late night dose of Matthew Arnold and John Stuart Mill (these Victorians would have torn this debate apart), and an early morning cuppa, the questions have finally become clear :

    Is racism only a dynamic occurring between those of Caucasian and those of African ethnic origin?

    Is it really only as shallow a matter as a difference in skin colour?

    What about the real and difficult problems inherent in the cultural differences between all sorts of ethnic/cultural groups?

    This whole racist/xenophobia debate needs to be ratcheted up to a logical plane, where the real sore points can be discussed openly.

    That will get us somewhere. That will educate us about one another.

    Otherwise we remain in captivity to all those terrifying taboos surrounding the appalling ( and increasingly stupidly employed) racist tag.

    In other words, it’s multiculturalism we should be discussing.

  29. 29 Jens
    May 2, 2008 at 20:09

    damm it rap music is rascist, there are just not enough white people or chinese represented.

    does fashion not also depend on what kind of fashion one talks about. the hiphop wear your pants hand of your bottom type of fashion is strongle featured in the african american and hispanic culture.

    i think this is all relative. let’s face it how many white guys look as sharp in a suit as m MJ does?

  30. 30 Dennis Young, Jr.
    May 8, 2008 at 22:48

    maybe they have some racist overtures!

    i have very little knowledge of fashion!!!

    Dennis~Madrid, United States of America

  31. 31 Jake
    July 10, 2008 at 08:56

    I work within the fashion Industry, and i have been working as a photographer for many years around the world. I am still young, infact 23.over the years i have been asked on numerous occassions if i was a model to the point i got frustrated, and only recently i have had the courage to search for an agency, just to see what the response was.
    Yesterday i went to a major model agency Elite (Milan – Italy) but before i went i did my homework, i checked out all the models to see if i could really see myself amongst them, and i could, i counted only 4 black male models, out of a possible 150 male models who were the majority white.

    when i arrived at the agency, i met with the head of the mens division, who told me ” we already have enough black models perphaps try an agency in Paris”

  32. 32 Vogue
    October 28, 2008 at 15:21

    To Jens,

    “damm it rap music is rascist, there are just not enough white people or chinese represented.”

    Are you blind?! How many time does one see women of ALL races in hip-hop/ R’n’B videos. How many times.

    Face it the world is STILL racist. It is not equal, not by any means.

  33. 33 Vogue
    October 28, 2008 at 15:30

    To Omunyaruguru,

    “The money is with the whites, not the blacks!!!”

    The black people in America alone spend $30 billion a year on apparels. What are you talking about????

    Ignorance isn’t cute.

  34. 34 Sim
    October 29, 2008 at 18:57

    I think it’s great that Vogue are going to feature mainly black models in their next issue, but what about Asian models??

    Why do we never see that many asian models around? There are 2.33 million British Asians, making up 4% of the population of the United Kingdom.

    I am asian myself and I would love to pick up a magazine with real asian models in promoting fashion.

    For instance the 1st Indian Vogue october issue had Aishwarya Rai on the cover. The November issue has Victoria Beckham on in a sari????

    I understand celebrities sell but I think there is a gap in the market for british asians promoting fashion in the UK.

  35. 35 Mark Gilbert
    November 6, 2008 at 05:42

    Does the fashion industry use some ones appearance is the real question.

    Dark skin, Light Skin? and other facial/body attributes.

    I believe (as the old saying goes) beauty (aesthetics) is in the eye of the beholder.

    If the people who carry sway over the decisions in the fashion industry have a model/idea/belief/theory of what is aesthetically appealing to their customers. (It is and industry after all.) then who am I to argue. (Unless by fashion you mean all trends and not just those of clothing, cosmetics, etc.)

    If we address concerns of appearance relating to race and try to impose a FAIRNESS based up on that, should we not address the fashion industry’s discrimination against ugliness or any other label of aesthetics?

    Also, I think you would find that this was discussed a century or so ago in the widely published of journals philosophy. Please catch up.

    Hey, in a fair universe I would stand as much chance of laying Carmen Electra as which ever fit, influential bloke she currently is.

  36. 36 Mark Gilbert
    November 6, 2008 at 05:58

    I’ve just remembered what Baudrillard’s opinion of this type of question was “It is the Saragossa effect, The belief in an absolute rightness beyond what occurs and the belief that any limited expression of taste can be compatible.”

    You see, this type of question, as admirable as it may be in it’s attempt to reach a presumed level of fairness, is doomed to fall short of fairness. First consider whether you have evidence that people control their their current state of being and then consider whether people should be given per need. Should a street sweeper be awarded with resource (payment.) as much as a captain of industry? If the answer is yes then you subscribe to fairness, If no, then the answer is you subscribe to utility (with an unsaid overtone paying lip service to fairness.) Alas, life is about politics and opinion but never truth.

    “You are more wise than you know, but more stupid than you think.”

  37. 37 Mark Gilbert
    November 6, 2008 at 06:00

    If I needed moderation I would have asked for it.

  38. November 7, 2008 at 13:57

    It is and it isnt. But do we care about it that much to worry, no we don’t. Look what has just happen in the USA, the first black president. I hope that the people who being rascist stop and think about what has just happened.

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