More positive progress in the fashion industry was quite apparent at this season’s New York Fashion Week, as the number of ethnic models increased. According to statistics, of the 3,697 spots in shows or presentations by 116 labels, 668 were filled by models of color, about 18 percent. It may not sound like a big deal, but that’s a whole 6 percent better than last year’s runways.
There were 668 models of ethnicity hired; 41 percent were black, 36 percent were Asian, 22 percent were Latina, and one percent were other ethnicities. There were about 160 opening and closing slots in shows; Latina models opened and closed five times, Asian models three times, and black models ten times. Of all the shows presented, only 6 shows in total had zero models of colour. On the other hand, there were 19 shows that cast zero black models.
The controversy concerning the “lack” of “ethnic” models grows with each season, and while I support the concept of making the runways more diverse, there are many problems within both sides of the “argument”. To begin, it bothers me that people seem to think that ethnicity only belongs to people of colour. Everyone in the world is part of an ethnicity, so technically every model on the runway is “ethnic” – white girls included. If you look at the models individually, you will see that the runways are very diverse – many models come from Brazil, Russia, Canada, England and many other countries, all with their own culture, beliefs and history.
Another barrier in the fashion industry is, and always will be size. Over the years, there have been many angry people who insist that models are too thin and that it is the responsibility of the industry to change the image that they “choose” to portray. Well first of all, design is an art and as an artist, every designer has the right to portray their art as they see fit. On a more solid argument, there is a lot more to it than just hiring “bigger” models. Every designer works within the industry standards – the technical aspects of design all rely on the same measurements – our patterns, our mannequins and our samples are all made to fit one single size – and that’s what size the models need to be in order to fit into the clothing.
Add height restrictions to the required size of a model, and you’ve got two large barriers that can highly affect the amount of “ethnic” models on thr unway. Of course every nationality has a wide variety of body types, and I would never give into the prejudices of difference races, but your background can definately impact your body shape. The height requirement in the modeling industry is generally 5’8 – though I could not get a definite fact, research seem to suggest that the average Asian woman is only 5’4, which may explain the lack of Asian models in the industry. Though this number is definately growing and the few Asian models in the industry have found great success, it’s not likely that the numbers will ever be very high. Size barriers can certainly be an issue for many women of ethnicity when it comes to curves – a women who normally seen as thin may be too big in the hip or bust area when it comes to modeling.
All in all, there are barriers in modeling to women of all ethnicities, and the amount of women eligible for modeling is quite slim in comparison to the world population. While I do hope that more ethnicities can soon enter the world of modeling at a higher rate, I choose to have a realistic view of the standards. With the growing number of countries hosting their own “Next Top Model” series, the opportunity for women who meet the standards is growing, and it would be a great success to see models of many different cultures grace runways and magazine covers across the world.