It was just another casting for fashion week in Sydney 2019, when I witnessed firsthand the institutionalised discrimination that models of colour face every day.
As a group of models and I lined up ready to go in to meet the casting directors, two black models asked if I would place myself between them in the line, so that the directors wouldn’t get them mixed up.
They stated that their agents always reminded them not to go in one after the other, otherwise people wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.
I was shocked, this wasn’t something I have ever had to consider as a white model. I have never been mixed up with another white girl or called the wrong name. But to these girls, and many others, it’s a reality every time they are put forward for a modelling job.
So I wasn’t that surprised when on the eve of Melbourne Fashion week 2019, I woke up to the news that prominent model and face of fashion week Adut Akech, was mixed up with another black model in the Australian publication, WHO.
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I’ve have given some deep thoughts the past few days on how to approach this situation that isn’t sitting well with me. For those who are not aware, last week @whomagazine (Australia) published a feature article about me. In the interview I spoke about how people view refugees and peoples attitude to colour in general. With the article they published a large photo saying it was me. But it was of another black girl. This has upset me, has made me angry, it has made me feel very disrespected and to me is unacceptable and inexcusable under any circumstances. Not only do I personally feel insulted and disrespected but I feel like my entire race has been disrespected too and it is why I feel it is important that I address this issue. Whoever did this clearly the thought that was me in that picture and that’s not okay. This is a big deal because of what I spoke about in my interview. By this happening I feel like it defeated the purpose of what I stand for and spoke about. It goes to show that people are very ignorant and narrowminded that they think every black girl or African people looks the same. I feel as though this would’ve not happened to a white model. My aim for this post is not to bash Who Magazine -they have apologised to me directly – but I feel like I need to express publicly how I feel. This has deeply affected me and we need to start an important conversation that needs to happen. I’m sure that I’m not the first person that’s experienced this and it needs to stop. I’ve been called by the name of another models who happens to be of the same Ethnicity, I find it very ignorant, rude and disrespectful towards both of us simply because we know that this doesn’t happen with white models. I want this to be somewhat of a wake up call to people within the industry it’s not OK and you need to do better. Big publications need to make sure that they fact check things before publishing them especially when its real stories and interviews and not just some made up rumors. To those who work at shows and shoots it’s important that you don’t mix up models names. Australia you’ve a lot of work to do and you’ve got to do better and that goes to the rest of the industry
Adut is one of the most well-known models in the industry right now. She was Karl Lagerfeld’s Couture Bride, a UN ambassador and is simultaneously on three different September magazine covers – fashion lovers will know just how impressive that is.
And yet, the media still mistakes her for another black woman.
What makes this situation worse, is that in the interview Adut talks about race, refugees and how people view them; only to be disrespected by the very publication she was so candid with.
Unsurprisingly, this is not even the first time that a person of colour has been misrepresented in the media, and it probably won’t be the last.
Earlier this year Vogue misidentified actress Noor Tagouri as someone else in their February issue.
“I’m so heartbroken and devastated,” Tagouri wrote on Instagram.
“I have been misrepresented and misidentified multiple times in media publications…I never, ever expected this from a publication I respect so much and have read since I was a child.”
Vogue did offer an apology on all of its social media channels:
“We were thrilled at the chance to photograph Tagouri and shine a light on the important work she does, and to have misidentified her is a painful misstep. We also understand that there is a larger issue of misidentification in media, especially among non-white subjects.”
But are these constant apologies enough?
I spoke to Viviens Model, Shudia about her experiences in the Australian industry.
“I can definitely understand where Aduts anger comes from. With me, I used to get called other black models names all the time during fashion week. It got to the point where I didn’t even bother correcting anyone.
“Although what the magazine did was wrong, I could see why it happened. Black models are rarely put into Australian magazines…The only magazines where I’ve seen spreads of black models in Australia would be artsy ones like RUSSH.
“I think the magazine made that mistake because they are not used to having black models and don’t really know or care about the difference between each model. I think what they did was an act of ignorance and was really insensitive.
“The word racist is so strong, and I wouldn’t have used that to describe the magazine and basically the whole industry. The magazine made that mistake because of the lack of inclusivity, not because they are all racists. That’s what I think.”
When it comes down to it, we can say we have come far, but we can do better. We need to see genuine representation of all ethnicities in the industry.
There is a huge difference between brands using people of colour as a way to tap into the current popular culture or casting a small handful of models of different skin shades in order to gain applause and media attention.
Many high profile models have spoken out about this issue, including American model Chanel Iman;
“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.”
Tyra Banks has also been a long time advocate for increasing representation in the fashion industry – and rightly so she has cautioned the industry for years to not just use peoples skin colour as a trend for their seasons look.
“The industry is liberal and cyclical, and trends”, Banks said in a Glamour interview.
“Oh, it’s a black-girl season! Oh, it’s a Brazilian season! OK, now where are they? Oh, it’s the Russians! Oh, now it’s the Asian girls!
“To me, race is not a trend. My skin is not a trend; your skin is not a trend. We are who we are, so we should not go in and out of fashion.
“The trend should be what we put on our bodies, not our bodies. And so that’s the part of fashion that I don’t like, is they’ll say, ‘Oh, the chocolate girls with the short hair is in for two years.’ And now, where’s that girl? She’s trying to figure out how she’s going to pay her bills, because she’s no longer hot, and cannot pay to get hired. And that’s what hurts me.”
This is an issue all over the fashion industry, no matter what country you find yourself in. British Vogue had twelve years between casting a black model on a solo cover of the magazine. Naomi Campbell was on the cover back in 2002, but we only saw another black model on a solo cover in 2015 when they featured Jourdan Dunn.
And there is no excuse for it either. Britain certainly wasn’t lacking a high calibre of models of colour over the 144 covers that were released over that time frame.
It’s one thing to book a token black model and call it diversity; but its a completely different ball game to have diversity and representation in a industry, and genuinely understand and appreciate why it is so important.
If brands are going to use and feature people of colour in the industry to further their artistic visions and cultural endeavours, the least we can do is get their picture right.
What do you think about the discrimination in the fashion industry? Let us know in the comments down below!