Joan Smalls is one of the most famous models working today. She’s scored numerous campaigns, strutted on countless catwalks and she was even in “Yonce.” She’s iconic!
But Smalls’s massive success hasn’t immunized her from discrimination, which she discussed on a panel held by Business of Fashion. Speaking with host Tim Blanks, famed transgender model Hari Nef, and IMG President Ivan Bart, Smalls detailed the prejudices she’s faced in the fashion industry. For example, despite landing numerous beauty and makeup campaigns, Smalls has never booked a hair job. “I’ve always had a struggle trying to get a hair campaign,” she said. "It’s mind-boggling. I’ve been on option, and they dropped me at the last minute. And the excuse was, ‘We were afraid to try something new.’ And by ‘new,’ they meant ‘We’ve never shot a Black girl.’”
Brands have also excluded her from certain “regional” campaigns. “For campaigns, it’s like, ‘OK, Joan’ll do this region, but in the group shot, Joan, you are excluded because you don’t sell, you don’t fit in that quota,’” she said.
She also referenced being the only non-white model at fashion shows, which continues to be a pervasive problem — New York, while still not great, has significantly improved on diversity, while the European Fashion Weeks consistently feature very few models of color. Smalls talked about seeing other WOC at castings who then wouldn’t be featured in the shows. “I saw a lot of beautiful women that fit a different description,” she said. “Why are they not here? Why are they not being represented? They are your consumer, so why not paint that beautiful picture?”
So, the fashion industry continues to be depressing. It’s disheartening to constantly hear so many similar stories from Black models, all of whom battle against fashion’s consistent racism. It can, and must, do better.
You can watch the video below for the whole panel, including valuable comments on diversity from Nef.
(h/t NY Mag)
(Photo: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
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