Fashion Lacks Diversity – Fewer POC Designers

Much has been said in the news media and within fashion itself about the lack of ethnic diversity among models, but in many ways, the situation on the runway simply reflects an even more extreme situation in the power structure of the industry itself.

“There were more high-profile black designers in the 1970s than there are today,” said Bethann Hardison, founder of the Diversity Coalition, ticking off the names: Willi Smith, Stephen Burrows, Arthur McGee, Scott Barrie, Jon Haggins. “We’re going backwards.”

Stephen Burrows. His celebrity client list consists of Diana Ross, Liza Minelli, Oprah and Naomi Campbell. Renowned as the first African-American designer to win a Coty Award and to launch a fragrance. Image courtesy of nubiansabode.com
Stephen Burrows. His celebrity client list consists of Diana Ross, Liza Minelli, Oprah and Naomi Campbell. Renowned as the first African-American designer to win a Coty Award and to launch a fragrance. Image courtesy of nubiansabode.com

Though in fact the numbers have stayed fairly steady over the decades, what has changed is the percentage; there were many fewer designers in New York in the 1970s over all (there was no official New York Fashion Week), meaning those five had much greater impact.

Read more on NY Times.

One of the many reasons, perhaps, from a personal perspective and coming from someone with an Asian background, being a fashion designer is not a job that can be considered as a serious profession. Most of the time, growing up, we’re conditioned to go a certain route, most likely either to be a doctor or an engineer. Even when we were asked to pick up instruments like the violin and piano, it was more to be pursued as a hobby, not a career. 

From left to right: Jason Wu,Richard Chai and Alexander Wang. Image courtesy of NY Times.com
From left to right: Jason Wu,Richard Chai and Alexander Wang. Image courtesy of NY Times.com

Decades ago, the exposure on the fashion industry was quite limited. There was hardly a fashion designer whose media personality transcended beyond fashion. People knew the brands, for sure, but hardly anyone knew who was the designer behind the collection. The democratisation of fashion, the rise of fashion bloggers and the money have helped to create a more favourable light so that fashion-related jobs can be considered as a serious profession.

Maybe with this, slowly but surely, we will see more diversity in and behind the runway.