Chanel Iman on the Issue of Racism in Fashion

Chanel Iman

Chanel Iman

NEW YORK, NY July 23, 2016

We’ve seen slow but steady progress when it comes to diversity in fashion. However, the industry still has a long way to go, and in the wake of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, more and more models of color are speaking out about their personal struggles with racism and voicing the need for further, more immediate change. On July 12, Calvin Klein model Ebonee Davis penned a powerful letter calling out the “systematic” problems facing the industry. Four days later, during an interview with Teen Vogue, OG model of color Chanel Iman gave her opinion on the issue.

“I think it was a struggle when I first started, just because it was always one black girl per show, or campaign, or whatever it was. I couldn’t stand it, because I just felt like I was being judged a lot, rather than accepted for who I was,” the now 25-year-old model recalled. “I feel like fashion’s opened up a lot with having rappers in campaigns, and more color on the runway, but of course there’s room for more of it, and more diversity. It’s nice to be part of a culture change.”

Despite the challenges she faced starting out, Iman’s attitude toward the glacial pace of change is, surprisingly, far more forgiving than that of many of her peers — and even mentors. Like Ebonee Davis, British model Leomie Anderson recently called out the many makeup artists and hair stylists who remain unschooled when it comes to working with darker skin and natural black hair: “Why is it that the black make-up artists are busy with blonde, white girls and slaying their make-up and I have to supply my own foundation? Why are there more white make-up artists backstage than black when black ones can do all races’ make-up? This is probably the first season that a white hairdresser hasn’t said to me ‘Oh I’ve done Naomi Campbell’s weave, I know what I’m doing.’” Naomi herself echoed Leomie’s sentiments, stating it was “disappointing to hear that models of color are still encountering these same issues.”




At the end of the day, whether it’s put diplomatically or uncompromisingly, the need for further, more rapid evolution is apparent to anyone looking at the fashion industry from within and without, and the more high-profile models who speak up, the better.