In recent years, there have been major improvements in terms of age regulations within the modeling industry. However, the discussion of age in fashion has almost completely gone silent, even though there are still several girls entering this chaotic lifestyle at a very young age.
At 14, Jane* was told that she could be a star. An enthusiastic talent agent scouted her in a crowded New York City Starbucks on a warm summer afternoon, and she signed with the Ford Modeling Agency less than a month later.
“I felt like I was Cinderella,” Jane says about her initial experience as a fashion model. “Complete with the beautiful slippers.”
However, Jane soon realized that her new career came with an abundance of pressure, and she began to witness the harsh reality of the fashion industry. “I saw a lot of the girls around me change themselves to please clients,” she says. “Most of the girls I worked with were just teenagers, and they were definitely taken advantage of and manipulated to fit in.”
Photo Credit: fashiondevotee.com
You’ve probably heard the name Bethann Hardison at least once recently. The Brooklyn native first made waves as one of the most successful black models during the 1970s, appearing on countless top-tier runways and magazine covers. Shortly after, she started the Bethann Management Agency, subsequently followed by the Black Girls Coalition, both of which aimed to help diversify the fashion industry. But that was just the beginning.
There’s no denying that race has played and interesting and often difficult role in fashion, as the industry noted for its unique viewpoints and varied ideologies has an unfortunate discriminatory tendency. However, Bethann Hardison has been arguably the most crucial player when it comes to integrating the industry, comparing her activism in one interview to the MTA’s “if you see something, say something policy.” There’s no doubt that Ms. Hardison is saying something.
And the world is finally listening.
Hardison’s biggest push towards diversifying the fashion industry – particularly in terms of modeling – came in 2013, when she teamed up with Naomi Campbell and Iman to launch Balance Diversity and the Diversity Coalition. Sure, most people noticed when the team wrote letters to the major governing fashion bodies in New York, London, Milan, and Paris, naming several major fashion houses that were guilty of the racist act of casting only white models in their presentations. But the statement was more than just some juicy gossip. Instead, it was the wakeup call that the industry finally needed.
Bethann Hardison’s valiant, thoughtful, courageous, and inspirational battle towards changing the immensely disappointing trend of implicit and explicit racism in fashion was honored at the monumental CFDA Awards on Monday, June 2. Receiving the Founder’s Award for her relentless work, the iconic figure finally received the support of the American fashion realm – looking stunning in an embellished Prabal Gurung gown, nonetheless.
Of course, change doesn’t happen over night, a fact that Bethann Hardison has mentioned before. However, we have been seeing some – albeit small – improvements regarding diversity in the fashion industry. While we can only hope for this to progress, we have to note Bethann Hardison’s pivotal role in making one of the greatest changes imaginable.
Thank you Bethann Hardison.