It's official: color is in this fall!
While bold color statements struck the runways in NYC this past week, the trend of mixing colors from opposite sides of the spectrum does not make it pass the garments.
What comes to mind when you think of the fashion industry? Maybe it is the glitz and glam, or the gorgeous (but overly thin) models, or even the high quality and exceedingly overpriced brand names. Well, what comes to mind when I think of the fashion industry is a community that embraces creativity, change, and diversity through the art of design. To me, fashion is a community of visionaries. Made up of people who want to spread their message through over-the-top fashion shows, such as Chanel's Spring-Summer 2015 feminist protest or the balls out debut of Rick Owens Fall-Winter 2015 Menswear collection, through controversial ad campaigns featuring same sex couples, and even with collaborations that help benefit a fashionable cause.
As I have gained more of an inside look into the fierce world of fashion these past couple of years, my view on the industry has changed -- not for the better. While I endorse and rock this multi-faceted color trend spotted on the Fall-Winter 2015 runways, in magazines, and on my favorite style blogs, it does not make up for the lack of color that exists amongst the professionals in the industry.
Pop quiz! Name six men or women of color in the fashion industry -- they cannot be models. Time's up! If you have one name or a blank list, you are probably not the only one. As a black woman pursuing a career in fashion and having knowledge of the industry, naming six men or women of color off the top of my head was challenging. How does an industry that is built on "creatively evolving" have such a low representation of men and women of color on and off the catwalk? I am aware that white is in every season, but was not aware all white was in too.
In an article in The New York Times written by Eric Wilson called Fashion's Blind Spot, former models, designers, and casting directors state that the representation people of color in the industry has decreased since the 80's and 90's when designers like Calvin Klein, Versace, and Yves Saint Laurent cast women of color without question. The iconic model Iman was even quoted in Wilson's article saying, "We have a president and a first lady who are black, you would think things have changed, and then you realize they have not. In fact, things have gone backward." The fashion and style director of W magazine Edward Enninful added, "The fashion industry needs to breed a whole different way of thinking. We need more diverse people working in all facets of the industry."
So, how can the fashion world get more women of color working in all aspects of the industry? You might be thinking they just need to apply and if they are qualified they are in. I wish it were that easy. In the fashion industry, like most industries, you need internships that show some experience from within the field. And unfortunately a majority of fashion internships are unpaid, which often excludes candidates who can only afford paid positions. In an article David Carr wrote for The New York Times called Overlook the Value of Interns at Great Peril he says, "These internships are by their very nature discriminatory. Only a certain kind of young person can afford to spend a summer working for no pay. According to sources at the major publishers, more than one in five of these plum spots typically go to people who are connected one way or another." I cannot tell you how many times I have attended fashion events and conferences where there are over 100 attendees, but only maybe five to seven people of color in the room. Or the numbers of times I have heard people respond to how they got their internship with "through a family friend." I am all about networking and using your connections; it is one of my go to strategies when applying for a position. But, the reality is networking and building connections is a privilege, which leaves a majority of candidates out. I will admit the fashion industry is exclusive when it comes to affording luxury brands, but when it comes to working in the industry there is no reason it should be as or even more unattainable than buying a Hermès Birkin bag.
The change for more diversity must start from the bottom just like people going into the industry are required to do. So, the first and most significant step would be to make more paid internships. According to InternMatch, "paid internships are attractive to diverse candidates -- especially those in debt." The data the site compiled states that a large majority of those who are in debt after earning their bachelor's degree are African American (81 percent) and Latino (67 percent).
Fashion is a billion dollar industry, so it should not be that hard to scrape up some pocket change and pay interns. Like getting those extra yards of unique and bold fabric colors to create a collection that will stand out from others, fashion houses, designers, and publications should start offering more paid internships to stand out and diversify their teams. Brainstorming and collaborating with minds and people from various backgrounds leads to ideas that can target society as a whole -- bring more of an audience to specific brands or publications. Once the industry begins to offer more paid internships, things can evolve. And eventually the fashion industry will truly be creatively evolving on the interior as much as they are on the exterior.