Racial diversity within the fashion industry has been hotly debated for a number of years now, with the number of non-white models making up a tiny percentage of faces seen on the runway. The Fashion Spot looks into diversity each season and noted that of the 3,727 spots on the runway during New York Fashion Week’s SS16 season, 71.6% of models were white and a mere 28.4% were non-white – 10.7% black, 8.7% Asian and 4.2% Latina. This is up from 24.4% from AW15 and just 20.9% in SS15.
While change is achingly slow, the industry IS increasingly casting more models of colour than before. Naomi Campbell has been one of the most vocal advocates for diversity, regularly speaking out on the issue and mentoring models such as Jourdan Dunn, Joan Smalls and Malaika Firth. She has also spoken out about wanting this to be a long-lasting change in the industry rather than a trend, in one season and out the next. This is something that Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci fully supports. His second couture show at the house opened with 9 black girls, he was taken aback by the media coverage of his casting stating “It shouldn’t be a big deal – it should be normal”.
I appreciate and support the increasing diversity, as supported by model scounts, casting agents, creative directors and editors. As a woman of colour, it’s important for me to feel represented within fashion; fashion needs to feel attainable, not alienating. As someone with Indian heritage, I’ve never really seen many women who look like me outside of Bollywood. This is why I’ve been obsessed by 20 year old Indian model Neelam Gill, the first British Indian woman to break into the international fashion week circuit. Get it girl.
First scouted at The Clothes Show aged 13, Neelam saw Models1 aged 14 but focused on her studies…until repeated called from Burberry led to her catwalk debut at their AW14 show. I still remember when I saw her hit the runway, thinking ‘WHO is this girl?!’. Neelam was then shot by Mario Testino for her first Burberry campaign, earning the accolade of the first Indian model to be featured by the brand. Fast forward just two years and Neelam has agency representation in New York, Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Milan as well as London and has worked with the lines of Vogue, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Hunger and Wonderland. As well as being handpicked by Kanye West’s AW15 Yeezy show.
What I like most about Neelam is that she has a maturity way beyond her 20 years. A self-described feminist, she makes no apologies for earning more than her male counterparts – she’s well aware that the gender pay gap often swings in the other direction for the majority of women. A strong woman and great role model, she sees herself as ‘breaking boundaries’ of gender, race and class. She also has great taste in music, citing Tupac, Nas, Future, Krept & Konan and Kanye as favourites.
It’s strange to say this about someone that you’ve never met but I’m so happy and oddly proud of her continued success. I’m not the only one, she regularly retweets fans thanking her for representing brown girls on the international fashion stage. Finally, a girl in magazines who looks like me.