The Grio — As New York’s fashion week comes to a close, fashion lovers are reflecting on the continued lack of diversity inside the fashion world. Still, there are some signs of progress, which is evidenced by a growing number of black designers many of whom try to utilize models of color.
Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim are identical twins and they are also budding fashion designers. The sisters launched their fashion line, Mataano, which means twins in Somali in 2008. The Somalia born, Washington, D.C.-bred duo says that they started their line because of a simple love for fashion but soon began seeing themselves as an example for other aspiring designers, and as business owners who could help employ models of color.
Idyl says, “We always try to represent the multicultural world we live in; fashion publications and fashion shows routinely portray the world as nearly mono-racial. For this reason we always use black, Spanish, white and Asian models. Sometimes, you feel pressure to use white models so that your brand will be more mainstream, but we’ve decided we’d rather use diverse models and grow organically than to succumb to the pressure of using white models in order to gain more appeal.”
LaMont Jones a longtime fashion journalist has attended over 1,300 fashion shows during New York’s spring and fall fashion weeks over the course of the last 23 seasons. Jones says as far as he’s concerned black designers have always done a good job of being inclusive. “While a white designer can send out a lot of white models and not a single black model, a black model can’t send out a whole bunch of black models and no white models without there being a problem.”
That problem Jones says is that without diverse lineups on the catwalks, black designers will be pigeonholed as black designers, and therefore not be able to appeal to a diverse clientele. He uses famed designer Tracy Reeseas an example of a black designer who has used black models, but whose been able to maintain favorability with diverse audiences. Jones editor of The Style Arbiter says that white designers don’t necessarily face the same pressures. “I did see black models in appreciable number at a lot of shows, but still at some shows there were none.”