Has fashion truly embraced diversity? For me the answer is no

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  • A fashion and beauty influencer speaks frankly about why she deleted her Instagram account last week and quit the industry for good

    There is a difference between having a voice and actually being heard, between talking about diversity and inclusiveness and actually doing something about it.

    A week ago I had a fashion blog and an Instagram page with a following of almost 40k. I did shoots with major fashion and beauty brands including Reiss, Gap, Sweaty Betty, Dove, Marks & Spencer, Guess, Paige, Boden, River Island, Pandora and more. Because my 10 year-long journey has equated to 10 years of anxiety, 10 years of tears, 10 years of helplessness, 10 years of self-doubt, 10 years of depression.

    When I was approached to write this article, I wasn’t sure if my message would be heard. I’d had negative experiences in the past. In 2018, I was asked by the BBC  to write a short piece on the of topic ‘diversity and inclusiveness’ in the fashion industry. Sadly my frankness was not appreciated by the journalist who interviewed me. She was ‘shocked’ that I was so negative about the industry and assumed I was being ungrateful.

    My journey in the industry has been lonely, with little to no support from the industry but also from black content creators who have a certain degree of power to make a difference but don’t due to pressure, competition and lack of support they themselves have had to experience to get where they are in their journey.

    Lots of people have said they support me, including high profile people but the support seems to be all words and no action. The responsibility seems to be all on me for ‘failing’ and sometimes it feels as though people are waiting for me to commit an internet suicide so they could later say ‘what a shame!’.

    When BLM was trending, I felt frustrated as the most brutal lesson came in to sharp focus; that white thin(ish) female privilege is everywhere and what’s more there are those willing to use  it and a black man’s death for their own social media advantage.

    The fashion industry has taught me that being beautiful, talented, creative or hard worker simply isn’t enough. To be the complete package you must be white and female. Only then can you choose to be yourself without being attached to a stereotype. If you’re not, like me, these are some of the things you can expect and that I experienced.

    1)  Being told that I was too reserved, needed to show more confidence, become more fierce, sassy – flamboyant and over the top. Would anyone tell a white influencer the same?

    2) Being told to re-shoot and wear a wig instead of my own hair on a shampoo campaign.

    3) Being advised to find a white girl, preferably from London to take pictures with and appear to be close to so I could have more credibility in the industry.

    4) During BLM while on a break from posting, being advised to log back in, use the hashtag as many times as possible and gain from the exposure. Lots of black bloggers were doing it. If I didn’t do it, I would regret it.

    5) Being asked to comment only on ‘diversity’ as if I am not relevant to comment on anything else, my only specialism in life is being black.

    6) Being told that working relationships with brands would be paid in ‘gifts’ while others would be paid cash instead.

    I could go on…

    Lack of diversity is a problem and only hurts the industry by dividing people and creating barriers for new and innovative ideas. During fashion month, it’s rare to see diversity both front facing and behind the scenes, and this is sad.

    So has fashion embraced diversity & inclusiveness in 2020? The answer for me is no. If you are LGBTQ+, you must be flamboyant/loud & stereotypical. Disabled people are sometimes are included in shows but often as a token rather than for a real positive impact. Plus size must be a particular type of plus size with big boobs and tiny waist, petite models are often ignored, people with dwarfism are not even acknowledged, hijab models are starting to break through but there’s only a handful and I wonder how challenging is it for them to obtain genuine acceptance. The fashion industry is set in its ways and change will take time. During the BLM protests, a number of white influences and industry leaders chose to shout out creators of colour on their page. But why the sudden act of kindness and empathy when they’d been quiet for so long – and why only then or Black History Month.

    I hope for change but fear that the guilt of being at home with nothing to do gave us all the illusion that a change was happening when in fact it is slow. The industry has ALWAYS had double standards when it comes to race. Things are not amazing until a white female has done it. We’ve seen it with braids (and no I am not talking about German braids, I am talking about traditional African braids). We’ve seen it in other parts of fashion and we’ve also seen it in the music industry.

    I deeply regret diving into the fashion industry for the personal impact it has had on me. For others about to embark on the journey I wish them luck.

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