Fashion has long held a bad reputation for its whitewashed runways. But thankfully ethnically diverse model casting has been at the forefront of the agenda for some time now and the value of diversity is increasingly being recognised. There is a lot more visibility for Black models, but for other Black people within the industry– not so much. Yet the industry thrives from having ethnically diverse figures, because they contribute alternative perspectives to fashion - making it more creative, inclusive and more varied.
This month Graduate Fashion Week celebrates Black History Month by shining a light on the huge contribution Black people have made in the fashion industry.
Edward Enninful OBE
The British Editor-in-Chief of Vogue needs no introduction, having made headlines for being the first man and the first black editor in British Vogue’s 100-year history.
But before he replaced Alexandra Shulman as Editor, he was a Contributing Editor for American Vogue for six years from 2005, working closely with Anna Wintour. He was also one of the few black stylists with a strong degree of influence, who included minority models in his work wherever possible. When his British Vogue appointment was announced, there were high expectations for him to bring Vogue into the 21st century by representing minorities and he did not disappoint! Enninful has succeeded in diversifying and championing inclusivity by including cover stars like Rihanna, Adwoa Aboah, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Oprah. For the May 2018 edition, Enninful styled a group cover shoot featuring top models: Adut Akech, Faretta, Fran Summers, Halima Aden, Paloma Elsesser, Radhika Nair, Selena Forrest, Vittoria Ceretti, and Yoon Young Bae. The result was a beautiful, impactful and incredibly diverse cover, featuring Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) models.
Enninful's actions have had a ripple effect, influencing other magazines to follow suit.
Beyond that, he has also helped Vogue find its digital voice. The first announcement Vogue made once Enninful became Editor-in-Chief was that the magazine was joining Snapchat. Enninful clearly has his fingers on the pulse of popular culture and social media and is aware that the magazine needs to establish a digital presence to secure it's future.
Since Enninful's appointment, Vogue's online presence has strengthened becoming more distinct from its print counterpart. The jewel in the crown of Vogue.co.uk is Raven Smith, who's razor-sharp wit and brilliantly observed column sets him apart from other journalists.
'Friday night with Raven Smith' is the weekly column we didn't know we needed. His hilarious insights into fashion, lifestyle, politics and entertainment can also be found on his Instagram @raven__smith.
His Instagram account with a 40k following reflects his daily personal outlook, and his captions - often unrelated to fashion, offers a chance to get to know the somewhat mysterious writer.
Another well known name in the fashion industry (and particular favourite for the GFW team) is Duro Olowu.
This London based lawyer-turned-designer launched his brand in 2004 and received the New Designer of the Year award at the British Fashion Awards one year later. His rise to prominence caught the attention of Michelle Obama and he is now a part of an exclusive list of designers the former First Lady chooses to wear and support. His clothing is often inspired by 1970s tailoring and influenced by his Nigerian and Jamaican heritage.
Last year the designer was also one of the judges for the esteemed Christopher Bailey Award at Graduate Fashion Week.
The 24 year old Canadian model challenged conventional beauty standards when she first came onto the modelling scene. Now she features in campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger and was recently confirmed to walk for the annual Victoria's Secret show paving the way for others with skin conditions. Having lived most of her life with vitiligo and being part of an industry that is so imaged-based, Harlow is in a unique position where she can raise awareness about the condition. In November 2014, she gave a speech at a TED event about her experience with vitiligo. In 2015, she received the ‘Role Model’ award at the Portuguese GQ Men of The Year event - and well deserved too. She demonstrates that you can live a normal life with vitiligo and encourages young people to embrace what makes them different.
As a person of colour it is important to recognise these figures and the work they have done. Myself and the GFW team hope that anyone reading this feels empowered and inspired to pursue a career in fashion.
Words by Jasmin Oakes