Fashion has started to address its diversity problem, but the action being taken isn’t holistic.
If the desire for a just and egalitarian society alone isn’t enough, studies prove time and again that companies with diverse workforces perform better; that the representation we see on screen isn’t meeting demand, and that inclusivity makes us more creative as individuals.
In recent years, the fashion industry has finally started addressing its diversity problem, albeit more emphatically in front of the lens than behind it. Even then, though, the action taken isn’t holistic — diversity isn’t being considered in every sense of the word. More emphasis is placed on womenswear than menswear, reinforcing the argument for genderless or co-ed collections.
“The industry has come a long way and we should give it credit for recognizing and making the efforts to change,” says London-based casting director Troy Fearn, who counts Gucci, Moncler, and Botter among his clients. “While it’s great that the majority of model agencies now represent women of all sizes, the same cannot be said for their male counterparts. Diversity and representation isn’t just a black-and-white issue. Moving forward, I would like to see this widened to include all people — disabilities, genders, size, races, everyone.”
With the men’s season now spilling over into the women’s ready-to-wear, largely due to logistical complications caused by the ongoing pandemic, we spoke to five male models who shared their experiences and the action they’d like to see for fashion to become truly inclusive.
LA-based Haatepah Clearbear hails from the Kumeyaay and Chichimeca-Guamare tribes of what is now the Mexico and California border. The 23-year-old uses the platform his modeling work provides him (clients include Nike, Missoni and Apple) to raise awareness about Indigenous rights and environmental issues, while his TikTok videos provide bite-size lessons in Native American history.
How have your experiences been of working in the fashion industry?
“Mostly positive, I’ve only had one negative experience where my twin brother Nyamuull [who is also a model] and I were asked to do a war dance on set. Certain dances and songs are sacred, and shouldn’t be portrayed [in fashion imagery]. Right now, I’m one of the only Indigenous Native American male models working in fashion. As a kid, I didn’t have that representation, so I tell myself: ‘Be the person you wish you could have looked up to.’”
What does working with the American Indian Movement West and the Indigenous Alliance Movement involve?
“Our goal is to unify the Indigenous peoples (north, central and south) so we can support each other. There’s the huge problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). Last year, Indigenous conservationist Homero Gómez González was murdered for simply trying to protect butterflies. My brother and I have been fundraising for the Kumeyaay people so they can have the internet in their community.”
What message do you want to communicate through modeling and activism?
“Be curious and proud of where you come from. Even if you aren’t Indigenous, connecting with our culture can help protect the planet. Our culture goes hand-in-hand with protecting Earth — we look upon her as a mother.”
In 2016, Tunisia-born, French Riviera-raised model Ali Latif was scouted during fashion week in the Paris bakery where he worked. The 23-year-old has gone on to front Versace, Coach and H&M campaigns, while through his music he has articulated his struggle to find a sense of identity. He has a simple order for the fashion industry: “Hire more Arab models.”
How was your initial experience of modelling?
“After working with Champion in Los Angeles in 2017, I knocked on so many agencies’ doors, but they remained shut. Some wouldn’t let me in when they saw my face on the intercom. So I went for it: I’d stop male models in the street and ask them where they were going; I’d follow them into castings; I’d catch the designer on their lunch break and explain how much I wanted to walk for them. I made my way on to five runways in one season this way.”
As your profile grew, did you continue to experience discrimination?
“I was asked to change my name to a ‘more friendly origin’. I’ve already cut it down from Mohammed Ali Abdelatif to Ali Latif, but was told to switch to Al instead — erasing any traces of Arab origin. I refuse to erase my identity for an industry that doesn’t want me as I am. There is a lack of representation of French Arabs; it’s my mission to show a more realistic, diverse facet of France.”
When Kansas City-born fashion photographer Steven Green posted images of himself on social media, he unexpectedly received the attention of casting directors. Having starred in a men’s underwear campaign for Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty line, the 27-year-old is using his growing following to promote body positivity and racial diversity.
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How was the experience of starring in the Savage x Fenty campaign?
“Shooting for Fenty was a surreal moment. Me being of my size, I wasn’t totally confident taking up the opportunity at first. It was my first time being shirtless on the internet. The positive feedback was inspiring — men who had never seen someone that looks like them in mainstream fashion shared that they were going to take more risks and have more confidence in themselves.”
What is the most recurring stigma you’re combatting?
“That I’m unhealthy. But I want to communicate that health doesn’t have a size, that it can’t be determined by someone’s physical appearance. Health is more than what you look like; it’s also intellectual, emotional, mental, but that’s rarely talked about.”
Fifty-one-year-old mechanical engineer Ivo Raspudic was scouted in 2014 at his office Christmas party by Eva Gödel (the wife of a colleague). Four days after signing with Gödel’s agency Tomorrow is Another Day, Raspudic was booked to walk in a Prada show and is now a Balenciaga regular.
What are the pros and cons of starting a modelling career at an older age?
“My age has been a plus; it’s allowed me to enter the industry with life experience. I wouldn’t say ‘yes’ to a job that would require me to change who I am, what I eat or how I live. I have a son (25) and a daughter (21) and they can’t believe it when they see me sitting on the couch with crisp crumbs all over me one week, and walking for Balenciaga the next. My approach to modelling allows me to bring a sense of calm into an often tense environment.”
Why is diversity in fashion so important?
“People need someone to look up to in any industry, no matter your age. I have people tell me how great it is for them to see someone in their age group doing what I do, wearing what I wear. It’s nice to know that it sends a message of inclusivity — that fashion is for everyone.”
Has the industry become more inclusive?
“When I first got into modeling, there were very few successful young Black male models. Now I go to castings and occasionally I see equal numbers of Black boys and white boys, but there is a long way to go.”
How can the fashion industry do more to spotlight talent from Africa?
“Is the industry doing something? Yes! Is it enough? No! I’d like to see more being done to make it easier for models from Africa to travel. Male modelling isn’t recognised as a real job and a lot of African models find themselves unable to work in Europe and the US.”
Originally published on Vogue.co.uk