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Activist Bethann Hardison Issues Progress Report on Diversity Ahead of Fashion Week

When New York Fashion Week kicks off on Thursday, many commentators will be watching the runways closely — not just to see which collections will be most coveted come fall, but also to see whether designers have heeded the call to showcase more Black models.

That call for action was sent out in September, at the start of the previous NYFW, by Bethann Hardison, a prominent fashion activist and former model. On behalf of the Diversity Coalition, a group of like-minded advocates and industry members, Hardison wrote a letter to the governing bodies of Fashion Weeks in New York, Paris, London and Milan, asking why “fashion design houses consistently use … one or no models of color,” and accusing specific designers of racism on the runway.

“Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society,” the letter read in part. “No matter the intention, the result is racism.”

“This is just round one. There’s more,” Hardison told The Huffington Post at the time.

This week, she delivered on that promise.

Hardison and the Diversity Coalition sent out another email to the governing bodies of the world’s Fashion Weeks Tuesday, detailing the progress — and lack thereof — seen on the runway this past season.

The letter reads:

“Last season we addressed the international fashion industry for their lack of conduct in being racially diverse. There was a marked improvement on the runways and a positive response to the letters received by the major fashion councils and the designer brands they count as members. First, we will share the results.

“It is important to say that there are design houses serviced by casting directors and stylists who are latent, as they seem comfortable with stereotypical images.

“Although progress was made last season within certain houses, the objective is to continue this improvement across the entire industry. We look for consistency and not because of advocacy or a season lending to darker skin.

“So we will continue to watch and reveal season to season.

“Diversifying is not difficult. The resistance to do so is intriguing.”

Hardison and the coalition provide a tally of models of color employed during the September 2013 shows by several designers, all of which had previously cast one or no non-Caucasian models during the February 2013 shows. Overall, there was an uptick, with some design houses adding as many as four or five models of color.

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