How the call for diversity is changing the landscape of modelling industry


The global fashion industry has been a whitewashed space for too long—especially where models are concerned. But over the last few years, fashion morphed from a rarefied universe into a spectator sport with VIP access for everyone via social media. This soon led to call-outs on the lack of diversity and questions like ‘Where are models that look like me?’ It was time to update the proverbial cover girl. And in this brave new world, models of colour have begun breaking barriers: In 2018, Winnie Harlow stepped on to the Victoria’s Secretrunway and became the first VS angel with vitiligo. In 2017, Halima Aden became the first hijabi model to not only make her New York Fashion Week debut on the Yeezy runway but also landed the cover of Vogue Arabia, British Vogue and Teen Vogue. In 2013, Neelam Gill became the first Indian model to walk for Burberry in the label’s 160-year history and went on to front their beauty campaign. Pooja Mor has a slideshow-worthy set of Vogue covers, while Bhumika Arora’s list of global runway appearances is quite literally a mile long. But is this change being felt in India? Three Indian models unpack the effect of colourism in the modelling industry and explain how the call for diversity is slowly changing the landscape.

“I was recently on a shoot with models across ages and ethnicities—the idea was to give us a say in how we were represented. The makeup artist used a lip colour that would be nude on a white model but totally washed me out. When I told her, she said she was happy with the effect. Thankfully, the creative director took one look at it and asked for a change. People are trying to bring in more diversity but they struggle with how to do it. The first step is to hire talent that has experience working with a spectrum of skin tones and is willing to listen to my opinion about my own face. Internationally, the industry is questioning the lack of diversity, but it’s not mainstream and you have to wonder whether it’s just lip service. When you’re in New York, the city considered to be the Olympics of modelling, you feel lucky you’re working here—after all, there’s only about half a dozen other Indian girls modelling in a city of 8 million people! As talent, we were voiceless at one point, intimidated by a setup where everyone was older and has been in the industry longer, and we were grateful to just be a part of all of this. But social media has helped us broadcast our issues—things are changing and it’s fantastic that there are more opportunities today than ever before.”