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Time to Publicly Shame Fashion Designers

Fashion Week's runways are still staggeringly white, and one woman is calling out clothing designers.

Bethann Hardison (Andy Kropa/GettyImages)

(The Root) -- It's Fashion Week in New York, where fashion designers are presenting their 2014 spring and summer collections. There's excitement in the air and a lot of money on the line.

And while insiders and laypeople alike have plenty of thoughts about next year's styles, very few are thinking about activism -- in particular addressing the lack of models of color that grace Gotham City's runways. Indeed, if you look for a moment at the advertisements that fill up fashion and lifestyle magazines, the billboards that hang in big cities to lure customers to wear specific designers' clothes or even the editorial features in print and on TV, you quickly realize that the alluring images staring at you are not reflective of the current demographic of American culture.

That issue has been the cause célèbre for fashion revolutionist Bethann Hardison, a former model who has been stoking the flames of diversity in the industry for years. With her dear friends supermodels Iman and Naomi Campbell -- as well as a corps of anonymous power brokers in the fashion industry -- she has taken the complaint to all of the international organizing bodies of the fashion industry to say it is not OK to have the token one model of color or, even more frequently, none.

Indeed, they wrote a briefly anonymous letter last month that named all of the designers globally that used one or no models of color in their fashion shows in February 2013. Fifty fashion houses were named, including Chanel, Prada, Versace and Marc by Marc Jacobs. The goal is for designers to recognize that it is not acceptable to have color-free runways, and for them to do something about it.

A challenge, of course, is that if people continue to buy clothing from designers who do not represent them, the argument could fall on deaf ears. Hardison, who received the New York Urban League's Frederick Douglass Medallion earlier this year for her untiring work on behalf of black models, hopes that putting designers on blast who use no models of color may help wake them up and spur them to take more inclusive action.

Hardison sat down and talked with The Root this week to see where things stand. Read on to find out what she had to say.

The Root: You started this exploration into the state of the black model back in 2007, hosting conversations with industry leaders -- casting agents, modeling agents, models, editors and more. Have things changed since that time?

Bethann Hardison: After that first meeting, things got better. The modeling agencies got better girls. Designers began to hire models of color. Change did happen. But it wasn't enough. It lacked a consistency.

TR: It feels bigger this time.

BH: Before, it was a conversation, kind of a hug, a kumbaya moment, to get people thinking. This time it is bigger.