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)
Bethann Hardison (Andy Kropa/GettyImages)

BH: That’s funny to me. If [designers] aren’t afraid of legal ramifications, why should I be? I was just talking about what the designers displayed on their runways. If there [were] any backlash, what would it be? They won’t invite me to their fashion shows anymore? Or send me any clothes? I have nothing to lose.

Honestly, no matter what their intention was with their casting, this is the result of it. And many have taken notice. One hundred six media outlets caught the WWD story and wrote about it the same day.

TR: What are your thoughts about this New York Fashion Week and the plight of models of color?

BH: I am always happy to bring fun to the party. This, to me, is that. Fashion Week is corny to me at this point. I kept saying to the coalition that this is going to be fun. When we do things like this, it helps to shake things up.

It brings energy and people who basically are in the status quo of it all, caught up in it, [who] need to wake up. I really believe that it brings a certain pride to people, especially when I’m with the downtown kids. They feel like something has shifted. It’s a paradigm shift. It’s important that people walk away thinking it is a paradigm shift. It is radical. Now we are preparing for London.

TR: Given the magnitude of this push this go-round, I wonder what made you feel you could take on the international design community.

BH: You get to a certain time when you are on the earth and you just have to do it. I was one of the people in the industry who always knew I had to speak up. I come from the garment industry. I was a model. I had a modeling agency. And I am not afraid to speak up. You help others who know that they need someone to say something.

I feel like people in the industry are waiting for the bus to come. Somebody just needed to say it for them. The industry will improve one way or the other. But this isn’t one baseball that we hit out of the park and we get to go home. We have to keep on hitting.

TR: Why does it matter if there are models of color on the runway?

BH: It helps society. For me it’s bigger than that, too. It helps educate people around you. It helps smarten society. Designers are good people. I think most of them are good people.

Casting directors and stylists may have some issues selecting models because they are uneducated. This is a brief slo-mo education. They may think, “I’ll get a few black girls.” It ain’t gonna work like that. We need more than one good black girl, brown girl, Asian girl, mulatto girl, East Indian girl. So we can show them. People have to [have] a sense of responsibility because that is how the world is shaped. And that is their customer.

Our industry is a wee bit of an embarrassment. If we keep it quiet, it ain’t; but if we turn the light on it, it is. I think it is important to help our industry look better and smarter.

TR: What is the bottom line here?

BH: I am so sick of someone feeling comfortable doing the same thing over and over again. It’s because they don’t see [not using models of color in their shows] as a problem. We know it is a problem. We need to balance diversity. Make them aware of that.

I am a revolutionist. I’ve learned that activism needs to remain active. You have to keep a foot on the gas or the car seems to stop. We have to pay attention. This movement is huge. There is a lot more to come.

Harriette Cole is the author of the newly released book of meditations 108 Stitches: Words We Live By and is a contributing editor at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.