“[There’s] a point where you get frustrated, where you give your body, mind, and time to an industry and you feel like, ‘Can you now support us, we’ve been the pioneers of your creativity, of your artistry, and of your inspiration so give us the platform and the voice that we need in order to continue,” supermodel Joan Smalls tells The Hollywood Reporter in a new interview.
While Smalls could be speaking about any number of creative industries (media among them), she is specifically speaking about her ongoing efforts to transform the fashion industry from within. Her first major initiative was the launched of Donate My Wage, which she founded amid the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, committing half her 2020 income to racial justice and diversity promoting organizations (the initiative earned her a spot on The Root 100). We spoke with Smalls for our Big Beauty Tuesday series soon after its launch, where she explained the impetus behind her philanthropic mission.
“As a concerned citizen, you feel helpless at times, so you start reflecting on different aspects of your life,” she told us. “And that being my career, which is one of the most important ones, you start thinking about, ‘what can I do to use my platform to help this movement—and how can my industry as well help?’”
More recently, Smalls has partnered with others in her industry to keep the momentum of last year’s promises fro diversity and inclusion going. Her agency, IMG, civil rights group Color of Change, and the Lindsay Peoples Wagner and Sandrine Charles-founded Black in Fashion Council have joined Smalls to launch #ChangeFashion, with the collective aim of “fighting racism in the fashion industry.”
Smalls, Color of Change, IMG and the Black in Fashion Council are working to turn things around by creating an industry-specific roadmap which champions representation of Black individuals at photoshoots and events, and having diverse photographers, crew, set designers, stylists and other creatives behind the camera.
#ChangeFashion has also developed inclusive content for creative consumption and marketing by explicitly recognizing Black creatives and fashion trends in Black culture. The initiative also is engaging more openly and effectively with Black communities by creating an ecosystem of maintaining supplier diversity, investing in Black talent, creating stronger talent pipelines to entering fashion, and taking a stand on issues that affect Black people.
If the effort sounds at all familiar, its because it parallels Color Of Change’s entertainment-focused initiative partnership with Michael B. Jordan and agencies WME and Endeavor, #ChangeHollywood.
“We’re really excited to be working with all the companies and people like Joan Smalls that are already partnering with Color of Change,” TGU50 2021 honorees Peoples Wagner and Charles told THR via a statement. “We’re making a full circle moment in trying to make sure that whatever companies or brands that we’re working with, whether that be front facing or back facing initiatives, that everything is really consistent.”
For Smalls, the issue is personal, and borne out of her own long-held frustration of being marginalized, pigeonholed and lowballed, despite being one of the top models in the game for over a decade—and the first Afro-Latina to become the face of Estee Lauder.
“It’s the micro-aggression and people in the industry don’t see it,” Smalls told THR.
As for Donate My Wage, that mission also continues, with nine new organizations added to the platforms’ recipient pool this summer: Black Girls Smile, Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, Black Voters Matter, Black Women for Wellness, Black Women’s Health Imperative, GYRL WONDER, Integrate NYC, National Police Accountability Project, and Woke Vote. Smalls told THR the groups chosen represent “various causes that I believe in from education, the LGBTQ community, scholarships, injustice in incarceration, women’s empowerment, and anything related to Black Lives Matter.” Those interested in donating a portion of their wage to support any of the organizations on the platform are encouraged to visit donatemywage.org,
“In order for us to see change there has to be movement,” Smalls added. “Everything I do is about bringing more inclusion into the fashion industry. Today I’m just continuing to donate when I can and having my friends doing the same, as well as speaking up where I can.”