Racism has insidiously found its way into a multi-billion dollar global fashion industry ---- and two black fashion icons have launched a campaign to raise awareness about it.
Naomi Campbell and Iman say the lack of racial diversity in the fashion industry is widespread and needs to be addressed with vigour.
"The absence of people of colour on the runways and photography reinforces to our young girls that they're not beautiful enough, that they're not acceptable enough," Iman tells CNN. "The diversity that we live in, the world that we live in, is not what is shown on the runway."
The two women have been busy writing to the major fashion councils of New York, London, Milan and Paris as part of their Balance Diversity campaign. Balance Diversity is part activist group, part blog, and part watchdog.
"Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use ... one or no models of colour. No matter the intention, the result is racism," reads their open letter to the Council of Fashion Designers of America dated September 5.
Campbell maintains that the situation for black models has become worse since she started gracing the runways.
"When I started modeling in '86 there was Asians, blacks, whites, Indians, Chinese. It was very diverse," Campbell says. "It's not like that today. It's heartbreaking to me that we're in 2013 and we're sitting here talking about this. But it has to be done and people need to know."
Campbell's former model agent Carole White, who managed her career for 17 years, fully admits that she is harder on black models and expects perfection or she won't cast them.
"I think clients have this perception that black girls do not sell products, which goes way back to the '50s. I think it's ingrained in every magazine editor. There are more products for blonde and blue-eyed girls," says White.
By all accounts, Campbell and Iman's efforts may have paid off. The Associated Press notes that there was a mild uptick in diversity on the runways last week at Fashion Week in New York City.
"The fashion world goes through these moments where people think that to get their message across they have to have one certain type of model," says designer Nanette Lepore, who whose runway featured a diverse group of models. "At one point everyone had to look like Kate Moss. Or it's Eastern European, or it's Brazilian."
What are your thoughts on the lack of ethnic diversity in the fashion industry? What is the best way to address it?