More than a dozen Black models have chosen to boycott Melbourne Fashion Week (MFW) to bring attention to the racism and discrimination they have experienced within Australia’s fashion industry.
The group of 13 models has come forward with allegations, shedding light on a range of issues, including racial slurs, pay disparities, and a lack of diversity.
Their actions aim to address a deep-seated problem that they believe wouldn’t be tolerated in the diverse and inclusive fashion landscapes of Europe and the United States.
These models have made revelations, stating that they have not only experienced discrimination but also witnessed fellow industry members use racial slurs and make derogatory comments about their hair.
Additionally, they have highlighted pay disparities that favor white models, adding that they are tokenized and underpaid during high-profile events like fashion weeks in Australia.
One of the models, Awar Malek, even went so far as to describe working in the Australian fashion industry as “a form of self-destruction.”
This boycott is their way of challenging the status quo, demanding that the industry address these issues that have been swept under the rug for far too long.
These models have not restricted their allegations to Melbourne Fashion Week alone. Instead, they see the issues they face as emblematic of a broader problem within the Australian fashion industry.
In their view, MFW is just one component of a larger systemic issue that permeates the industry as a whole.
They aim to raise awareness about the nature of these problems and seek change that can improve working conditions for models of color and put an end to discrimination.
One of the aspects of this boycott is that it stems from a collective effort by the models. This unity strengthens their voices and enhances the impact of their message.
Jeffrey Kissubi, a 29-year-old model, explains that their collective action has more weight than individual complaints that have been dismissed or ignored in the past. By coming together, they hope to create a more push for reform.
The models have also accused brands of engaging in tokenism, suggesting that they hire Black models primarily during fashion weeks to enhance their diversity image but then proceed to underpay and mistreat them.
This practice reflects a common issue in the industry, where brands tokenize models of color for short-term gains while perpetuating systemic racism.
They stress that this pattern must be exposed and eradicated. Pay disparities in the industry are a concern for these models.
While they acknowledge that some higher-profile models from diverse backgrounds may receive competitive compensation, they highlight that the majority of models of color are underpaid compared to their white counterparts.
The claim that they are the “cheapest” models is both demoralizing and unjust, as it exposes the industry’s discriminatory pay practices.
Lack of diversity isn’t limited to the runway; it extends to the hair and makeup artists, casting agencies, and photographers.
The models have stressed that the industry’s failure to embrace diversity in these areas only exacerbates their experiences of discrimination.
For instance, Nyaluak Leth, who relocated to the UK where “Black models are celebrated and valued,” shared an instance where a fellow Black model had to braid her own hair because she didn’t trust that anyone knew how to do it properly.
This illustrates the industry’s shortcomings in accommodating and respecting diverse backgrounds. The City of Melbourne, the organizer of Melbourne Fashion Week, has responded to these allegations.
A spokesperson for the city stated that all models at the event are paid equally, except for higher-profile models, including those from diverse backgrounds, who receive different compensation.
They also claim that the standard rate is comparable or even above that of similar fashion events. The organizers insist that they were not aware of any concerns related to diversity or race within the event and emphasize their strict stance against any form of discrimination.
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