In the Balenciaga show at Paris Fashion Week 2017, 47 models walked the runway. Only four of them were people of color. It was worse in the Gucci show in Milan on February 22, where there were only 17 models of color out of 119 total models.
It’s against this background that model Indi Irvin, a U.K.-based model of color, launched her own protest at the Balenciaga show. Holding up a sign that read “Les Modèles Noirs Importent” (“Black Models Matter”), she and a couple of other models joined the protest against the brand that has an unfortunate history of ignoring models of color. For example, during 2016’s Paris Fashion Week, not a single non-white model walked for Balenciaga.
New York Fashion Week has taken strides to be more inclusive of models of color, even though those strides are slow, but it seems Paris, Milan, and London are still coming up short on that front.
Why did Irvin think the time was right to make this protest? “2017 was a big year not only politically but also for my modeling career as it was my first season in the European market,” she wrote. “It is very different here compared to the NYC I’m used to. February was black history and March is women’s so it just felt right.”
This isn’t the first time the Black Models Matter slogan has been used. According to Refinery29, it was seen on a tote bag during New York Fashion Week 2015.
But Paris Fashion Week is really a symbol of a larger problem within the fashion industry. According to a study by The Fashion Spot, less than 25 percent of the models in fall 2016 fashion shows were people of color, and only about 20 percent of the models in spring 2016 ads were non-white.
It’s time for the fashion industry to start reflecting the true diversity of women around the world—in skin color, size, and many other characteristics.