Chanel Iman on Diversity in Fashion: We’ve Come a Long Way Since ‘One Black Girl per Show’

Chanel ImanChanel Iman Mark Sagliocco/FilmMagic

You may know Chanel Iman from her regular appearances on magazine covers (see Teen Vogue, Elle, Harper's Bazaar), the breakout star from Dope or even part of Beyoncé's model squad from her 2013 "Yonce" music video. Though she's made a name for herself since signing with Ford Models at the age of 12, her ascent wasn't an easy one.

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"I think it was a struggle when I first started, just because it was always one black girl per show, or campaign, or whatever it was. I couldn't stand it, because I just felt like I was being judged a lot, rather than accepted for who I was," Iman told Teen Vogue. 

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Now, things are looking up. The Fashion Spot noted that New York Fashion Week 2016 was the most diverse season to note. "We tallied 120 shows and discovered that 68.1 percent of the model castings were white and 31.9 percent were nonwhite," the website wrote in February. "That's a slight improvement from Spring 2016 where models of color only accounted for 28.4 percent of castings."

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Iman has noticed the change as well. "I feel like fashion's opened up a lot with having rappers in campaigns, and more color on the runway, but of course there's room for more of it and more diversity. It's nice to be part of a culture change," she continued.

Ebonee Davis Ebonee Davis Gisela Schober/Getty

Her observations come on the heels of Ebonee Davis, a black model who graced Calvin Klein's Fall 2016 ad campaign, natural hair and all. Davis was inspired to write a poignant open letter after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men, were killed by police officers in their respective cities within one week. Before she embraced her unprocessed strands, Davis wrote in a Harper's Bazaar essay, "I was told that brands only booked black girls if they looked like they'd been 'plucked from a remote village in Africa' or like a 'white model dipped in chocolate,' and from the start of my career in 2011, I lived by those words. Until last year when I made the decision to wear my natural hair." 

"With greater frequency, we've experienced an uproar of outcry in regard to the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers. The correlation? Inequity," she continued. "Systemic racism began with slavery and has woven itself into the fabric of our culture. The most dangerous contributors? Advertising, beauty and fashion."

She offered advice to the makeup artists, hair stylists, designers and PR agencies that ignore industry injustice. "Use your personal platforms to speak out against injustice and show your support rather than standing by in silence. Most importantly, love black people as much as you love black music and black culture," Davis said. "Until you do, society will continue to buy into the false notion that people of color are less than—a concept already deeply embedded in America's collective psyche, which is reinforced again and again through depictions in media. The time for change is now."

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