Diversity has been a hot topic in the fashion industry for a long time. Things were shaken up when the New York-based model, Ashley Chew walked down the runway in 2015 with a bag that had ‘Black Models Matter’ painted on it.
Ashley said that she got the idea for the hashtag after she went to casting that she was sent to by a former agent. She said that the designer did not have one person of colour at their shows, and she knew she was wasting her time. However, she still went to the casting and carried a bag with the phrase ‘Black Models Matter’ on it, and a movement was born.
After that, the hashtag #BlackModelsMatter went viral with everyone from Zac Posen to J. Alexander donning the bag designed by Ashley.
When asked how she dealt with it going viral, Ashley said, ‘When the images went viral I was honestly terrified. I did not want the message to be received as anti-white or just misunderstood. I actually cried in a cafe when the first article came out I was like, “Oh no, what have I done?!” But the positive feedback was immediate.’
Since the image of the bag went viral there have been dramatic changes on the runway. Ashley said, ‘Runways in New York City were less than 10% of colour. As of two seasons ago there were at least one or more or even all models of colour in every single show during New York Fashion Week. There is still a lot of work to be done.’
She spoke about an incident at this years’ New York Fashion Week, where she waited a long time for a hairdresser to just make a sloppy bun, that she could’ve just done herself.
Ashley Chew also wrote on Cosmopolitan US about her disappointment at how the hair and make-up teams at these shows are not equipped to deal with a diverse group of models.
She said, ‘If the backstage staff isn’t diverse at all, maybe we should call it cultural exploitation rather than representation. And, by the way, if models of colour don’t look their best—especially compared to the other models working the same gig — there can be real implications for these women’s careers. They might not get booked on future campaigns or shows. And remember: Black makeup artists and hairstylists are required to learn all skin tones and hair types or they would never graduate from beauty school or be hired for any show. Just let that sink in.’
Victoria’s Secret model, Leomie Anderson also tweeted about similar issues at London Fashion Week.
She then asked to see how previous artists had done it in comparison to when I did it and she had the audacity to tell me “well when you did it your makeup looks a bit dark for the lighting”… as in it’s too true to my skin tone. Lighting can be changed mate. Skin tone cannot.
— l. anderson (@Leomie_Anderson) September 16, 2019
‘The next steps for inclusivity are consistency,’ Ashley said, ‘This season of New York Fashion Week diversity went backward. It makes me wonder if it’s a trend or just for show. A designer might put someone with a disability or skin condition in their show like “hey look at us we’re diverse” but backstage they can’t do their Black models’ makeup. That makes no sense to me. If you’re going to be diverse follow all the way through. Your teams should also be diverse. Diversity should not be a moment or a trend.’
Ashley is also an artist and she even did an artist residency in East London, South Africa. When asked what she loved about South Africa, she said it is the rich colours, ‘New York City is gorgeous in its own way – but very industrial. Many days are grey. I love nature, the first thing I notice is colours, textures, how things work together naturally. I loved that everything was not in a rush. I miss that a lot.’
‘My passions are art and change. Art is a given and will be with me long after modelling. I’m a feisty Aries, the eldest of five, a person of action. I’m all about changes. That can apply to any passion, any person. If you want something, go get it! Don’t talk about it, go do it,’ Ashley said.
You can follow more about Ashley’s modelling, art and activism on her Instagram page @ash_chew.
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