Naomi Campbell calls out all-white fashion


Naomi Campbell has been in the modelling business for 35 years, so when she speaks about the racial bias in the fashion industry we should listen.

Her social media post highlighting lack of racial diversity in the magazine Vogue under its previous editor, Alexandra Shulman, serves as a reminder that fashion does not only face a diversity challenge on the catwalk but also behind the scenes. Clearly the two problems are related.

Campbell’s criticisms echo those of Sir Lenny Henry, who spoke out against lack of behind-the-scenes Black and minority ethnic representation in TV and radio. Sir Lenny said that while there was much to do as far as on-screen diversity was concerned, there was even less diversity amongst producers, editors, and commissioning decision-makers.

Both icons are right. Image is important; we need to see models and presenters of colour, but representation right across the industry is critical. For example, take a trip to BBC Broadcasting House; you’ll probably be met by BME security guards and receptionists, but once you get into the well of the BBC-journalists, productions team etc, it’s spot the BME person. Leave the well until that is you venture into the cafeteria.

In her social media post, Campbell expressed hope that Vogue’s new editor, Edward Enninful, would change things in the magazine’s offices. It was not just a critique of the industry but also an approving nod to the new editor Edward Enninful-Vogue’s first Black editor – who has made clear that in fashion as in society as a whole, diversity works.

A report published by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in July highlighted a lack of racial diversity in the creative industries-around 11%. Given that he vast majority of the creative industries are based in London, a city with a visible minority population close to 40%, and you can get a sense of how unrepresentative the sector is. Many of the London boroughs where creative firms are based are already BME-majority areas, and that is set to increase rapidly in the next few years.

In addition, university degrees and further education courses aimed at creative fields are very popular with BME students. So it is clear that there is no shortage of qualified talent from BME communities literally on the doorstep of fashion and media companies; they are just not getting hired.

Campbell and Henry both know that the fashion and media industries from the inside-out. They know that the lack of backroom and boardroom racial diversity is not just unacceptable but completely unsustainable in the face of growing BME demographics in society. Bosses in the creative industries know this too, yet they still struggle to level the playing field for BME talent.

The appointment of Enninful as Vogue editor was a groundbreaking moment. Many will join Campbell in hoping the next group picture of Vogue staff will have more than one BME face, but it will take more than Enninful to change the face of the fashion industry.

Meaningful change will come when the creative sector, including media, grasp the nettle and take responsibility for making their organisations more reflective of society.

Lester Holloway