Beverly Johnson: 'The Fashion Industry Pirates Blackness for Profit While Excluding Black People'

Beverly Johnson: 'The Fashion Industry Pirates Blackness for Profit While Excluding Black People'
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Following Vogue editor Anna Wintour’s woefully late and inadequate acknowledgement that Condé Nast has remained largely inaccessible to “Black editors, writers, photographers, designers, and other creators,” model Beverly Johnson wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post decrying the fashion industry’s longstanding tradition of using Black culture for profit while failing to elevate Black designers, models, photographers, hairstylists, and other tenets of the industry.

Johnson noted that the industry has not changed much since 1974, when she became the first Black woman to appear on the cover of American Vogue. At the time, fashion editors celebrated her for having “broken all color barriers,” but Johnson found that she was still paid less than white models and could not request Black photographers, makeup artists, and hairstylists for shoots. “Silence on race was then — and still is — the cost of admission to the fashion industry’s top echelons,” she wrote.

Indeed, Johnson says, the fashion industry is still closed off to Black people, and Wintour’s acknowledgment of that fact is too little, too late. “Year after year, companies inflict harm against black culture while actively gouging it for inspiration and taking all of the profit,” Johnson writes, pointing to recent incidents of racism like Gucci’s blackface “Balaclava knit top” and a Burberry hoodie that looked like a noose—both of which came out last year. “When called out, these companies plead for forgiveness, waving promises and money around. Then it’s back to exclusion as usual, until the next brand “accidentally” repeats racial vulgarity,” she writes.

From the op-ed:

Black culture contributes enormously to the fashion industry. But black people are not compensated for it. Brands do not retain and promote the many talented black professionals already in the fashion, beauty and media workforce. Brands do not significantly invest in black designers. The fashion industry pirates blackness for profit while excluding black people and preventing them from monetizing their talents.

Johnson suggests Condé Nast and other beauty and fashion companies interview at least two Black professionals for every open position at the company, particularly for top-level editorial and C-suite roles. Wintour, who allegedly snubbed Johnson at Vogue’s 100th anniversary party in 1992, probably won’t take too kindly to that, but maybe she can put her money where her goddamn mouth is.

You can read the whole op-ed here.

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