Modelling agencies blamed for racist culture

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Indy Politics

Fashion industry insiders have criticised modelling agencies for encouraging a culture of "blatant racism" in the business and announced an emergency summit with race campaigners and politicians to try to tackle the issue.

The meeting, scheduled to take place in London next year, has been organised by Dee Doocey, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson from the London Assembly. Ms Doocey, a former managing director of an international fashion company, believes the fashion world desperately needs to face underlying racism in the trade.

"I can't remember being sent a model who wasn't white," said the former fashion manager. "I don't know if it's racism, or just the fashion industry languishing in the doldrums, but it needs to change. Agencies only seem interested in leggy white blonde girls."

Designers, model agencies, race campaigners and politicians are among those who will be invited to the event, which has been announced ahead of a national contest in November to find the next British supermodel "of colour".

Sola Oyebade, managing director of Mahogany, the model agency behind next month's Top Model of Colour competition, said: "This event will start the debate. We've been trying to get more ethnic minority models into the industry but if you don't hold the purse strings or the power then no change can happen. Everyone looks at Naomi Campbell as the black model who's made it, but ...isn't it worrying that no-one else has come along?

"There are so many good quality black and mixed race-models that would be great, but the agencies and the clients are not willing to take a gamble.

"Non-white people make up about 30 per cent of the population of London but we don't even make up 1 per cent of the models."

Cassandra Lee, 18, a finalist in the Top Model of Colour competition, said her skin colour had been a problem for her in getting work. "You have to try much harder if you're not white," she said. "You have to be perfect to be looked at the same way as a white model. Sometimes you hear straight up that they're not looking for black models. It's quite blatant. " Another finalist, Stacey McKnight, 21, said it was ridiculous that black models were overlooked. "We're British too, why aren't we represented?"

One third of all Londoners are non-white, according to Greater London Assembly statistics, yet the websites of London's leading agencies show there are hundreds of white faces for every handful of models from other ethnic groups.

Maya Schulz, managing director at Acclaim models, an agency that specialises in choosing models from an ethnically diverse range of backgrounds, said: "I always find it more difficult putting black faces out there. The racism you come across is not underlying, it's blatant. People will say things like 'Don't send any more black models', and one designer even said black people didn't suit his clothes. And we're not talking about small designers here; it's all the big ones."

"The colour debate is far more important than the size-zero debate, but it's hardly had any coverage. The Black Girls Coalition was formed in the Eighties to combat it, but no progress has been made."

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