Joan Smalls has been frustrated with the fashion industry for some time. And her feelings of anguish have only grown in the wake of the killings of Ahmad Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, which ignited demonstrations across the globe, demanding accountability for their murders and an end to systemic racism.
Indeed, the Puerto Rico-born model has experienced discrimination throughout her career, but after witnessing the lack of support from the fashion community, the lack of real solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, she felt compelled to raise her voice.
“This has been going on for far too long and we are tired,” she tells Bazaar.com. “So in speaking up, it creates a new wave of positive change. Being in confinement has made me reflect on what actually matters—which is progress and seeing others achieve greatness.” Smalls is taking to her Instagram account to reprove those that have remained silent during a time when the whole world is looking for reform. Ahead, she gives Bazaar.com a first look at her impassioned call for action.
Much to my amazement, a good amount of this industry, which I am a part of, has not spoken up to show their solidarity for equal rights and equal treatment for all, specifically the Black community.
This encompasses the whole gamut of the fashion industry, from agencies to magazines to brands. An industry that profits from our Black and Brown bodies, our culture for constant inspiration, our music (that continues to glorify these brands), and our images for their visuals has tiptoed around the issue at hand. You are part of the cycle that perpetuates these conscious behaviours.
I want to share a little insight into this world of complicity. Many of you who claim to be all about “diversity and inclusivity” jumped on a bandwagon, because social media held you accountable for your lack of acknowledgment of us, and you hid behind your aesthetic of creativity or so-called beauty. Sadly, you fall short trying to narrate our stories by toning us down or having them curated by people who haven’t lived our experiences or walked a day in our shoes. It’s time to be an active participant in this conversation. It is time to be considerate of giving us a seat at the table, because we are unique, we are talented, and we are worthy.
And I stand by my words, because I have lived through them in this industry that has loved stereotyping us. Times have changed. But was it sincere, or were you forced to make changes to please and placate your consumers?
How many times have I been told that my hair was an issue and told to control it? How many times have I had to share campaigns or editorial when I saw my counterparts achieve those milestones solo? It was a constant battle no one saw, but one that I lived daily. I kept my head held high, because I was blessed enough to have parents who empowered and encouraged me. I don’t need validation from an industry that casts me as the token Black girl while ignoring my whole cultural identity as a proud Latina as well. What I do need is recognition of the systemic issues—the issues that arise from top to bottom within the industry, from photographers not wanting to shoot me because there was no need to shoot a Black girl to the magazines, brands, and agencies who continue to work with people of that mindset. Just like stylists and casting directors not willing to treat us fairly and give us a chance, yet you, the industry, continue to employ them. You feed the beast. The beast of racism and exclusivity.
Complex and unsettling, I know.
With this same breath, I would love to acknowledge the few who did see me for me, who fought for me. I applaud you, and I am grateful for the opportunities you have given me. Thank you for being true to your morals and not letting pressures from others keep you from doing what you knew to be the right decision.
Brands have continually let us down with their insensitivity and tone-deafness, and the damage control apologies of “We will do better.” My reply to you is: This is your chance! The moment when you speak up and demonstrate that you care. If you genuinely care, then show it!
Your silence is not only insulting, it is a part of the bigger problem within this industry. I’ve seen many people who miraculously developed empathy, yet when they are behind closed doors, they are a part of the group holding us back. We see you! Do you see us now?
I back up these statements and calls for change by pledging to donate 50 per cent of my income for the remainder of 2020 to organisations that support the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a time that will forever be ingrained in history, so let us make sure we’re on the right side of it. I urge the fashion industry to do the same, and I will be encouraging all brands that I work with in the future to give back to these communities monetarily, as well as encouraging them to implement policies within their companies to further racial inclusivity. I will be curating a talent list of models, hairstylists, makeup artists, and other creatives and people of colour within the industry who can help diversify all brands.
Behind these brands are individuals, individuals who should have humility. I urge you to use your voice and your infrastructure to help us. I urge all of you to stand with us.
Together we are stronger.
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