An Open Letter To The Fashion Industry From IMG Models' Ivan Bart

Photographed by Todd Cole.
Ivan Bart is the president of IMG Models, and he recently took to Instagram before NYFW's fall '17 shows kicked off to urge American designers to make diverse casting decisions. Ahead, Bart shares with Refinery29 why practicing inclusivity is so crucial, and how the fashion industry can do a better job at making this happen.
Since 1986, I’ve had tons of thrills in the fashion industry and have elevated many careers. The first phase of my career was knowing that if I could manage someone holistically —mind, body, and spirit — we could represent stars. But along the way, I realized a lot of other things; I’m a person who believes in human rights and elevating all kinds of people.
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I was privileged to build my career in the '90s; a lot of the stuff I was doing with models then has inspired new generations now. Most of the models I talk to tell me, “Oh my God, I was madly in love with Carolyn Murphy!” or “The first time I saw Stephanie Seymour was in the Guns ‘N Roses video!” And then I’ve told myself, 'Well, wait a second. We have this influence over young people. They have to start seeing themselves, too.'
I remember when Lupita Nyong’o said if it wasn’t for Alek Wek, she would have never seen herself [and felt confident about her complexion]. Wek has been with IMG since very early on in her career. And, in cases like that, you don’t even know that the next Academy Award winner is sitting in her living room somewhere, looking at one of your models. I've seen that same ripple effect with people like Hari Nef, Ashley Graham, and Jillian Mercado.
It was only five or six years ago that [IMG started signing] interesting people that broke size, race, gender, and age boundaries; people we felt were just really fashionable. But it all really took hold last year; we didn’t know that this would be such an important time to show and support inclusion. A question I get often is: “What is your favorite time in fashion?” I always say the same thing: It’s now. In 2017, with the challenges facing global communities, it's my job to make sure IMG Models continues to champion diversity, inclusion, and evolution.
I recently wrote a letter with our incredible team to casting directors and designers explaining how they should interpret, and what they should take away from, IMG’s show package [of model castings]. Before I wrote it, I thought, Wait a second, let's think about what our package is about. Aren’t we in the industry trying to engage consumers? How can you engage a consumer if you’re only showing one size, one look? It has to be more diverse. Every designer has their right to show what they want, but this is an industry that’s saying it wants more consumers to buy more clothes, so don’t designers want a diverse roster to attract different types of people, which would then, in turn, grow their business?

A message to our talented #American designers. Good luck & happy #NYFW #NYFW2017 @nyfw @cfda @imgmodels

A post shared by Ivan Bart (@ivanmbart) on

Via @ivanmbart.
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And we can't forget that models of color have to work ten times harder. The opportunities aren’t always there, so they have to do more to make themselves seen and heard. Hell, they even have to be conscious of how they walk into a room so they don't turn someone off. It shouldn't be that way. In many [casting] opportunities, there’s a spot for only one or two black models. I don't know why that is, but I wish it was different...I think the idea of casting a show with a competitive amount of models of color is quite simple.

We can't forget that models of color have to work ten times harder.

But I’ll stay positive: There are winds of change, and I do feel like the runways are becoming more diverse. As far as magazines, campaigns, and everything else goes — I just want more. I think it’s very important that anyone who is looking at [runways, editorials, and ads] should see themselves reflected back. At the end of the day, we don’t decide who is cast. But if I didn’t have the conversation, like writing that letter, then I’m not doing my part.
Our job as a modeling agency is to sell talent. I’ve had many experiences throughout the course of my career where a client was looking for a tall, blue-eyed, blonde person, and I ended up selling a Hispanic model, a trans model, or someone they weren’t thinking about. We see that in film and entertainment, for example. Look at Whoopi Goldberg, who’s had an amazing career in parts that weren’t “meant” for her. There are tremendous opportunities available. But if you don’t have the conversation at all, then you're complicit in the industry's downfalls.
There’s resistance and outdated thinking, so I always say, 'Okay, I know what you want. But could you just have a meet and greet with this one person? Just please do me that favor.' And that’s selling talent. If you don’t even ask for that opportunity, then you’re not doing your job.
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We can all do that. We have to try to give everybody the opportunity. I think that starts by asking [designers and brands] to take a look at everybody, not just those that have “sold” in the past. The world is changing, and we have to change with it. Thankfully, we've seen instances where it is.
This season, the conversation was there. There are things going on that people aren’t happy with, so we're speaking out. And despite the grey skies, the political climate has helped move the conversation forward. I think people are interested in what change really looks like. When you talk about closing borders and shutting people out, that doesn’t mean that the people who are already here aren’t a big, diverse, inclusive nation...We feel very proud of our brothers and sisters of different nations and lands; that’s what this country was built on.
I’m beginning to like the word “inclusive” more than “diverse.” Isn't that what we're really trying to achieve? A sense of inclusion? The heart-pounding feeling that we all belong. We all have a right to be here. And that doesn't just stop at nationality. I’d like to hear more conversations about size, too.
It’s fascinating that when you look at the runway, you see sample sizes, but then you turn your head and look at the audience, and the majority of the world, people are not that size. So, why aren’t we speaking to them? The Curve industry works with sizes 12 and up; I still can't help but think we’re missing a beat here. Wake up, fashion industry — there’s a huge opportunity for those between sizes 4 and 12, too. Where is that?
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When I hear about sales being down in the industry, I can’t help but think, Well, maybe you should offer more sizes. Have you tried that? Shopping is supposed to be exciting and fun...it's supposed to make us feel good. Why are we shutting anybody out?

When I hear about sales being down in the industry, I can’t help but think, 'Well, maybe you should offer more sizes. Have you tried that?'

So, my original letter — and this one — is for designers, casting agents, and everyone in between. Please consider everyone. You all have a big opportunity by showing diverse women — and all people, for that matter – on the runway. You mustn't forget that there is somebody out there watching you, dreaming, and thinking: I have to have that. And by showing them a diverse cast, more people can see themselves in your vision, and more people can dream. That way, they'll be thinking: Well, if she can wear it, I can wear it. Everyone deserves the opportunity and privilege to wear your vision. Everyone.