Want to see truly representative fashion imagery? Well, sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands. That's exactly what model and entrepreneur Deddeh Howard did: Fed up with the glacial pace at which the fashion industry is moving toward racial inclusivity, she's doing something about it — it's something many have done before, but not quite like this.
The West Africa native re-created a series of fashion ads that predominantly feature white women in a series called Black Mirror (no relation to the popular BBC show). She superimposed herself in place of the models originally cast in these ads, placing the original and tweaked versions of the ads side by side. The series highlights the glaring problem the industry continues to have: Why do brands still overwhelmingly cast white models? Created in tandem with her partner, photographer Raffael Dickreuter, Howard's images underscore that skin tones don't sell clothes. The ads range from Dolce & Gabbana to Guess to Calvin Klein. Howard took to Instagram to continue the conversation. In several posts, she tags not only the original models and the brands themselves, but asks the million-dollar question: If Kendall Jenner can do it, why can't she? "What do you mean you already have 2 to 5 black models that looks like me? Did you say the same thing to the 50-100 white models you have?" she wrote in a caption on one of the images. "Here is my proof, so open your eyes and see that Fashion is not black or white! Life is not black or white. I'm just like her. #blackmirror #blackmodelsmatter Right guys?"
And yes, she's right. No disrespect to the likes of Naomi Campbell, Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn, or Chanel Iman, of course, but the statistics are undeniable. For example, despite the CFDA advocating for racial diversity ahead of Fashion Week, only 10.33% of models used this past season were Black, which was a mere 1% increase from the previous season. In a poignant essay on Howard's site, she reveals what it's like to be compared to (and, perhaps, passed over in place of) the aforementioned models of colour. "Even though I was told by those agencies that I have an amazing look and [they] wish they could represent me, they already have a black model. Besides having an abundance of white models. It seemed as if one or two black models on the roster are enough to represent us all. When you are told that, trust me, it feels bizarre."
This series isn't just great because of the striking similarities between the original shots and the tweaked imagery. Buzzfeed recently took a similar approach, depicting plus-size women in a series of recognisable fashion ads. Howards' images are a salient reminder that the industry still has a ways to go. But these sorts of projects help push the fashion industry toward a more diverse future, from campaigns, to editorials, to runway castings.