The country is still reacting to (and processing) the results of the presidential election. The fashion world was particularly rocked by the Republican win, since, as an industry, it was betting big on Hillary Clinton. (Even Vogue made its first-ever political endorsement for the Democratic nominee.) There's a lot of uncertainty as we enter a Donald Trump administration, but those who were hoping for a different outcome are rallying together to make change. One model is speaking directly to the fashion industry to mobilize and support people feeling vulnerable to the idea of President Trump. On Thursday, Cameron Russell, who voted for Clinton in the general election, penned an open letter addressed to her friends and colleagues in fashion, which she posted across various social accounts.
She begins her note saying that many people in her life have reached out to her, unsure about how to react to the results — so, she decided to outline actionable steps folks can take to lift members of the community who might be more at risk. The first thing Russell suggests? Hire (and pay well) and listen to differently abled people, LGBTQ and non-binary folks, women, and, especially, women of color — which, as we've seen, are all groups that are still very much underrepresented in the industry. "I thought something we could do today would be to ensure we can hear the voices that a Trump presidency will do everything to suppress," Russell told Refinery29 over email about her call to action. She felt compelled to put pen to paper after watching how certain media outlets began to normalize Trump so quickly after the election was called. "I felt sick and terrified," Russell said. "We are looking at four years of hate towards people and the planet. We cannot let our guard down or be lulled into believing anything else." It's something she cautions the readers of her letter about, warning them of how easy it is "to be lulled by the siren call of mainstream media." The most obvious way to remain attune with the very real state of our country, though, is to center and support marginalized voices, she explained to us. After all, President-elect Trump hasn't been sworn in yet.
Russell decided to address the fashion world specifically — a community she has been involved with since her late teens — in her letter as a way to confront institutional and interpersonal oppression we engage with in our own circles. "This work is personal, hard, and painful. It requires some of us to give up power and money and privilege," she noted. "It requires us to see the harm we have done to others, and to listen to people who will challenge us. We have to make room for people to change." Plus, fashion has historically been a space where creatives have been able to harness their positions of power and access to create change. "I encourage people in the industry to look at the work Tibor Kalman did with Benetton, what Gran Fury did using advertising concepts, how people like Antanas Mockus and Jose Sokoloff have used creativity and art in their civic work," Russell explained, going on to list contemporary examples of diversity-minded enterprises, such as the media agency Browntourage, the street-casting modeling agency Lorde Inc., and the work of photographers like Sanaa Hamid and Amaal Said, among others. As a follow-up to this letter, Russell plans on releasing what she calls The List, a resource for those in positions to hire within the industry to do so from a talented pool of women, people of color, LGBTQ and non-binary individuals, and those who are differently abled — and she'll send it to anyone who asks for it. "We are going to need conscious people everywhere — in every studio, at every magazine, in every design house — making sure that we survive and that all people in our society have a chance to thrive," she told us. Russell was signed to a modeling agency at 16, and has long used her public profile to speak out about causes and ideas she believes in, from challenging perception and privilege in a famous TED Talk to raising awareness about climate change with her Inconvenient Handbag project. "I always tell models that we are uniquely poised to become influential activists," she explained, "because we are some of the few women who have direct access to media, through social media as well as close relationships to press." These small motions within a highly visible and influential industry can effect change in the long run, Russell believes. Hopefully, the fashion industry will rally behind her call much like they did behind Clinton.