While New York Fashion Week is finally making consistent strides toward true diversity, London Fashion Week still has a quite a ways to go. But former model Kereen Hurley wants to change that. The 23-year-old started London-based modeling agency Choco Models in 2016. "That’s when I first noticed the effects of colorism in the Black community," she tells Refinery29, citing trolling, mistreatment, and other forms of discrimination on social media. "That’s why I started it, because of discrimination and how [people with] darker skin tones were treated."
The fashion industry, she argues, struggles to accept dark-skinned models thanks to tokenism, which dictates that there can only be one Black girl on a runway or at a shoot – one who is usually fair-skinned with Euro-centric facial features. There were the makeup artists on set would told Hurley they’ve never done a look on a Black girl. And the shoots and shows where she says she was the only Black girl. “I had trouble joining agencies if they already had a dark-skinned model,” she explained. “There was no space for me.” As Hurley works to get more exposure and work for dark-skinned models via Choco Models’ launch, her own modeling career has taken a backseat– but it's worth it.
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In 2010, when Hurley was 16, she was scouted by a photographer at her school’s prom; after he showed her a model platform and casting website, she started auditioning for shoots. From there, Hurley transitioned from model to agent by sending her models to the very same castings she once applied to as a talent. She later used money from her student loans (she was still in college at the time) to pay for a logo design, photoshoots, and marketing materials, and taught herself social media and email marketing. Today, models Eberechi Joanna, Diced Chocolate, and Alissa Precious are the most requested names on her roster, booking jobs with, among other clients, Black Beauty and Hair magazine and Sugarcane Media.
Hurley does see overall progress, and applauds such brands as Fenty Beauty and ASOS for their proven commitment to diversity, and names model Leomie Anderson, Oscar-winning actress Lupita N’yongo, and Afro-Latina rapper Amara La Negra for bringing discussions about colorism and tokenism to the mainstream. But there’s still much work to be done, with disturbing examples of present-day bigotry. "There was a huge incident recently about a woman being too dark to enter Dstrkt nightclub West London," she told Black Beauty and Hair. "Social media can be very cruel when it comes to dark skin woman, criticizing their skin tone and facial features.." On a personal level Hurley says she’s learned to love the skin she’s in. “I do affirmations,” she says. “I don’t let them ruin my inner peace. It’s a cutthroat industry.”
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Indeed, her work is cut out for her at Choco Models, where she’s still striving to book jobs for the 14 women on her agency’s roster. London Fashion Week was the second most racially-diverse Fashion Week after New York, with 36.2% of models of color cast; that number is not specific to Black models, however, and Hurley is hopeful the industry will begin to take notice and evolve. "I'm working to get more mainstream eyes on my agency," she says. Every week, she fields countless requests (via email and Instagram) from young women eager to join her industry. "We welcome all sizes and shapes," she promises.
“It’s about giving recognition to dark-skin models, whether they are with an agency or [not],” she says. “We love promoting positivity and creating solutions.”