Morgan Noll
Updated Jun 17, 2020 @ 1:13 pm
beverly johnson, racism in the fashion industry
Credit: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin, Getty Images

Supermodel Beverly Johnson was the first Black model on the cover of Vogue in 1974. Nearly 50 years later, she’s shining a light on the pervasive racism that still exists in the fashion industry and all the barriers that have gone unbroken. Johnson wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, published Tuesday, proposing a plan for addressing racism and making industry-wide changes.

She started by detailing the two sides to her history-making career as a Black model. After 1974, she graced hundreds more magazine covers, but she wasn’t afforded the same privileges as her white counterparts.

“My race limited me to significantly lower compensation than my white peers,” she wrote. “The industry was slow to include other black people in other aspects of the fashion and beauty industry.” When she tried to push for changes, by requesting Black photographers, makeup artists, and hairstylists, she was reprimanded.

“Silence on race was then—and still is—the cost of admission to the fashion industry’s top echelons,” Johnson wrote.

She went on to call out Anna Wintour, who has been the editor-in-chief of Vogue for more than 30 years and still reigns supreme at Condé Nast. Just last week, Wintour broke her long-standing silence to admit to the structural racism at Vogue and beyond in the fashion industry.

“Wow—after three decades, fashion’s leading arbiter has finally acknowledged that there may be a problem!” Johnson wrote about Wintour’s remarks.

Johnson also pointed to the “racist faux pas” fashion brands have made year after year. Remember Gucci’s Blackface sweater or Burberry’s noose-embellished hoodie? “When called out, these companies plead for forgiveness, waving promises and money around,” she wrote. “Then it’s back to exclusion as usual, until the next brand “accidentally” repeats racial vulgarity. The racism management cycle then begins anew.”

She returned to Wintour, then, as a way to discuss her proposed way to move forward to address systemic racism in fashion.

“Wintour is arguably the most powerful person in the world of fashion. Wintour’s power would ostensibly allow her to hold her peers in fashion accountable for making structural changes.” Johnson said as a way to introduce her idea for she can go about this and get more diversity into the industry.

“I propose the “Beverly Johnson Rule” for Condé Nast, similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL that mandates that a diverse set of candidates must be interviewed for any open coaching and front office position.”

She continued, laying out more guidelines for this rule: “The ‘Beverly Johnson Rule’ would require at least two black professionals to be meaningfully interviewed for influential positions,” she wrote. “This rule would be especially relevant to boards of directors, C-suite executives, top editorial positions, and other influential roles. I also invite chief executives of companies in the fashion, beauty, and media industries to adopt this rule.”

Johnson concluded with her personal goal as these changes are made. “I want to move from being an icon to an iconoclast and continue fighting the racism and exclusion that have been an ugly part of the beauty business for far too long.”