While anti-racist protests continue daily around the world and online, the fashion industry finds itself in the cross hairs of controversies about offensive business and creative practices.
Brands and publications have been called out by former employees for discrimination, and statements of solidarity, including the popular use of black squares on social media in support of Black Lives Matter, have been seen as empty gestures in the face of systemic racism within the industry.
In response to this current climate, supermodel Joan Smalls has decided to take action – and she is calling on others to follow suit.
Pledging half of her wages for the rest of 2020 to Black Lives Matter organizations, Smalls has launched DonateMyWage.org to encourage those in the fashion and entertainment industries in particular to donate a percentage of their wages – from hourly to yearly – to the organizations of their choice.
In a film posted on Donatemywages.org, the 31-year-old Puerto Rico-born Smalls speaks directly to the issue of racial discrimination within the fashion industry.
“I see all the agencies, magazines, brands posting black screens on their Instagram accounts. But what does that really mean? What is the fashion industry actually going to do about it? Is it just another trend?”
“This industry that profits from our Black and Brown bodies, our culture for constant inspiration, our music and our images for the visuals have tiptoed around the issues,” she continued. “You’re part of the cycle that perpetuates these conscious behaviors.”
“You have continually let us down with your insensitivity and tone-deafness, and the damage control apologies of, ‘we will do better.’”
Smalls, who identifies as a “Black and Latina woman,” has built a highly successful modeling career over the last decade, and said that during her career she has dealt with a “constant battle” against racism that she “lived on a daily basis,” in an industry that “loves stereotyping us.” This includes photographers not wanting to shoot her, “because there’s no need to shoot a black girl,” to magazines, brands and agencies continuing to work with people “of that mindset,” as well as stylists and casting director who would not work with models of color, because they were “not willing to treat us fairly and give us a chance.”
The list of people in the industry who have been complicit of racism, Smalls said, “goes on.”
Smalls was the first Latinx face of beauty brand Estée Lauder, in 2011, and the first woman of color to appear on the cover of Porter magazine, in 2015. She has been a regular on the Forbes list of highest paid models since 2013.
And while she made it clear in the film that continuing to hire people who have displayed racist ideas is a form of complicity that feeds the “beast of racism and inequality,” she also thanked those in the industry who had supported her.
“With the same breath I would love to acknowledge those that did see me for me, who fought for me, I applaud you… Thank you for being true to your morals and not letting pressures from others keep you from doing what you knew to the be right decision.”
Ultimately, Smalls said she doesn’t need “validation from an industry that casts me as a token Black girl, while ignoring my whole cultural identity.” Instead what she’s after is “recognition of the systematic issues, the issues that arise from top to bottom within the industry.”
Looking to the future. Smalls tells her “beloved fashion industry” that “this is your chance. The moment that you speak up and demonstrate that if you care, if you truly care, then show it… We see you. Do you see us now?”
Alongside donating half her wages until the end of the year, Smalls pledged to hold brands she works with accountable for their own actions, encouraging them to donate financially and to implement policies that would actively promote inclusivity. “If I as a single individual can do it, just imagine what we can do as a collective to be the positive change the world needs.”
“I urge you to use your voice, use your infrastructure to help us,” she said. “I urge all of you to stand with us. Together we are stronger.”