Justice

Why This Calvin Klein Model Believes the Fashion Industry Has an Important Responsibility

July 13th 2016

By:
Almie Rose

You may not know Ebonee Davis by name — yet. But the Calvin Klein model wrote a powerful essay on race for Harper's Bazaar that may change that.

 

A photo posted by Ebonee Davis (@eboneedavis) on

"I was told that brands only booked black girls if they looked like a 'white model dipped in chocolate'..."

Davis believes that the fashion industry has a responsibility to more fully represent black women. She describes why this important when she recalls what it was like to see her Calvin Klein ad:

"Last week, I received an email from my agent at MC2 Model Management. The contents: a photo of myself—nostrils wide, lips full, hair defying gravity in all its natural glory—in Calvin Klein's Fall 2016 campaign and a message that simply read, 'Really proud of you.'

 

A photo posted by Ebonee Davis (@eboneedavis) on

My heart swelled. I thought back to how hard I had tried to assimilate into the fashion industry—straightening my hair, wearing weaves and extensions. I was told that brands only booked black girls if they looked like they'd been 'plucked from a remote village in Africa' or like a 'white model dipped in chocolate,' and from the start of my career in 2011, I lived by those words. Until last year when I made the decision to wear my natural hair."

"...a man's entire existence had once again been reduced to a hashtag."

But not long after reveling in her pride over her new campaign, her happiness was replaced with heartbreak.

"That same day, Twitter informed me that Alton Sterling, a black man, had been shot and killed by the police. I scrolled through a stream of tweets filled with grief, sorrow, anger and bewilderment until I regrettably found the footage of his murder. Heartbreak instantly consumed me; a man's entire existence had once again been reduced to a hashtag. Less than 24 hours later I checked my news feed again, only to find that yet another black man had been killed by the police.

 

A photo posted by Ebonee Davis (@eboneedavis) on

"It is no longer acceptable for us to revel in black culture with no regard for the struggles facing the black community."

"It was only then I realized the importance of the Calvin Klein image staring back at me. As artists in the fashion industry, we are the embodiment of free speech. We set the tone for society through the stories we tell—fashion, the gatekeeper of cool, decides and dictates what is beautiful and acceptable. And let me tell you, it is no longer acceptable for us to revel in black culture with no regard for the struggles facing the black community.

Every year, particularly during fashion week, there is an outcry felt throughout the industry. From the disproportionately low number of models of color walking in the shows (blacks make up less than 10 percent of models on the runway; models of color make up 24.75 percent), to the lack of makeup artists trained to work on colored skin; from the mismatching of foundation to the burning and ripping out of hair. We sit in silence for fear of being labeled 'a diva' while being inflicted with pain, or watching our faces turn grey."

 

A photo posted by Ebonee Davis (@eboneedavis) on

"With greater frequency, we've experienced an uproar of outcry in regard to the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers," Davis continues. "The correlation? Inequity. It is the same systemic racism that sees beauty products for 'black' hair end up in a section of their own ('the ethnic aisle'), that sees black men more likely to end up dead after a police encounter than any other racial group."

Davis has ideas for steps towards change.

"Rather than perpetuating trite stereotypes that vilify people of color, we need to produce positive, accurate and inclusive imagery. My advice to makeup and hair artists: rebuild your repertoire of techniques. My advice to models, fashion designers and public relation agencies: use your personal platforms to speak out against injustice and show your support rather than standing by in silence. Most importantly, love black people as much as you love black music and black culture."

You can read the entire essay at Harper's Bazaar.