Black models are boycotting Melbourne Fashion Week (MFW) to draw attention to the racism they have experienced while working in the Australian fashion industry. From blatant tokenism, lack of necessary inclusive practices and receiving less pay than their white colleagues, their boycott is a stark message that something has to change.
In an exposé by Sydney Morning Herald, a few of the 13 models involved in the boycott spoke candidly about the fucked experienced they’ve had working on Aussie soil compared to working overseas.
Nylow Ajing is one of the models boycotting the event.
“In London, New York and Paris, you could not get away with what the fashion industry is doing here and how it treats black models, but they don’t seem to care or want to change,” she told the Herald.
“Black models doing Australian fashion is a form of self-destruction,” Sydney-based model Awar Malek stated.
“It is absolutely the most traumatising, and dehumanising, underpaying, and overall mentally draining week and I have no desire to continue to participate.”
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the idea of the boycott started when the models started a private group chat to discuss their experiences and support each other. After meeting in person, and online, with other models from around Australia, they decided it was time to speak out together to draw attention to the treatment of Black models within the industry.
Melbourne Fashion Week has been chosen specifically due to the shift in attitudes during this time. While the City Of Melbourne confirmed that all the models walking in the MFW shows are paid the same rate, unlike other jobs where Black models consistently report that they receive less compensation than their white counterparts, the models believe that they are often tokenised in these shows by brands who seek to fill a diversity quota.
“One fashion week after the next, we are tokenised and then treated badly and hardly ever booked by the industry afterwards. You begin to question why you even bother,” said model and poet Nyaluak Leth, who has recently moved to the UK for more opportunities.
“Sometimes pay is as low as $220 to walk the runway. You’re doing 10-12 hour days, and you have hair and make-up artists who don’t even know how to do your hair. So you do your own hair and make-up, and then sometimes I end up braiding another African model’s hair and trying to comfort her because no one else will or can style her.
“I’m just done, we’re not asking for much, just basic respect,” she said.
Malek echoed Leth, stating that after fashion week ends, brands “go back to whitewashing fashion”.
As the only male participating in the boycott, Jeffrey Kissubi feels like he has no choice but to stand up for Black models.
“I’ve walked five fashion weeks – I have it easier than black female models for sure, but it’s still not easy or enjoyable for me. We have to work 10 times harder and put up with a lot of racism and are expected to keep quiet about it,” he told the publication.
“I don’t want to speak out, but I have to, or nothing will change. We’ll probably stop getting booked because we spoke out.”
It’s important to note that while some models have put their names to the boycott, others are too scared to do so for fears that it’ll have detrimental effects on their careers.
The models believe that having the industry controlled by predominantly white Australians is damaging to not only black models and creatives but the progression of the Aussie fashion industry as a whole.
And while many are willing to come back to MFM, they want to see tangible changes before they do so.
“I will only walk future fashion weeks if there are diverse people who are designers and decision-makers and part of the artistic process,” Leth told SMH.
To read more absolutely shocking and heartbreaking accounts of what Black models are going through behind the scenes, check out the Sydney Morning Herald‘s original report by Antoinette Lattouf and Osman Faruqi.