These Models Are Breaking Fashion's Racial Barriers

Maria Borges, the model who has fronted campaigns for Givenchy, Brandon Maxwell, H&M, L'Oreal, Sephora, and Tommy Hilfiger, is more than a pretty face. She is an agent for change. The 24-year-old, who grew up in Angola during civil war and has since gone on to be the first-ever model to walk in the Victoria's Secret with "natural black hair in the show’s 20 year run," is one of many speaking out about diversity and race in the fashion industry. 

“I believe in the beauty of diversity,” Borges recently said in a statement. “The empowering message that a girl who started from the bottom can be an international beauty symbol and be living proof that our dreams are valid, and the future ahead of us is bright.”

“It’s very important,” Borges told CNN, “for African women and for women around the world [to know] that you too can be included.”

Slow Change, Study Shows

Just three non-white women snagged a spot on the 20 world’s highest paid models list of 2016, according to Forbes. For the first time in history, according to The Fashion Spot’s Spring/Summer 2017 runway report, more than 25 percent of models used in the Spring 2017 season were non-white.

During the S/S 2017 season, 74.6 percent of the models were white and 25.4 percent were women of color, a small increase on last season where 75.3 percent of the models were white. Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 4 was the most diverse sending 97 percent models of color down the runway. His controversial season 3 show featured entirely non-white models.

‘Black Models Weren’t In Season’

Models like Borges are doing more than talking. They are actively paving the way for a more varied approach to fashion. Nykhor Paul, 28, is another determined to break barriers. Born in Sudan and raised in refugee camps in Ethiopia, Paul emigrated to the US aged 10 with help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Paul, who was scouted at age 15, fronted Louis Vuitton's S/S 2013 campaign and is on the cover of this month's Harper's Bazaar Arabia along with Silja Magg, Ajak Deng, Grace Mahary, Jourdana Phillips, and Lameka Fox. “This past season has been the most diverse with many models sharing their experiences so let’s hope it’s not a trend but a breakthrough,” Paul told CNN via email.

“I’ve had challenges finding work in some countries because black models weren’t in season at that time, my hair and finding makeup to match my complexion have been the most difficult.”

The model is hopeful that this can trickle through onto the catwalk. “It’s heart breaking going for show castings knowing that only one or two models of color might be selected to walk in a show,” she says.