Joan Smalls And Hari Nef Share Experiences Of Discrimination In The Fashion Industry

As part of a panel discussion about the lack of diversity and inclusivity in the fashion industry, the models opened up about their own experiences with prejudice in fashion


Whether it's a lack of diversity in body shape on the catwalk, skin colours in campaigns or sexes at casting calls, the fashion industry is far from immune to discrimination.

And two women who are shedding light on the industry's bias is Victoria's Secret model Joan Smalls and model/actress and September ELLE cover star, Hari Nef.


During a panel discussion titled 'Diversity and inclusivity: Fashion's missed opportunity', the women joined IMG president Ivan Bart and casting director James Scully to share their real-life experiences of prejudice in their careers.

Smalls, who has been a face of cosmetics brand Estée Lauder since 2010, revealed that despite her success, she still faces walls when it comes to achieving the same notoriety and contracts as her counterparts – something she puts down to her ethnicity.

'I've always had a struggle trying to get a hair campaign. It's mind-boggling. I've been on option, and they dropped me at the last minute.

And the excuse was, 'We were afraid to try something new.' And by 'new,' they meant 'We've never shot a black girl.'


She went onto say how she's had several experiences of being included – and excluded – from certain campaigns depending on where in the world the images will be seen.

'For campaigns, it's like, 'Okay, Joan'll do this region, but in the group shot, Joan, you are excluded because you don't sell, you don't fit in that quota',' she said.

Since becoming a model in 2007, the Puerto Rican-born star has modeled for the likes of Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford but often found she was the only non-white model in the shows, despite seeing a plethora of models of diversity who fit the bill.


'I saw a lot of beautiful women that fit a different description. Why are they not here? Why are they not being represented? They are your consumer, so why not paint that beautiful picture?' she added.

ELLE's September Issue cover star and transgender actress Hari Nef opened up about the prejudices she's faced during her career, especially when it comes to castings.

'There's this subdivision of fashion bookings which also fetishizes diversity as an end. It's not like you can just be a model — you have to be a trans model, or a black model, or a Latina model. They kind of bring you in and it's like Diversity Day,' she joked.

'Diversity Day is cool; Diversity Day essentially pays my bills. But it's never a blue-chip campaign. It's never a contract, or rarely a contract,' she explained.

Noting that such promotion of diversity to capture what some wrongly perceive as the zeitgeist and not to be progressive, Nef says, 'never really bridges the gap between the hyper-rarefied space of a top booking and just throwing this nominal diversity in so the brand can say they did it'.

Watch the full interview below.

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