How to Make Portland’s Fashion Industry More Diverse

Do better.

As the Trump admin continues to attack equality, many fashion designers and brands have used their platform to voice their political views and the importance of gender, body and racial diversity. From protests on the runway to political merch, the historically non-progressive fashion industry is taking small steps towards inclusivity.

At the conclusion of the Spring 2018 New York Fashion Week shows this past September, the Fashion Spot reported that out of 92 runway shows and 2,601 model appearances, 36.9% of the models were of color, up from the 31.5% during the Fall 2017 season. Every runway show included at least two models of color, a first in NYFW history.

While 36.9% is a failing grade at any educational institution, it's an industry record for racial diversity during NYFW and deserves some celebration. However, there's still work to be done, especially in Portland. While there are definitely a handful of key players in the industry who are of color, as a whole, the Portland fashion scene is not very diverse.

In 2016, I had an opportunity to speak on the Portland City Club Friday Forum panel alongside Portland-based apparel designer Marcela Dyer and Portland Apparel Lab co-founder Dawn Moothart. We were asked about diversity in the Portland fashion industry, where Portland currently stands on the topic and if/what changes should be made in order to create more inclusivity.

Are people of color not given the same opportunities to get involved in the Portland fashion scene, or are they just not showing up? I'd argue it's a little bit of both. I once had someone of color tell me that although they wanted to, they never attended local fashion events until they saw me out of fear of feeling out of place and intimidated to be "the only one" of color there. While a part of me felt flattered, another part felt sad and a little frustrated. Although it can be uncomfortable at times to be "the only one," we (people of color) can't complain about the lack of diversity if we don't show up.

During the panel, we were asked what we could do to improve diversity in the Portland fashion community. I have two suggestions:

To people of color:

The easiest way to get involved is to show up and participate. If you're a model, practice your walk constantly and keep your portfolio fresh. If you aren't already signed to an agency, introduce yourself to designers and brands and offer to model in their next lookbook. Attend events and casting calls and get to know people in the industry.

If you're a designer, have a professional website, perfect your sewing skills, apply to participate in fashion shows and local pop-up events and have professional photos taken of your designs. Introduce yourself to the press and pitch them your story. The same goes if you're a stylist or fashion photographer. Consistency and quality are key to breaking into the fashion industry for anyone regardless of race, and often opportunities won't land on your doorstep.

To designers, brands, publication staff and show producers:

You have the power to set the tone for what Portland's fashion industry is or isn't. Make a conscious decision to include people of color and not just so that you can check the box on diversity or to have a token brown face on your Instagram feed.

February may be Black History Month but diversity is worth celebrating year round through equal opportunities and inclusion.

In honor of Black History Month, here are a few photographers, models, influencers, hair and makeup artists and designers of color making strides in the Portland fashion industry:

Candace Molatore, Photographer/ Influencer, @hey.candace
Nesrin Danan, Photographer/Influencer, @blackprints
Tony Iyke, Apparel Designer, @designsbythor
Christopher Bevans, Apparel Designer,
DWayne Edward, Footwear Designer and Instructor, Founder of Pensole Academy, @pensole_academy
Angela Medlin, Founder of The Functional Apparel and Accessories Studio at Pensole, @faastudio
Lori Caldwell, fine leather goods designer, @minnieandgeorge
Abibat Durosimi, celebrity makeup artist and natural hair stylist, model @tabibastyles
Paula Hayes, chemist and owner of Hue Noir Cosmetics, @huenoir
Stephen Harper, model, @stvndoes
Hailee Levias, model, @hxilee
Nick Scott, model and stylist, @tokyosadboyclub
Maya Harper, model, @mayaashleyharper
Brittanee Wright, model and stylist, @brittaneenicole