MELBOURNE. — More than a dozen black models are boycotting Melbourne Fashion Week (MFW), hoping to draw attention to the mistreatment they say they experience in Australia’s fashion industry.
The models said they had witnessed staff use racial slurs in front of them, had hairdressers make derogatory comments about their hair, and were underpaid in comparison to white models.
A City of Melbourne spokesperson said their event prided itself on being one of the industry’s most inclusive fashion destinations for people “from diverse ethnic backgrounds, the LGBTIQ+ community and those with disabilities”.
“We were not aware of any concerns relating to diversity or race involving Melbourne Fashion Week. Discrimination of any kind is not tolerated,” the statement added.
But 29-year-old model Jeffrey Kissubi told the BBC that MFW was just “one of the fashion bodies within the industry” that he and his colleagues were boycotting.
He said he hoped avoiding Melbourne’s top event would draw attention to the broader issues in Australia’s fashion industry and help improve working conditions for people of colour who experience discrimination.
“I worked with someone on set, and they used a racial slur in my presence thinking it was okay.
“That racial slur had to do with the oppression of black people, and I’m not sure if they understood that you can’t use that kind of language.
“We’ve come forward, we’ve broken this story not because it’s something we wanted to do − we had to do it because it can’t keep happening.”
Mr Kissubi said the idea for the boycott started a few months ago after a group of models shared their common experiences of racism at another event.
“I felt like in the past when one of us has come forward to talk about our experience, it’s always been dismissed. But when a group of us comes forward, it has more impact.”
Nyaluak Leth − a South Sudanese model who was raised in Brisbane – told the BBC she participated in the boycott because there was “nothing worse than having a false sense of representation at the forefront of an industry that does pride itself on individuality and cultural acceptance”.
“I think it’s just time for the industry to turn the lens on itself and take accountability and put forward initiative to be what they say they are,” she said. — BBC.