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There Is a Lack of Indigenous Models in the Fashion Industry

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

by Janelle Sessoms

Artwork by Glen Kimsey

The fashion industry prides itself on being one of the most diverse and culturally accepting industries, and there is certainly an element of truth to that. There has been a noticeable increase in diverse model representation in print, commercial, and runways. Paloma Elsesser, Aaron Rose Philip, and Precious Lee, to name a few, all walked in this most recent Fashion Month.

There is no question that diversity in modeling is becoming less of an obligation and more of an expectation. But there is one minority group that continues to have a severe lack of representation in the modeling industry—and that’s Indigenous people.

The irony of Indigenous people of this country being one of the most underrepresented groups to this day in fashion can be difficult to comprehend. How can any industry make claims of embracing diversity and simultaneously leave out such a significant culture that has been negatively impacted the most due to the actions of this country?

Modeling agencies and designers should be going out of their way to make space for Indigenous talent. Yet, they don’t. Why? Simple. Prior to our recent shift in social climate, the Indigenous community was hardly brought up in conversation regarding diversity, which gives no modeling agency or brand incentive to make those efforts of inclusion. In fact, it seems like the only interest the fashion industry has shown regarding the Indigenous community has been copying and appropriating their culture for its own use.

The thing to remember, though, is that people create culture. It isn’t okay for an industry of any kind to profit off of the appropriation of a culture and simultaneously refuse to leave room for the people that created said culture in the first place. As a society, we can’t continue being silent about this issue and stand in a place of complacency when we see this continued exclusion of underrepresented communities. And that is exactly what has been happening with Indigenous communities.

Until recently, there has been no active effort in celebrating the cultural background of Indigenous people within the fashion industry. The Indigenous community in itself is so diverse; every tribe and member has something different to offer. In an interview with Vogue, designer Bethany Yellowtail explains the misconceptions the community faces when it comes to fashion and design.

“The biggest misconception about indigenous design is that it’s all the same,” Yellowtail said. “Crows are very different than Navajos, and Cheyennes are very different than Ojibwes. It’s really important to tell those stories through our design.”

The Indigenous community has so much to offer and share with the world, and it’s hard to believe that the fashion industry has yet to embrace that. Fortunately, we may see that start to change sooner rather than later. Rising fashion model, Quannah Chasinghorse, has already started to make an impact in the modeling industry. She absolutely crushed the runway during NYFW, stealing the show with the closing walk for Prabal Gurung. She also left the world speechless with her debut at this year’s Met Gala wearing a stunning gold dress by Peter Dundas. At 19 years old, Chasinghorse has such a long modeling career ahead of her to continue making an impact and potentially open doors for future Indigenous models.

There has also been the opening of the new modeling agency, Supernaturals Modelling, which is a Vancouver-based all-Indigenous modeling agency. It is the first all-Indigenous modeling agency ever to be created and the first much-needed step to showing the world all the Indigenous talent that is out there.

The fashion industry is full of diverse people and talent, but until they fully embrace minorities of all kinds, they still have a very long way to go. As Quannah Chasinghorse and agencies like Supernaturals Modelling make their name in the fashion world, it gives hope to what the future can become. Indigenous people have been shut out and excluded for far too long, and it’s about time we start to see welcomed visibility.


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