Kanye West brings much-needed diversity to runway fashion

Kanye West for Adidas Ready to Wear Fall Winter 2015 in New York

Like Hollywood, the fashion industry is scrutinized for being “white-washed.” Legions of Caucasian women strut down runways across the world, with just a few women of color dotting the landscape.

According to TheFashionSpot.com, 80 percent of runway models in 2015 were white. While more models of color have been opening and closing major shows, white models still dominate the industry. The spring 2016 shows only decreased the share of white models by 2.4 percent from the previous year.

The popularity of models like Jourdan Dunn and Joan Smalls is an exception to the overall rule; these women are the Naomi Campbells among a sea of Christy Turlingtons and Claudia Schiffers.

Perhaps the biggest advocate for change is Mr. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” Kanye West. Since launching his ready-to-wear collection, his shows have garnered attention not only for the clothes’ controversial aesthetic, but also for the casting of his shows. Any given Yeezy “Season” is likely to have more models of color than say, a Ralph Lauren show.

As recently as 2008, some castings called for “No blacks, no ethnics,” according to co-founder of Premier Model Management Carole White. West turned this standard on its head when he tweeted to his 25.7 million followers an open casting for “Multiracial Women Only” for his Season 4 show. Like many of West’s statements, this garnered backlash.

Many believed the call for multiracial women excluded darker-skinned women who struggle in the industry. Although runways feature too many white models, there’s also criticism for including only light-skinned black women.

Magazines have been reprimanded for artificially lightening the skin of black women. Some black women have even cosmetically lightened their skin, perceiving it to be more acceptable. Before and after pictures Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Blac Chyna provide a few examples.

And while, yes, there were many shades of beige at Yeezy Season 4, West silenced the naysayers with the inclusion of dark-skinned black women and models outside the physical standard of rail-thin and skyscraper tall. Model Sofia Richie stands at just 5-foot-6 tall. The music video for West’s “Fade” features Teyana Taylor with her athletic, yet still curvy figure on a 5-foot-2 frame.

West’s diverse casting also speaks to the power of his wife, Kim Kardashian. Before Kim, the American standard of beauty in Hollywood echoed that of the fashion industry: thin and blonde à la Paris Hilton and Kate Moss.

As Kim and her family gained popularity, their Armenian features and voluptuous figures made curves sexy again, harking back to the age of Marilyn Monroe. While many decry the Kardashian family for their somewhat inexplicable popularity, there’s no denying they encourage a more diverse standard of beauty.

Whether a woman is short like Kourtney, tall like Khloé, thin like Kendall, curvy like Kylie, she is beautiful.

Whether or not you love or hate Kanye West and his sartorial choices, he and his family have undoubtedly asserted the diversity of beauty and force the fashion industry to pay attention.

Kelly Brody is a senior majoring in journalism.

Featured image courtesy Flickr user Hashim Sirleaf