In September of 2017 ELLE.com teamed up with YouTube to produce content and host a “Fashion for All” panel discussion on diversity in the fashion industry. Moderated by ELLE.com fashion features director Nikki Ogunnaike, the panel included Christian Siriano, Keke Palmer, models Precious Lee, Candice Huffine, and Andreja Pejić, and Planned Parenthood Director of Constituency Communications Alencia Johnson. Though fashion week is over, the conversation still continues. I touched base with Lee almost two months later to see how the rest of her fashion week panned out and learn more about the strides the fashion and beauty industry needs to take towards true inclusivity. Here’s what she had to say.
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The rest of fashion week was super busy. I was working throughout as well, so if I wasn’t at a fitting or doing a casting, I was shooting. It was really cool doing the Christian [Siriano] show, doing the Addition Elle Ashley Graham show. I’ve known Ashley for a while and I’ve been able to witness her growth as a designer as well as a model and I really loved the consistency of the sexy, chicness of her collection. I actually forgot that I was going to be modeling in a thong until I got there. And I was like, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that!” as I was about to walk out. It felt so freeing and really liberating to be doing it as a size 14/16; walking down a New York Fashion Week runway in a thong was just amazing.
There aren’t many designers who have jumped on board with including plus-size models on the runway so to be part of a brand that is basically like a community felt like home. Every girl in the show was plus-size, so it was really exciting to be able to highlight our community. We can still be inclusive with Fashion Week, but still need our own thing going as well. Even though we’re trying to break all of these barriers in including breaking into mainstream fashion, I think it’s important to maintain the community that we have. The stronger we are the better and more progressive we can be when we actually integrate with other communities in the fashion world. While I expected to see more plus girls on the runway for other designers, I was very excited to see that there was more racial diversity on the runways this season than there ever has been.
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I find myself discussing diversity and inclusivity in fashion a lot, but I think I’m getting a lot of questions that should be directed towards people in the industry who can actually change what we see in fashion and media. It’s important to know our voice and what we want—and I think I’ve made it clear that I feel we’re capable of being at the forefront of the industry, being on trend, and being able to inspire people in the fashion world—but I also think it’s important for people to realize that there’s so much that is involved in making one picture, one campaign, one runway show. It’s not just the model and the designer that’s involved. You have the casting director, you have the producer, you have all of these other people in the background behind the scenes that should be asked those questions. There has to be an effort on different parts in the industry to make a visible, tangible change.
You asked what we can do during the in-between times of fashion weeks. A personal goal of mine is to do more editorial work. New York Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week is a platform for new and experienced models to get more exposure and then you have editorials which are another opportunity for models to get exposure. and As a plus-sized model, I would like to see more editorial opportunity to show that I can turn out a picture the way like any another model. It’s important to start integrating within media and publications and offering more editorial work for different sized women.
What I want now is less talk and more work done. We’ve talked about this in big stories, small stories, print and video—it’s time to see some of this stuff actually happen. Now’s the time, more than ever, where we can all get involved artistically and creatively and I would love to work with some of the brands that I love that you never really see plus-sized women in. When I post photos on social media I get messages from people saying that I inspire them. We have such a voice and it’s important to include all women and make women feel that they don’t have to be afraid of certain brands or stores. Now’s the time for people to step up and be inspired and remember that art, fashion, and music has always been reflective of the times and now is the time that women are embracing their bodies, embracing the skin that they’re in, and showing that we can all be different but we can all be beautiful.
People forget that what we’re doing in fashion may effect a million women. If we thought about a little bit more things would be a little different. Fantasy is super important in fashion and I don’t think that should be taken away, but I think important to reflect many parts of audiences. If you don’t, we feel detached. It’s important to show a realistic depiction of what is going on in fashion when we’re creating, designing, taking pictures, writing, et cetera. I just think it calls for a those involved to be little more mindful and make a conscious effort.
Come on, what’s the big deal? I remember viewing fashion as being really fun and artistically exciting when I was a kid. It wasn’t something that was so serious. Why does it have to be so stationary? What’s more different and exciting and rare to see right now than a black girl that’s a size 14 on the cover of a magazine? When have we seen that?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.