OLIVIA ANAKWE is the latest model to call out stylists who don’t know how to work with black hair – and her account of feeling ignored serves as a reminder that for all the recent diversity fanfare, the fashion industry is failing when it comes to genuine inclusion.
Anakwe, 21, shared her experience on social media in a bid to “spread awareness” and urged those working in hair styling to “expand their range of skills”.
“I was asked to get out of an empty chair, followed by having hairstylists blatantly turning their backs to me when I would walk up to them to get my hair done,” she said in response to a recent experience in Paris during Fashion Week.
Providing context to the footage she posted on Instagram of herself getting her hair done at an unspecified job, Anakwe said that when the hired hairstylists incapable of plaiting the required cornrow style failed her, she was left to ask a fellow model and then a nail artist to get her ready for the show.
She said: “If I am asked to wear my natural hair to a show, the team should prepare the style just as they practice the look and demo for non-afro hair. I arrived backstage where they planned to do cornrows, but not one person on the team knew how to do them without admitting. So after one lady attempted and pulled my edges relentlessly, I stood up to find a model who could possibly do it. After asking two models and then the lead/only nail stylist, she was then taken away from her job to do my hair. This is not okay. This will never be okay. This needs to change. No matter how small your team is, make sure you have one person that is competent at doing afro texture hair care or just hire a black hairstylist!”
Anakwe’s experience has once again highlighted prevailing double standards not just in terms of the ways black models are treated in comparison to their white counterparts but in terms of the expectations and high standards that black hair – and makeup – professionals are required to adhere to in contrast to their white peers. The culture of having to work twice as hard to comes to mind.
“Black hairstylists are required to know how to do everyone’s hair, why does the same not apply to others? It does not matter if you don’t specialise in afro hair, as a continuous learner in your field you should be open to what you have yet to accomplish; take a class,” Anakwe said.
Anakwe, who has walked for designers including Burberry, Julien Macdonald and Alexa Chung, said she felt ignored and forgotten after the incident. The model’s feelings are understandable and ones that many black women – models or not – will identify with.
Sadly, that’s because the situation is far from unheard of. In fact, it feels as though every fashion month, stories just like Anakwe’s make headlines. While the fashion industry is being praised for improving diversity on the catwalk and campaigns, it’s still falling far behind when it comes to providing a working environment that caters to black women’s basic requirements.
British model Leomie Anderson has also recently spoken out about the incompetence of some white hairstylists.
She tweeted yesterday: “I absolutely detest having my hair done by white hairdressers who I haven’t worked with before and think that I don’t know my own hair. Like it’s one of the worst feelings ever.
“I wrap my hair every single night and she’s telling me it needs to be sprayed down in order for a wig to go on top…And then after all the spray they put a wig cap anyway…like where’s the logic?”
Black women on and off the catwalk have, like Anakwe and Anderson, been ignored and made to feel invisible by the beauty industry – and progress in this area has been far too slow. Many of us can relate to visiting makeup stores to be colour matched, only to leave frustrated after an incapable employee struggles to understand what works for our skin, or browsing brands’ collections to find that they’ve excluded dark brown shades.
Anderson, who has walked in shows for Rihanna’s Fenty x Savage, shared one of the lies she’s been told by professionals who don’t have the necessary kit.
Back in January she tweeted: “You don’t need makeup, you’re skin is beautiful!” says every makeup artist that doesn’t have products to compliment your skin tone. Just shame the devil and admit that in 2019, you still ain’t with the s****.”
Regardless of the health of a model’s natural skin, makeup is required on shoots to counter the effects of artificial lighting, which alters the skin’s appearance, and to achieve the desired look. It’s highly unlikely a white model, no matter what the condition of their complexion, would be told what Anderson was.
While professional makeup artists have long had no excuse to come to shoots with beauty products suitable for black skin and the skills required to apply them, with the ever-increasing range of cosmetics specifically created with black women in mind, it’s even more indefensible today.
Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty makeup line, which Anderson has been one of the faces of, has been praised for its extensive range of foundation shades that cater to black skin. Earlier this month, more than a year after it launched, it increased its offering and released a collection of 50 concealers.
And while Fenty Beauty has been praised as a blessing for black women with dark skin tones, it’s also provided a broad selection for those with pale skin, including albino women.
The beauty industry’s lack of knowledge of afro hair provides a great opportunity for black stylists, makeup artists and entrepreneurs to fill gaps in the market. It’s something we’ve seen with the likes of Pat McGrath, MDMflow, Treasure Tress and Afrocenchix, to name a few, but funding for such ventures, which are undervalued, is not easy to attain.
And regardless, multinational companies have a responsibility to pay more than lip service to inclusion. While consumers can vote with their pockets and refuse to support brands that fail to recognise them, models shouldn’t have to concern themselves with bringing their own beauty tools and products to high-end jobs.
Brands at the centre of the release of offensive products have announced measures to avoid repeating mistakes that have seen them labelled racist – Ava DuVernay has been appointed to chair Prada’s diversity council and Burberry has revealed its staff will receive inclusion training.
Similar efforts need to be made behind the scenes at all companies that still operate as if public facing diversity is the same as authentic inclusion across the board. But ultimately, one way to affect real and almost immediate change is to hire and value black professionals. And brands need to do this like it’s going out of fashion because inclusion is much more than a trend.