Several African American models who were at a casting call for Miami Swim Week said a California-based swimsuit line turned them away Thursday.
The reason? Their race, they said on a video posted to Facebook.
But the line, Huntington Beach-based KYA Swim, said it was “disturbed” by the allegations that the show was discriminating against African American models. The designer went on to open and close its Miami Swim Week show with a model of color.
In a video posted Friday to Facebook by a user named Macaroni Tony, model Joia Talbott claimed “maybe 10 to 15 black models were dismissed. They said casting was closed just so we can move faster and so we get out of line — and they open the line back up.”
“I’m at a loss for words. I’m still trying to process what happened. All of us had to get out of the line — they told us they didn’t want any more black models,” said model Kacey Leggett, who was a contestant on the 15th cycle of “America’s Next Top Model,” in the video.
“And afros are a no-no so I didn’t stand a chance right?” Tablott said, adding, “We’re ready to go back to L.A. where we’re appreciated — and booked.”
“Somebody tell Miami there’s no such thing as too much brown skin,” Leggett said.
The video has since gone viral, sparking more than 1 million views as of Wednesday afternoon, and reigniting a conversation on the role discrimination plays in the fashion industry.
Model Kate Citrone said in a story on Fashion Week Online that it’s still unclear why KYA Swim turned away a group of African American models. Still, she corroborated Johnson-Talbott’s account.
“Not only was the casting cut short upon the dismissal of dark skin models, but upon leaving, I noticed the designer still accepting models of a fairer skin type at the door, bringing them upstairs, comp cards in hand,” she wrote.
KYA released a statement saying it was investigating what went wrong at the casting call.
“Everyone at KYA Swim is deeply disturbed by the allegations brought by Joia Talbott and other models about the casting event at Miami Swim Week,” the company said in a statement. “KYA Swim is proud of its record of diversity and we are the midst of looking into the events of last Thursday to review the actions of the production company in charge of the casting call.”
The call was run by Miami Beach-based production company Funkshion, which punted the blame back on KYA. In an emailed statement, Funkshion’s chief creative officer Natalija Stojanovic said the company’s mission has always been to “reflect the diverse culture we live in today.”
“As much as we push for diversity and inclusion in our shows, ultimately, it is the individual designers who make the final decisions on the model selections for their brands,” Stojanovic said. “While the incident that has been reported is unfortunate, we encourage the dialogue about representation of models of all types to happen. It is our goal to further push to break down existing barriers wherever we can.”
Citrone and other models say the issue with KYA doesn’t speak for the overall spirit of Miami Swim Week, which ran from Thursday to Tuesday.
Model Quiyona Salmon wrote in an email that she was booked all weekend, and even had to turn a designer away because she had already committed to another show.
“This is a cutthroat industry and it’s either you have the look that the designer wants or not. Simple,” Salmon wrote in an email. “You’re going to get a bunch or ‘no’s’ before you get that one ‘yes’ and you just have to move on.”
Models have previously protested the lack of African American representation at other fashion-industry shows. Last year, a group of models staged a “Black Models Matter” protest in front of the Balenciaga show at Paris Fashion Week to protest the designer’s alleged preference for white models.
But the industry’s diversity is improving. The Fashion Spot’s seasonal Diversity Report found that fall 2018 New York Fashion Week was the most diverse ever, with 37.3 percent of the models on the runway were women of color, while 62.7 percent of models were white.
“I truly believe that the system is revolutionizing and African American models and ‘dark skin models’ are given more opportunities than before in the fashion world, and I’d like to see it continue,” Citrone said.
Overall, this year’s Miami Swim Week has been praised for its diversity. Several shows featured plus-size models, and the Sports Illustrated show featured a nursing mother and a model with a prosthetic leg.