More than token models and ‘allyship’ needed to fix fashion’s diversity issue

The line-up of the professionally beautiful at online retailer The Iconic’s first physical show in three years celebrated the gradual shift from skinny white models towards greater race, size and ability diversity on the Australian runway.

The minute of silence held before the show for Cassius Turvey, the 15-year-old Noongar boy who died after allegedly being chased and bashed with a metal pole in Perth’s north-east last week, reminded guests of the need to speed things up.

Models Jimmy Jan, Cindy Rostron and Onella Muralidharan were part of The Iconic’s diverse line-up for a runway show in Sydney.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

“We truly believe we have an enormous responsibility as a First Nations ally to use our platform to spread awareness and advocate for justice,” says Erica Berchtold, chief executive of The Iconic.

“This minute of silence acknowledges our deep sadness for Cassius’ family and the wider community impacted by this terrible act. We offer our unreserved condolences, and we will continue to listen and work with our First Nations community partners to elevate First Nations voices.”

“First Nations designers, models and creatives have only just started to be celebrated in magazines, editorials and campaigns,” says model Nathan McGuire.Credit:Getty

It’s an approach encouraged by leading model and Whadjuk Noongar man Nathan McGuire, who has worked with Dior, Country Road and David Jones and founded Mob In Fashion, which aims to increase First Nations representation in the fashion industry.

Following Turvey’s death, McGuire has spoken out against the performative approach of First Nations allyship taken by members of the fashion industry on social media.

“I just want to say I better be seeing the fashion industry attending the vigils for Cassius,” McGuire posted to Instagram. The Sydney vigil was scheduled 30 minutes before The Iconic show on Wednesday evening.

“It’s event season as well so you will show up to a luxury brand event. SO YOU BETTER BE AT THESE VIGILS.”

McGuire says that in the past two years the fashion industry has only started the journey towards authentic representation and allyship with First Nations people.

“Part of allyship is engaging in the conversations and issues within our communities,” he says. “This means the difficult moments as well, to begin recognising the racism placed upon First Nations people.”

“The fashion media has a responsibility to be part of all the conversations. Not just the ones that look good to them for ticking a box and to benefit the publication on a surface level, which is performative allyship.”

“The industry has a long way to go.”

The Iconic’s chief category and sustainability officer, Gayle Burchell, says that conversations about meaningful support in emerging spaces, such as working with First Nations communities, adaptive clothing and modest dressing, happen long before models hit the runway.

“We’ve got a solid track record of using a wide range of models,” Burchell says. “There’s always more that we could be looking at doing. We always want to talk to communities and get their input.”

For Rembarrnga Dalabon woman and Vogue cover model Cindy Rostron, who appeared on The Iconic runway beside influencer and wheelchair user Jimmy Jan and model Ornella Muralidharan, who has the skin condition vitiligo, things are improving.

“It’s important to see people on the runway that are individual in their own way and I’m excited that The Iconic celebrates these differences,” Rostron says.

“Everyone should be welcomed because when you’re walking the runway, it shouldn’t matter what you look like, what body you are in, where you come from. We are all one.”

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