“Fashion Needs To Step Up To The Black Squares & Take Action,” Says Stylist Zadrian Smith – British Vogue

“That’s an interesting question,” says fashion director Zadrian Smith, when asked whether he is itching to get back to red-carpet styling once the Covid-19 pandemic has subsided. “I am keen to get back to work, but the way the industry works must change. We need to have dialogues to reassess what is healthy.” 

Smith – who attended Black Lives Matter demonstrations rallying for racial justice after the senseless death of George Floyd and innumerable black people before him – is putting himself front and centre of conversations about diversity, inclusivity and unity. “I used to be afraid to speak out… fearful I’d lose a client,” he said in an Instagram post, detailing a picture of him protesting on 5 June. “However, it gives me great pleasure to report that every client I currently work with has used their platform and voice to stand up against racial injustice, because we are ALL in this together.”

Change, Smith believes, must be instigated by the gatekeepers of the fashion industry who, in turn, must want to offer equal opportunities for all. “It has been saddening for people of colour to see that there is a certain level of Hollywood that they have never had access to,” says Smith. “The chance to work with the upper echelons of the entertainment industry, such as Oscar nominees, is only given to the chosen few. There is only room at the table for these white women, because agents, managers and publicists never invite anyone else to sit with them.”

“I don’t want to come off as combative,” says Smith, who styles Naomi Scott, Lachlan Watson and Skai Jackson, amongst others. “I have been blessed with moments of support and success. But, there have been instances when I have worked with a client – who has been nominated for numerous awards for a TV series pushing the envelope on conversations about race – who didn’t make the ‘target list’ for VIP dressing because of their race.” In one particular instance, Smith was told his client, a person of colour, was not the “right aesthetic” for the brand, which, he says, raises the question, “What race is the right aesthetic?”

Fashion houses must be held accountable for both short-sighted business decisions and deep-rooted systemic prejudice. “Fashion knows it’s racist!” asserts Smith. “It has been called out many times before! Brands repeatedly include a black model in a campaign, but they haven’t done the homework.” The industry’s current internal reflections on how it can make meaningful and lasting change is markedly different, because, Smith believes, the horrific video of Floyd’s murder has hit home. “Covid-19 has given normally busy people time to reflect and research,” he says. Education and continual reassessment of how to rectify the institutional marginalisation of people of colour is vital in order to move forward. “Race is not a new conversation,” he says plainly, despite the fact the news cycle has recently “snowballed into one big eruption”.

“I didn’t realise fashion was a possible career for me until my mid-20s,” says Smith, because creative industries were not explored as future options at his school. Children of colour, he continues, are often still encouraged to pursue “secure” careers as doctors and lawyers by their teachers and parents. Then, there’s the financial outlay that comes with climbing the fashion ladder. When interning at magazines after graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Smith frequently found himself one of the only people of colour on the floor. He had to juggle a job at a diner and another at Gap in order to make ends meet. “Many people don’t have the strength or the fervour to take unpaid internships,” he says. “We have to inject money and resources into [marginalised] communities and break the narratives that are the core of the problem.” 

Smith – who has used his platform to break down boundaries around conversations about mental health and the treatment of LGBTQIA+ people of colour within the black community, as well as wider society – hopes that the current pause instils long-lasting change. “People of colour can talk about their experiences until they are blue in the face, but until people in positions of power come together as humans nothing will change,” Smith opines. “This is a human issue affecting humanity. People need to stand up to the black squares they posted and take action.”

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