Every face in White Stuff ‘s 108 page winter catalogue belongs to a white person- and, at a glance, every face on their website. Are they really saying people from ethnic minorities do not form part of their market? Do they really think their clothes look best against white skin? I doubt that.
Much more likely is that they’ve just not thought it through. I don’t think for a moment that the owners of White Stuff or their art director or their photographer made a deliberate decision not to use any black models but the fact is, no-one along the way to the printing of this catalogue spotted this gross omission or, if they did, they didn’t think it was worth doing anything about.
It’s most likely a simple lack of thought about the implications of only featuring white people. (White Stuff’s catalogue also didn’t feature older or physically disabled people, so we can be fairly sure there is no conscious effort in the company to bring about positive change in society.)
This whiteness that dominates the fashion industry is insidious. It creates a norm in our minds. Even if fashion leaders are not being deliberately racist, catalogues and cat walks say our society is white and that white is to be aspired to. So it reinforces unconscious bias. That’s bad for our society.
And it’s bad marketing. To provide a catalogue with nothing but white faces is potentially offensive to all those customers who oppose discrimination and to the 13% of the population who are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
White Stuff are far from alone. Look at any number of high street catalogues and websites and you’ll find a sea of white faces. I’ve read that top black models Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman and Joan Smalls have all complained about occasions when photographers preferred white models or only picked a quota of non-white models.
The Edit magazine described how ‘There were times when Dunn would be on her way to castings and told to turn back because the client “didn’t want any more black girls”. There was even one instance when a makeup artist announced on a shoot that she didn’t want to make-up Dunn’s face because she herself was white and Dunn was black.’
But it can be done. Step forward Debenhams. All it takes is a little thought.
Here’s a tip for White Face, sorry White Stuff. Whether you’re writing copy or creating visual images, get your work double checked by fresh eyes from outside the company. It helps avoid unintended messages.