Over 80 percent of models that were hired for New York’s Fashion Week were white, whereas they make up 63 percent of the American population. While the 17% may not seem like a huge disparity, reducing that would create the world of difference. Our country is a growing melting pot of various races and religions, and our fashion industry needs to reflect that.
Although people of color and some Muslims are still seen on the runway, there is one particular group that is constantly overlooked in all aspects of entertainment and fashion industry: the American Sikh. The Sikhs have over 150 years of history in this country, yet they are never featured in entertainment business, commercial advertising, or in today’s fashion. However, what they do receive is constant scrutiny for their turbans from people who automatically assume their article of faith as a symbol of terror—which is sheer ignorance. Despite the reluctance to accept both the Muslim hijab and the Sikh turban as a norm, there’s a stronger stigma against the turban since the men appear to be more intimidating to those who do not understand its purpose.
For those not aware, Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world and there are over 500,000 Sikhs in the United States right now. The turban that Sikh men wear proudly is a symbol for equality and justice which they show between all people regardless of their race and religion. Call it ironic or sad, but I find it extremely painful that their article of faith which epitomizes American ideology has now become a tool for ignorant Americans to use as an excuse to discriminate based on irrational fears. Like the hijab, it is not a choice. And it most definitely should not prevent Sikh men from becoming a part of an already competitive industry.
Nonetheless, there are clothing brands out there that are shattering these falsely construed perceptions. One of the biggest ones would be H&M; it has already featured a Muslim hijabi last year and featured a group of Sikh men on one of its billboard in Times Square. These small efforts to include these minority groups along with their respective articles of faith project strong messages of inclusiveness in our community.
Another brand that is blurring the lines of ethnicity and religion in their models is Eidos Napoli. It is an Italian luxury brand which focuses on making classy yet comfortable clothing for men and just that. One of their models for New York Fashion Week was Sahaj Anand—a proud American Sikh who will start Emory University this fall. Sahaj told me, “Most people who asked me to model [previously] wanted me to remove my turban and show my hair.” When asked how his experience was different this time, he stated that it was great since Eidos Napoli “wanted [him] to keep [his] articles of faith intact.” Not only did this make him feel comfortable, but it proved to him that he did not have to compromise his beliefs to follow his dreams.
Here's a picture of Sahaj Anand modeling in his Eidos Napoli out for NYFW.
If an Italian brand can do this, why can’t more American brands? They have the most to gain from this. For them to portray more diverse groups would mean a larger consumer base to buy their products, which is their primary goal. How exactly do they expect to entice the minority consumer when they have no representation in their brands?
There are copious amounts of young men and women who would like their articles of faith to be seen as part of themselves, rather than as removable objects that are hindering their growth. At a time with increased talks of building walls, our fashion industry should be creating bridges because it is one of those few things, along with sports, that are uniting us. If a hijabi fencer like Ibtihaj Muhammad can represent our country in the Olympics, then surely brands like Abercrombie & Fitch shouldn’t have a problem tweaking their image to include men and women who are just as proud of their beliefs as they are to be American.