This blog post has been a long time coming. You might remember about two years ago I had a look at 52 different sewing magazine covers and disappointingly found that every single one had a white model on the front. Despite the diversity and colourfulness (in every sense of the word) within the sewing community there were no Black, Asian or ethnic minority models on the front cover of any of the magazines that supposedly cater for us.
I was shocked to say the least but more than anything, disappointed. The sewing community is one that is, at its core, about celebrating our individuality and diversity- its one that prides itself as being welcoming and inclusive- regardless of age, gender, size, shape, sexuality. But on one of the most basic of things, they were flat out failing.
So what has happened since then?
Outside the sewing world, magazines and publishers are slowly starting to wake up to the diversity issue. Most notably there was the appointment of Edward Enninful at British Vogue. His predecessor was heavily criticised for her reaction when her final edition showed a photograph of her 54 strong staff- all of who were white.
“Diversity for me is not just about skin colour but of perspectives. It should be part of the language of the magazine always. That’s just what the world is.”- E Enninful
Since being at the helm Edward Enninful has been leading the way with championing women from all backgrounds, featuring them centre stage on the front covers. Across the pond, the 2018 September edition of American Vogue had its first ever cover photo taken by a Black photographer in its 126-year history.
One hundred and twenty-six years. Let that sink in.
While strides have been made by a few notable names, this Guardian report earlier this year reminded us that the rest of the mainstream magazine world had remained significantly white. In fact they carried out a similar bit of research to mine- looking at 214 of the best-selling magazine covers and found that only 20 had a person of colour on the front. That’s less than 10%.
Back to the sewing world:
After I published my blog post, I was lucky enough to have a few discussions with different editors- some referenced a lack of models, others felt their hands were tied by powers-that-be but a few were actively trying to make a change.
So what has changed? Well I decided to do a bumper review of issues spanning over 5 different sewing magazines, from January 2017 until September 2018. That’s 102 issues and…. well, I have mixed feelings.
Out of 102 issues, 6 featured a model of colour on the front. I know what you’re thinking: six is better than zero, so that’s progress right? But then again, zero wasn’t exactly a hard number to beat. I guess the reason why I’m reluctant to jump up and down with excitement is the distribution of the covers. Of those 6 covers, half were from one magazine. The other magazines had only managed 1 model of colour in 21 issues. And even then, two of those magazines went the entire of 2017 without a model of colour. And one (very popular) magazine didn’t even manage that- with zero models once again. So is that progress?
I try to reason it but I feel that underlying it all there’s something more uncomfortable going on: the assumption that people of colour don’t sell magazines. But it’s just not true. In August 2018 The Guardian published the Gal-dem takeover of the Weekend Magazine- a collection of women and non-binary people of colour. It gained so much traction that people reported it being sold-out at their newsagents- but more than that there was a significant spike in sales. Going back to Mr Enninful- whilst he was at Italian Vogue he spearheaded the ‘Black issue’, which featured Black models exclusively. It was such a big hit that it’s the only issue of Italian Vogue that has ever been reprinted. As Liv Little, the founder and editor-in-chief of gal-dem, says: “diversity breeds creativity.”
One of the things that struck me the most from the messages I’ve been sent is the feeling of being undervalued- as a consumer, as a person. Because it is no exaggeration to say that by failing to represent us, they are telling people of colour that we don’t matter. I know there’ll be editors that are horrified at that thought and will be shouting at their screens saying “no way. That’s not me”. But trust me: that is what is happening. More than ever we have learnt the impact of staying quiet and going along with the status quo. It’s no longer good enough to passively stay to the side and “carry on with business”. By not making a positive change in the right direction these magazines are complicit in keeping people of colour on the sidelines.
So we are asking you to be better because we deserve better. And please don’t take a hundred years to do it…
“It is a moment … to do what it has always done best: to offer a bold vision of what the future can – and should – look like”- E Enninful
What can we do?
There’s only so much impact I can make as a single person writing on my little blog so I need your help. You don’t need to be a woman of colour to speak out about this! We can’t celebrate all women if we don’t support and stand up for each other. So here’s a few things you can do:
- Lets bring the colour to our timelines! Save this badge and share it on your social media to show your support. Don’t forget to include the hashtag #SewInColour
- Share this post! Let’s get this going far and wide.
- Tweet/DMs magazines and tell them your thoughts.
- Write about it yourself, each of our experiences are unique and the more of us we have behind this, the louder our voices
P.S. If you are an editor or are interested in discussing this further please email me at [email protected]