The fashion industry is known for it’s vapid obsession with clothing and image, especially with outward facing marketing like high fashion runway shows and major marketing campaigns. As the face of these campaigns, models often become scapegoats for the vanity of the industry. Movies and TV shows like Zoolander and America’s Next Top Model have only added to the perception that models are merely a canvas with no agency of their own. But, in the era of Instagram influencers, and social business, a wave of model-activists are changing the game.
With fame comes power and responsibility. Many may want to shy away from the pressure; but when done right, this can be a positive tool for making a difference. Cameron Russell is credited for starting this trend with her TEDtalk on how looks aren’t everything. Her movement has grown into more than just scrutinizing the modeling industry and has developed into a platform for the fashion industry to discuss global issues such as climate change, race inequality and women’s rights. In 2015 Cameron Russell represented Vogue at the United Nations summit on climate change (COP21) in Paris, where she covered the talks and deciphered the issues for their fashion audience. Her activism has led her to start her own platform, Model Mafia, which brings together models to fight for causes. As she says, “Models are uniquely poised to become fantastic activists because they are some of the few women who have very direct access to media.”
The trend of model activism and “woke” models comes at a time where fast fashion is growing dangerously out of control. There are more than 15 million tons of textile waste produced every year in the United States. If we were to extend the life of clothing by just three months, we could reduce water and carbon consumption by 5-10%. In addition to the waste created by the industry, the globalized manufacturing that makes these cheap fast fashion prices possible, is resulting in unfair working conditions, child labor, and hazardous working environments. All while industry professions from CEOs and designers, to models are profiting from these exploits of both environmental and human capital. This dirty industry needs ambassadors to fight for change, why not the models that have the platforms and the influence to reach an audience that care about clothing?
Consumer pressure is a strong driver for what kinds of products get developed. Imagine if young girls had role models to look up to for guidance on how to be conscious consumers, this could cause a dramatic shift in consumer behavior. Models with large followings can potentially help us lift the curtain on the industry and lead the charge in bringing some desperately needed transparency. With authenticity, and engaging story telling, model’s have the tools make real change.
Woke models like Leomie Anderson, who publishes articles by women and combines fashion with activism to make clothing with empowering phrases, are leading the pack in the model-activist phenomenon. One of Cameron Russell’s Model Mafia members, Renee Peters, advocates for ridding our oceans of plastic, and for a more transparent fashion industry, while another (Hawa Hassan) is fighting to solve the refugee crisis and battle climate change. The list goes on, and it’s amazing to see the projects these models have started. I look froward to seeing this trend grow, and can’t wait to see the impact. Marketing and influencer networks have such a big influence on public perception and I am excited to see that models are using their platform and engaged following to drive positive change.
I personally love filling my feed with powerful female role models, and the models highlighted in this post are perfect additions. Seeing what these women are doing makes me excited by what is possible and also how we are stronger when we work together. It would be amazing to see Model Mafia groups pop up around the country and the world. If you’re a model, I encourage you to get out there and use your platform to encourage others to do good. If you’re not, support them. Find those role models that are advocating for what you care about and help them spread their message.