Supermodel Beverly Johnson Calls Out Racism in the Fashion Industry: 'We Need a Seat at the Table'

Beverly Johnson, the first Black supermodel to appear on the cover of Vogue, wrote a powerful op-ed about racism in the fashion industry earlier this week

Beverly Johnson

Beverly Johnson made history when she became the first Black supermodel to grace the cover of American Vogue in August 1974 — but five decades later, the 67-year-old trailblazer is still fighting for equality and representation in the fashion industry.

Johnson appeared on Thursday morning's episode of Good Morning America where she told ABC's Juju Chang that real change has to start at the top, after writing a powerful op-ed about racism for the Washington Post earlier this week.

“There is no diversity in the upper echelon. None. We don’t have a seat at the table. We have no representation in the fashion world,” the author, actress and businesswoman said during an interview that aired Thursday morning. “On the outside now, you’re seeing Black models and you think we’re getting somewhere. But basically, the economics of the business, we are not participating financially.”

Beverly Johnson
Beverly Johnson's historic Vogue cover. Francesco Scavullo/Conde Nast via Getty

In her op-ed, Johnson cited two recent examples of racism within the fashion industry: Gucci’s 2018 Fall/Winter Minstrel-inspired collection with garments that resembled Blackface and the shocking noose-knotted hoodie that Burberry debuted last year.

Both brands have since apologized for the insensitive designs, but Johnson said they would've never even made it to the runway if Black creatives had a seat at the table: "We really need to have a voice in those rooms."

And when asked what Vogue editor-in-chief and Condé Nast creative director Anna Wintour can do to help, the supermodel didn’t hold back.

Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party, Los Angeles, USA - 26 Feb 2017
Beverly Johnson. David Buchan/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

"Well, she’s the most powerful person in fashion and she wields a lot of power," Johnson told Chang. "When I did this [Washington Post] article, one of the things I wanted to accomplish was not just, ‘Oh this is wrong and that’s wrong,’ I wanted to have a solution."

The supermodel addressed the internal apology Wintour sent to Vogue staff members earlier this month in her op-ed, writing, "Wow — after three decades, fashion’s leading arbiter has finally acknowledged that there may be a problem!"

She continued, "I propose the “Beverly Johnson Rule” for Condé Nast, similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL that mandates that a diverse set of candidates must be interviewed for any open coaching and front office position."

Beverly Johnson. Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage

The new rule would require "at least two black professionals to be meaningfully interviewed for influential positions," Johnson wrote, adding, "I also invite chief executives of companies in the fashion, beauty and media industries to adopt this rule."

In a statement to ABC News, Wintour's team said: "Anna has done much to champion diversity and inclusion throughout her tenor. From putting Naomi Campbell on the cover of Anna's first September issue in 1989, to supporting designers of color via the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund."

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