First Black Designer, Dom Streater, Wins ‘Project Runway’

dom-streater-project-runwayRecently, there has been a lot of press covering the dearth of people of color in high  fashion. High fashion and couture print models are predominantly white and the number of models of color has been decreasing in top fashion shows. In all, the outlook for people of color in the fashion industry seems to be a negative one. Yet, the outcome of this year’s Project Runway reality show, airing on Lifetime, is so significant because it challenges these barriers for people of color. For the first time in 12 seasons the show has its first black winner, Dom Streater. While seemingly way overdue, this is an accomplishment which highlights ongoing racial issues in the fashion industry.

In an interview with Essence.com, the West Philadelphia native says she has been a fan of the show since she was a preteen.  And, her years following the show have obviously paid off. Her whispy and original designs wowed the judges week after week. Her final collection even received accolades from the one and only Kerry Washington. Though, her win begs the question: “Why did it take so long to find a black designer with the talent to win the show?” It isn’t like there haven’t been black designers on before.

Streater’s win underscores a hidden trait of the fashion industry. While she is on the design side, it has become clear that people of color are underrepresented in all facets of the industry especially in front of the camera and on the runway. Long time editor and contributor at Vogue, Andre Leon Talley, recently gave an interview with Vanity Fair describing the “glass ceiling” he has faced in the industry. He spoke of an implicit racism wherein people of color are simply unable to progress beyond certain invisible borders attributable only to their race. Discussing stereotypes and structural barriers which keep people of color from achieving greater success in the industry, Talley, even with his decades of respectability and accomplishment in fashion, reports facing obstacles of his own. This seems a bit surprising as his name is synonymous with Vogue.

So, does Streater’s accomplishment actually mean anything? Probably. While the system seems inherently flawed and institutionally racist, she, as the designer, will have the final say regarding who gets to walk the runway in her designs. Thus far, she has used women of all races in her shows. So, there is a likelihood that she will continue to do so. However, given that she is so new to mainstream fashion, it could be quite some time before her efforts influence other designers. The onus is still on major designers like Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Armani, who were specifically called out by supermodel Naomi Campbell, fashion icon Iman, and former model Bethann Hardison as promoting “racist runways,” to lead the way in fashion diversity. Until they begin to do so, the industry will have little reason to change at all.

So, while this is a celebratory moment, it is also a bittersweet one. Streater earned her place ahead of the bunch on this season’s final show but she will likely face difficulty as she continues her career. For now, congratulations are in order. Here’s to hoping that her win is indicative of a sea change in the fashion world.worthSignature

Comments

  1. tealover says:

    I’m so thrilled because my daughter is an amazing designer, she’s only 12. I hope they stop this racist mess,because any one even blind can see how deep rooted the industries racism has been. That pointy nosed, tom boy model look is getting tired and old too. Dam there is no creativity anymore. No other perspective. It’s getting played out and old.