Bethann Hardison

Bethann Hardison: Pioneering Diversity on the Fashion Runway


Dec. 28 2023, Published 12:09 p.m. ET

In a reality where the fashion industry is critiqued for its lack of diversity, Bethann Hardison emerges as an innovator, reshaping the runway to reflect a more diverse representation of society.

Known for her advocacy, Hardison contributes meaningfully to transforming the modeling industry by bringing inclusiveness to the forefront.

Breaking Boundaries: Paving the Runway for Diversity in Fashion

Bethann Hardison's tireless efforts to shatter the glass ceiling in the fashion world is seen in all of the initiatives she leads. One of her most notable campaigns is “Balanced Diversity,” which discusses how many modeling opportunities are based on race and ethnicity. Hardison observed how she, as the only African-American female at the time, was being treated as an outsider by white males in the industry.

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“Balanced Diversity” is not just a catchphrase. It is a movement and Hardison advocates for equal rights for models of all backgrounds. She has fearlessly called out designers, casting directors, and fashion houses that perpetuate homogeneity on the runway. Her audacity has forced the industry to reevaluate the way things are done, and it is no longer unusual for models of color to be a part of the fashion story rather than the exception.

“Two, three, four [models of color] is nice. But not when there's 30 girls. I'm very pleased with any improvement, and I say that respectfully,” she told Fashionista. “ "I would definitely like to see, long-term, consistency. Not just one or two seasons, not hit or miss. But just that there are consistently more models of color."

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Besides the runway, Hardison's influence is seen in the Invisible Beauty documentary, which deals with Black models and their experiences in the fashion industry. The documentary is about the challenges and triumphs of marginalized voices.

Hardison calls out these stories to push for a paradigm shift in the way society sees beauty.

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Trailblazing Legacy: Bethann Hardison's Impact on the Fashion Landscape

Hardison’s influence reaches way beyond one or two initiatives. Her mark is on the fashion landscape itself. Her activism has rippled throughout the fashion world while pressuring designers to review how they deal with race on the fashion scene.

Designers who once operated within the constraints of a narrow definition of beauty are now expanding their horizons, recognizing that true beauty knows no bounds.

“I'm hoping to do right by building a foundation and making something that can be tangible for when I’m no longer here,” she said to Time magazine. “That’s why I wanted to make this film, to help represent those who are underserved and so that it will always be able to be seen in perpetuity, in institutions or museums. Why do the good work and not have it in some way that others can’t share or reference?”

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Additionally, Hardison has started conversations about the need for systemic change and challenged biases that uphold one standard of beauty. Her actions have created possibilities for potential models from diverse origins so that diversity is no longer a trendy term but an industry imperative.

Hardison, in an emotional chat with People, talks about the journey where she stresses the need to remain persistent in tough times. Her message is clear. The struggle for diversity continues and every inch forward is a victory.

Projects like "Balanced Diversity" and Invisible Beauty have the power to evoke change. And Hardison is the spark that can ignite the change necessary for a more realistic fashion world. Her legacy serves as motivation to upcoming models and reminds the industry that inclusivity is not a fad. It is a pathway to a more colorful universe.

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