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  • Writer's pictureJurnee Holland

3 Rising Black and African Models to Know About

Black bodies are an important area of focus when analyzing the fashion industry because they are often underutilized compared to their homogeneous White counterparts. The fashion industry has and continues to adhere to the image of normative Whiteness and White, European standards of beauty. Black people have experienced more obstacles making a place for themselves and convincing the public of their value in modeling and fashion especially in more recent decades.

In the mid-twentieth century, with the increase of commercial goods being advertised to the Black market there was the first increase in demand for Black women to model in advertisements. This sparked a major growth in modeling as a legitimate profession for Black women. Soon to follow was the opening of the first African American modeling agency in NYC in 1946, an important step in carving out a place for women of color in the modeling industry.

The Battle of Versailles - Fashion Show - Black Models - Black in Fashion - American Fashion - Diversity in Fashion - 1970's
The Battle of Versailles: The night American fashion stumbled into the spotlight and made history (Photo from 1973)

The demand for and value of Black models hit a peak in the 1970s, when they came to be sought after for the specific ways that their bodies brought life to clothing. Black models stood out to people of the fashion industry for appearing more vivid and alive when they wore designer clothing. Throughout the 1970s there was a steady increase of Black models in the fashion industry and many had gained high status and recognition during their long careers going into the 1980s and 90s. However, by the 2000s the perceived value of Black models in the industry shifted, and fashion designers’ preferences began to reflect a more White and fair-skinned look. This period was publicly recognized as a ‘whitewashing’ of the fashion industry.

Today, though things have improved, there is still a noted lack of racial diversity in the fashion industry, specifically in regards to the presence of Black models on the runway and in print magazines. White, European beauty continues to be the norm and standard to which all others are compared. White bodies continue to be preferred when it comes to selling things like luxury goods.

That is why I decided to do a Rising Black and African Models Series to really showcase some women who are just beginning their careers and carving out their space in the industry. Maintaining Black representation in fashion is so important, as our beauty, bodies, and stories are worthy of being displayed too. Each new Black face emerging in the industry contributes to diversifying our representation to the public. These prints aim to highlight three of such faces emanating varied qualities of Black beauty in their work in fashion.

Amar Akway

Amar Akway - Miu Miu - Black Model - African Model - Woman in Nature - Numero Magazine - Fashion Editorial
Amar Akway for Numéro Magazine April 2020

Ethiopian beauty Amar Akway made her international modeling debut on the Lanvin Spring/Summer 2020 runway in September of last year. Soon after she would walk for several more luxury brands including Givenchy, Valentino, and Schiaparelli. Akway left such an impression that she was even included on’s list of top newcomers for the SS20 season. Before she was gracing runways and Vogue covers, as a young teenage Amar Akway was a competitive runner and was a member of the national Ethiopian athletic team. As a new member of the industry, she acknowledges the responsibility that comes with representing diverse Black beauty as well as her East African culture.

My illustration was inspired by an image from Akway’s editorial titled “Chlorophylle” in Numéro Magazine’s April 2020 issue where she is standing in a garden styled in Miu Miu. I found this image so striking when I first saw it from the combination of her soft pose with the drama that her complexion and features bring.

Amar Akway - Miu Miu - Garden - Woman in the Garden - Numero Magazine - Digital Illustration - Fashion Art - Fashion Illustration - Black Woman Art - Black Fashion Art - African Model - Black Models to Know
Jurnfern Art - Amar Akway Miu Miu Garden Illustration

Imani Randolph

Imani Randolph - Leopard Bikini - Model - Eclectic Setting - Boho Setting - Black Model to Know - Black Influencer - Fashion Blog - Fashion Article
Imani Randolph for her Instagram @champagnemani

Imani Randolph is the second model featured in this series. In addition to modeling, Randolph writes (she was previously a contributor for ManRepeller) and does freelance work for fashion brand Ganni. She not only represents Black beauty but also proudly represents body diversity. Remaining critical of brands which seem to exploit body diversity for their image, Randolph feels that progress only comes in part when standards of measurement themselves are challenged.

She sees modeling as a way to learn more about and become more comfortable with her body by getting to see all the angles of her body only revealed in photographs. Imani’s intimate relationship with and pure acceptance of her body can be felt through the screen when viewing photos of her in any clothing, from dresses, to her bra and underwear, or in the case of this illustration, a leopard bikini.

My illustration was inspired by one of Imani Randolph’s personal photos on her Instagram page, while putting my own spin on the background setting. I love how radiant and confident Imani is in this image and that’s what made me feel like I had to recreate it.

Imani Randolph - Leopard Bikini - Fashion Print - Fashion Illustration - Watercolor Art - Fashion Art - Boho Decor - Eclectic Decor - Black Woman Art - Black Models to Know
Jurnfern Art - Imani Randolph Leopard Bikini Illustration

Alexis Ruby

Alexis Ruby - Marc Jacobs - Polka Dot Dress - Mini Dress - Runway Walk - Fashion Show - NYFW - Black Models - Mixed Models - Black Models to Know
Alexis Ruby from her Instagram @lexpfromthevill

Modeling wasn’t always a career option in Alexis Ruby’s mind, in fact she spent most of her life singing gospel music in choirs and A Capella groups. She wasn’t seeking modeling- it found her; after photos were posted online by some of her photographer friends, Ruby signed with IMG Models within months. Her runway debut came at the Marc Jacobs Spring 2020 show in September of 2019. Among the chaos of adopting a new life in NYC as a fashion model, Ruby calls on some specific things to keep her self grounded, such as volunteering with charities including the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, exploring her new city with friends, and putting her physical and mental health first. Alexis exudes such a bright confidence that only enhances her incredibly unique features from her mixed race complexion (she is Irish and Black) to her fierce curls and her curvy figure. She takes pride in knowing she is contributing to a change of the typical ‘fashion model image.’

My illustration was inspired by Alexis Ruby’s debut walk down the Marc Jacobs SS20 runway in a polka dot mini dress and patterned tights. I was taken by the complete joy and energy expressed in this picture.

Alexis Ruby - Polka Dots - Marc Jacobs - Runway - Runway Fashion - Fashion Print - Fashion Illustration - Mixed Model - Black Models to Know - Pin Art - Wall Art - Kids Wall Art
Jurnfern Art - Alexis Ruby Polka Dot Marc Jacobs Illustration in Rose Pink

Continue reading below for some related action items to consider this week!

I want to conclude this post by sharing some action items, not only related to the presence of Black models in high-fashion in general, but also some which are more specifically related to each of the three featured models in this series. The following items will relate to boosting images of Black people in magazines, on the runway, etc. as well as causes which are important to Amar Akway, Imani Randolph, and Alexis Ruby themselves. Consider some of these actions if you happen to have the time and resources!

1. Follow and/or Donate to the Black in Fashion Council:

Newly established, the Black in Fashion Council’s mission is to “represent and secure the advancement of Black individuals in the fashion and beauty industry.” By encouraging brands to rise to the occasion, the council aims to start a more long-term shift. They have joined forces with many big names, including Brandon Maxwell, PVH Corp, and Glossier just to name a few. To stay aware of the work the BIFC is doing you can sign up at the website link below for their email newsletter. Should you have the desire and resources, I’ve also attached a link where you can donate to the mission.

2. Support some Black-owned businesses:

It is important to support the voices, perspectives and endeavors of those in our Black community, and shopping from Black-owned businesses is just one way to do that. Black business owners have the potential to face more obstacles in building their businesses than their non-Black counterparts, including being discriminated against by banks for things like small business loans. Making an effort to support these businesses helps to strengthen local economies, foster job creation, and celebrate Black culture among many other things. Below is a list of some Black-owned businesses to support shared by Imani Randolph.

1. Victor Glemaud, Leisurewear Designer - @glemaud

2. GOLDE, Superfood Health - @golde

3. Underthing, Lingerie Designer - @underthingshop

4. Aliya Wanek, Clothing Designer - @aliyawanek

5. Harrietts Bookshop, Bookstore - @harrietts_bookshop

6. ZOU XOU, Shoe Designer - @zouxoushoes

7. Beads Byaree, Jewelry Designer - @beadsbyaree

8. Chakra Zulu Crystals, Crystal and Gemstone Shop - @chakrazulucrystals

9. JADE Swim, Swimwear Designer - @jadeswim

10. KNC Beauty, Beauty Brand - @kncbeauty

3. Support and spread awareness for the U.S. Postal Service:

Currently the USPS is in danger of financial collapse and is being denied stimulant funding by the government. The USPS is a vital national service delivering almost half of the world’s mail, and if it were to crumble, hundreds of thousands of people would lose their jobs, including many veterans and BIPOC, and would lose access to mail service. In addition to it being the most cost-efficient way for us to send mail, it is the primary means of sending and receiving mail by peoples in remote areas, such as Native communities, the elderly, and small businesses. In addition, with a critical presidential election looming in November where there will be increased or possibly exclusively mail-in ballots due to the pandemic, a decline in USPS services would only complicate and hinder this process more.

To help support the USPS, text “USPS” to 50409, and/or ship your next letters and packages with them!

4. Follow and/or Donate to the Black Trans travel Fund:

The Black Trans Travel Fund is “committed to uplifting the narratives and supporting the livelihoods of Black trans women.” Black trans women are an incredibly vulnerable group and are too often the targets of hate and violence. This organization uses funds to directly assist Black trans women to travel safely and securely around their cities; the women that receive funds then have the autonomy to spend it on private car services, to buy gas for their own cars, and any other method of travel they find secure. They are currently helping Black Trans Women in New York and New Jersey with plans to expand into other states. To support this very important cause, should you have the resources, you can donate or click to learn more information at the links below.

Thanks for Reading!


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