INCLUSIVE FASHION DESIGN CLASSES AT FIT
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Statement of Petition: To demand that FIT fashion illustration classes henceforth teach the rendering of a wide variety of human skin tones and diverse body types, rejecting the backward status quo of solely illustrating pale-skinned, super-thin models to the exclusion of all others.
It is no secret that racism, colorism, and size discrimination are endemic to the fashion industry. Perhaps less recognized is the fact that the roots of these harmful constructs are deeply embedded in the education and training that fashion design students receive. Despite there being a bountiful range of beautiful skin tones, facial features, and body proportions to celebrate in the human family, fashion design illustration as it is currently taught limits itself almost exclusively to the use of tall, size zero, white models.
Many of us experiencing our first year of classes at FIT were surprised to find that the rendering of darker skin tones and non-eurocentric facial features was not only not supported, but strongly discouraged. While learning in detail how to properly represent the pigmentation of white skin was highly valued, representing the skin of nonwhite people was rarely, if ever, discussed. Professors emphasized that students were to use “pale,” “light-colored” markers to color their figures, and that any colors darker would be unappealing. Professors also routinely made excuses for their lack of inclusive teaching, stating that dark skin tones were “too difficult” to teach and that pale skin was the best compliment for showing off beautiful garments.
Sadly, in conversations with other FIT students, we have come to learn that the manner in which this building block of first-year education was taught was not an exception, but the widely experienced norm. And yet the commonly expressed sentiments justifying these norms are not only without legitimate foundation, but extremely offensive to students of color who must publicly endure hearing their professor explain why their own personal features must not be depicted in fashion art.
If the striking lack of race inclusivity in fashion art education wasn’t troubling enough, the perpetuation of harmful size discrimination is also a hallmark of drawing classes. In first-year critiquing sessions, for example, students were routinely told that their models had “eaten too much cake” or “needed to diet.” Models were unacceptable and not “runway-worthy” unless they were rail skinny. Any slight deviation from this norm was called out and/or academically penalized.
While there are many other areas where fashion design pedagogy contributes to vicious cycles of racism and size discrimination in the industry, fashion design illustration is fundamental and an important starting point for change, as it undergirds the very process of design and is a jumping-off point for students, fostering notions about what is both possible and acceptable.
Spring 2020 was the most racially diverse season of New York Fashion Week ever. It is absolutely essential that up-and-coming FIT designers be able to visualize their designs being worn by models of color. And in an environment where between 20%-40% of models suffer from life-threatening eating disorders, dismantling the unattainable weight standards of the industry is an urgent necessity.
As one of the most influential and famous fashion institutions in the world, FIT must lead the way in establishing fashion design curriculums that reflect the world we live in today. We, the undersigned, believe it is necessary that fashion illustration classes be led by professors who believe that all people are equally worthy of being cherished and represented. We want to change a toxic fashion industry that perpetuates white supremacist attitudes and body-shaming, all the while profiting from the pain of so many. We want learning how to render all skin tones and body types to be a PERMANENT part of the fashion design program. FIT please prioritize this issue and change your otherwise exceptional classes!
Please sign this petition if you believe that this is an issue of importance and would like to see a change in the fashion industry, starting with education.
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