Brazilians Lobby for a Quota of 20 Percent Black Models at São Paulo Fashion Week

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A finale at Sao Paulo Fashion Week last June. Photo: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

After a public prosecutor in São Paulo found that only 28 of the 1,128 models booked for São Paulo fashion week in 2008 were black, fashion week organizers voluntarily launched a two-year quota that 10 percent of the models had to be black. However, many Brazilians are now calling for the quota to be raised to 20 percent. Protest organizer Frei Davi Santos explains: "São Paulo fashion week sells the image of a Swiss Brazil where everyone is white and blue-eyed. The organisers ... forget that more than half of Brazil's population is black."

Racial diversity on runways is almost never an accurate reflection of the show's setting; if it were, then New York's shows would not only have more black models in them, but they'd also be 16 percent Hispanic. Instead, bookers are looking for the kind of model that will sell clothes: "Research showed their clients still reject the combination of black [models] and luxury clothing," writes a Brazilian fashion editor whose name, ironically, is Vivian Whiteman. An African-Brazilian booker named Bruno Soares agrees: "For historical reasons Brazil's black population has been poor and not a consumer of fashion. This is reflected in the casting," he said, calling these factors "cruel rules." So how much do quotas really help change these things? It's a step in the right direction, but it's hard to tell how far-reaching its effects will be.