SAO PAULO (AP) — Bold styles are usually the talk of the town for Sao Paulo Fashion Week. This year, couture connoisseurs in Brazil’s most cosmopolitan city have focused on the models — more specifically, the color of their skin.
For the first time, designers in Latin America’s largest fashion show, which wraps on Sunday, have been obliged to ensure 50% of their models are either Black, Afro-descendant or Indigenous.
The Brazilian fashion world was jolted into doing some soul-searching this year when — after the killing of George Floyd by police in the United States sparked protests and discussion over racial injustice — three Black models shared personal stories of experiencing racism in the industry during a raw, hourslong talk with Sao Paulo Fashion Week founder Paulo Borges.
Broadcast live via social media, that conversation was the first of many culminating in SPFW’s adoption of the new rule, Borges said in an interview with The Associated Press
“Everyone understands there needs to be a bigger effort. We need to leave the space of white privilege to be able to make this change in the world,” he said. “The Eurocentric aesthetic of beauty cannot apply to the country of Brazil.”
Fashion-forward affirmative action is the latest effort to boost representation through edict in Brazil, where a previous, left-leaning government enacted race-based quotas in federal universities. Others have followed more recently, with one retail giant, Magazine Luiza, creating a Black-only trainee program in September and a Supreme Court ruling that required political parties to distribute campaign funds this month using new racial guidelines.
More than half of Brazilians identify as either Black or biracial, but you wouldn’t know it from the country’s magazines and ads, where images of light-skinned people remain dominant.
A century after Brazil became the Western Hemisphere’s last country to abolish slavery, in 1888, the phenomenon was exemplified by the popular TV show “Xou da Xuxa,” or “Xuxa’s Show,” hosted by the blonde, blue-eyed entertainer of the same name and backed by a bevy of young women with mostly matching features. Launched in the 1980s on the monolithic Globo network, it moved a generation of Black girls to straighten their hair, according to Marcelo Dias, national coordinator for entrepreneurism at Brazil’s Unified Black Movement.
“Do you know how that destroyed Black girls’ self-esteem, watching that? Not even one Black girl to see and identify with,” Dias said. “The result was that our Black girls didn’t want to use their natural hair; they wanted to use the hot comb.”
Sao Paulo Fashion Week was born in 1995. In 2009, facing an investigation over discrimination, organizers signed an agreement with public prosecutors requiring 10% of models to be Black, Afro-descendant or Indigenous. Still, there were calls for stronger action. SPFW began recommending designers’ models be at least 20% Black, Afro-descendant, Asian or Indigenous.
Angela Brito, a Rio de Janeiro-based designer who moved to Brazil from Cape Verde more than two decades ago, on Friday showed the AP her