California-based fashion brand KYA Swim and Miami Swim Week have recently been under some heat due to allegations of racial discrimination.
Last week, it was reported that Joia Talbott and a few other African-American models attended KYA Swim’s Miami Swim Week casting call, where they were told that casting was completed for the day. However, when her and 15 other models left the line, Talbott noticed that casting recommenced.
“Maybe 10 to 15 black models were dismissed. They said casting was closed just so we can move faster and so we get out of line — and they open the line back up,” Talbott said in a Facebook video posted on Friday that has since gone viral.
With Talbott was model Kacey Leggett, who appeared as a contestant on Cycle 15 of America’s Next Top Model.
“I’m at a loss for words. I’m still trying to process what happened. All of us had to get out of the line — they told us they didn’t want any more black models,” said Leggett, corroborating Talbott’s allegations.
Though neither women outrightly name KYA Swim in the Facebook video, a fellow model, Kate Citrone had no problem with calling the brand out by name in an interview with Fashion Week Online, the online publication that runs MiamiSwimWeek.net and its social media.
“I’d like to apologize for myself and a handful of the other models featured in that now-infamous photograph of melanin models for any inconvenience involved in this Swim Week scandal,” said Citrone, referring to an Instagram photograph posted by Joia Talbott.
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“The overall truth to this story is that we were all turned away from this casting. Whether it was for our skin tone or because we genuinely ‘didn’t fit the look’ [KYA Swim] was looking for remains a mystery.” Citrone stated, “It was evident in the end that this particular designer did not include a single Afro-American, African American model in her lineup this year or in the previous years.”
Following the allegations made by the models, KYA Swim released their official statement, claiming that the company was “deeply disturbed” and they were looking into the events.
“Everyone at KYA Swim is deeply disturbed by the allegations brought by Joia Talbott and other models about the casting event at Miami Swim Week,” the company said in a statement to Refinery29. “KYA Swim is proud of its record of diversity and we are the midst of looking into the events of last Thursday to review the actions of the production company in charge of the casting call.”
According to multiple reports, KYA Swim’s casting call was conducted by a Miami-based production company, Funkshion. While KYA seems to place blame on them, Funkshion’s chief creative officer, Natalija Stojanovic, points her finger right back at the fashion brand.
“As much as we push for diversity and inclusion in our shows, ultimately, it is the individual designers who make the final decisions on the model selections for their brands,” Stojanovic said. “While the incident that has been reported is unfortunate, we encourage the dialogue about representation of models of all types to happen. It is our goal to further push to break down existing barriers wherever we can.”
Though KYA Swim did end up featuring one model of colour at this year’s Miami Swim Week, the brand’s history of representation (including their official Instagram account) points at very little minority appearances, something that is still common to many fashion brands. No matter who is at fault here, the situation highlights the serious issues of racism and colourism still apparent in the industry.