I need to take a break from all this fashion week hype to talk about something that has made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Today, I attended The Ganni FW 19 show “LIFE ON EARTH” during Copenhagen Fashion Week, which was centered on “sustainability” and the “global Ganni girl”.

The set design used pictures taken by National Geographic photographer Ami Vitale, who travels to and photographs developing countries, such as India and Sri Lanka. Throughout the show, there was a slideshow of images in the background, depicting underprivileged women in these countries, while models gallivanted across the runway in their shiny clothes and thigh-high boots. How were these pictures of poor brown women aligned with the theme of sustainability and life on earth? How did this show benefit these women in any way? Was this part of a campaign to raise awareness regarding the issues these women may face?

The brand fetishized these women and used them as props and marketing tools for their fashion show. This was not a platform for these marginalized women to get representation; they were not treated as humans with agency and with stories of their own to tell. Instead, they are shown through the ‘white’ gaze, reduced only to their aesthetic value.  It looked “cool” in the background, right? It “gelled well” with the aesthetic of depicting the “human spirit” and “the energy of life on earth in all forms”, right (This is how the brand justified its set design)?

Wrong. My people are not your aesthetic.

It’s worrying how this got approved to begin with. From the photography to the set design, did this pass before any people of color? Did nobody in management realize how this would be perceived by non-white audience members? This is precisely why building diverse teams are so critical for our industry.

The fashion industry likes to throw around buzzwords like “diversity, inclusivity, and sustainability”, without introspecting on how exactly they are promoting these causes. It is highly unlikely that the women in these photographs received any compensation for “participating” in this fashion show, where the brand probably benefited and monetized off this seemingly incredible and groundbreaking show.

This is not just meant to call out Ganni for being problematic. This is a larger pattern of exploitation rampant in the fashion industry. The truth is, it is exactly women like the ones in these pictures that are worst affected by our industry: poor wages, unfair treatment, terrible working conditions in sweatshops that manufacture clothing for many western brands.  This is particularly painful given how “progressive” the fashion industry likes to tell themselves they are. This is how the fashion industry of the west treats women of color.

Stop being tone deaf and blind to your own internalized colonial mentality. The fashion industry needs to do better. I’m disappointed in a brand I truly loved.