Models Accuse Brand at Miami Swim Week of Discrimination

Lauren Adhav
Photo credit: Joia Johnson-Talbott

From Cosmopolitan

Joia Talbott never had visited Miami before, but she and some fellow models recently made the trip from Los Angeles to the South Florida city to take part in Miami Swim Week, which began July 19. What Talbott didn't expect was the discriminatory and racist remarks she allegedly received at a casting call leading up to Swim Week for the brand KYA Swim.



Talbott says she and other black models were in line for a casting call, along with a few models who were not of color. She alleges that the casting director looked at the line and pulled another woman, who Talbott says was "directing traffic" and letting models know when they could enter the casting room, off to the side to have a private conversation.

After her talk with the director, Talbott says the woman pointed her out in the line and said, "You, your hair, no.” Talbott, who wears her natural hair in an afro style, asked, "Wow, really?" but says the woman didn't budge on her decision. According to Talbott, she was putting her shorts back on over her swimsuit so she could leave when the woman then told all the models in line, "No dark skin."

"That is what came out of her mouth. Quote for quote," Talbott says. Talbott says the woman said the casting was closed, even though a line of mostly white models was still waiting downstairs, waiting to be called up.


After Talbott and other black models were dismissed from the casting, she posted a photo to Instagram share her experience. Facebook user Macaroni Tony reposted a video, which went viral, of Talbott's Instagram Story. "The reason why I spoke out about this was because this [casting] went over the top and overboard to let us know that we were not welcome due to our skin," Talbott says. She clarified that not all the models in the photo were in line for the casting, although most were.

On July 9, she posted an Instagram stating in the caption she was told she didn't "fit" the criteria for Miami Swim Week.

"We get chosen over every day, that just comes with the territory-either they like you or they don’t. That’s not what it is. I have very thick skin," she says, adding that her issue is more about the way in which the casting practices "went above and beyond to be disrespectful and degrading towards women of color."

The brand released the following statement:

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. KYA Swim is proud of its record of diversity and we are in 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 the brand's Instagram page, models of color did end up walking in the show. Cosmopolitan.com reached out to the Funkshion, the outside production company hired to run the casting call, for comment, but in a statement provided to the Miami Herald, Funkshion’s chief creative officer Natalija Stojanovic said the designers made the ultimate casting decision.

“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.”

Talbott, however, feels fashion houses should do even more, and that designers create diversity quotas with dark-skinned models to avoid public backlash.

"I'm not saying that no women of color walked Swim Week-they did, and I’m very very proud of them," she says.

Pablo Starr, owner of Fashion Week Online, which hosts the Miami Swim Week schedule released the following statement about the incident: “Miami Swim Week encompasses around 100 shows, created by roughly seven production companies, most of them great people. So whoever acted in this way will be found."

However, as unfortunate as this alleged incident is, fashion has made encouraging, albeit slow, strides toward inclusivity. The Fashion Spot’s latest Diversity Report found that New York Fashion Week's fall 2019 shows were the most diverse they've been, reporting that 37.3 percent of the models on the runway were women of color.

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