Arts, Culture & Media

Black is the new white at Rio's Fashion Week


A model presents a creation from the Cola Cola 2013/2014 summer collection during Rio Fashion Week in Rio de Janeiro on April 18, 2013.


Pilar Olivares/Reuters

Brazil is one of the world's most racially diverse countries. More blacks live in Brazil than in practically any other other nation outside of Africa.

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But you wouldn't know it from looking at the nation's catwalk. 

Last week, all but two of the models in a São Paulo fashion show “dedicated to Africa” were white. And this isn’t the first time models of color were grossly under-represented in the fashion industry.

Now, some are saying enough is enough.

For decades, diversity advocates have tried to bring attention to the almost total lack of non-white models in the fashion industry. Now, with the help of Rio de Janeiro's public attorney, the NGO Educafro has reached an agreement with Rio Fashion Week organizers to establish a quota for black, Afro-Brazilian and indigenous Brazilian models. At least 10 percent of models will now come from those non-white groups.

A similar agreement was reached with São Paulo Fashion Week organizers back in 2005.

Julia Dias Carneiro, a BBC correspondent based in Rio, says Educafro organizers still feel the percentage is too low, considering the majority of Brazil's population is non-white, but agree it's "better than nothing." 

And they're not stopping with the progress they've made.

Carneiro says the group is part of a larger movement to raise awareness of racial discrimination across Brazil. Recently, national universities have begun implementing quotas for black students, and President Dilma Rousseff opened a conference on racial equality in Brasilia this week. Rousseff hopes lawmakers will pass a law reserving 20 percent of government jobs for people of African descent.