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'Let's get uncomfortable': Australian model's conversations about 'race' in fashion industry

New York-based Australian model, Jennifer Atilemile Source: Instagram / jenniferatilemile

A New York-based Australian model has started a campaign on racism and a lack of representation of diverse cultures in Australian media and fashion industry and hopes to make it the conversation on why things need to change.

Seeing what is happening in the US and Australia, model Jennifer Atilemile who is based in New York, started reflecting on her own experience as a black Australian model.

"As a non-African American black woman, I can’t begin to understand the struggle the community faces in America - the years of institutionalised racism, and systematic oppression. But I share the collective struggle. My ancestors were slaves at the hands of European colonisers," she says.

In the wake of George Floyd's death in the US and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, she ponders over the issue of race in the fashion industry in Australia and the US that she says "used" her to "advance the message of diversity and inclusion in advertising". 

"But then there's a lot of silence from the brands that I worked for and it's the same in the US. And it got me thinking 'why aren't you all standing in solidarity?' It's no longer a political thing to not rock the boat. it's the matter of human rights and people's lives," she told NITV Radio.

"And I just felt like my inclusion had become purely for the brands' financial gain as opposed to the actual message of inclusion."

Australia is culturally diverse. Why then do we not see the representation on our screens, in our advertising?

Ms Atilemile also calls out Australia's media industry for not reflecting the country's cultural diversity. She says some progress has been made in recent times but "it's not good enough".

"When we don't see ourselves represented in the basic Australian culture, it makes you feel you don't belong and to constantly grow up with that message being sent through advertising, through television shows, through news programs, it really plays with your self-confidence." 

As a long-time advocate for diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry, she decided to "rock the boat" by launching the campaign ‘Let’s get uncomfortable – talking about race in the fashion industry’ - a campaign that revolves around some of Australia's racial contradictions.

The creative concept for this campaign, that brought together many influencers, was inspired by conversations about racism in the industry that Jennifer Atilemile has had over the years with Chelsea Bonner, CEO of BELLA Management.

“As a black woman who grew up in Australia, I know that we are not innocent when it comes to racism or the oppression of anyone perceived as ‘not white’, especially our Indigenous community,” says Ms Atilemile.

Through this campaign, she unpacks the problem of a lack of representation of diverse cultures in Australia and is trying to make it the conversation on why things need to change.

She is calling on people who would like to back her campaign to support The National Justice Project and help them continue the work they do in Australia for black, Indigenous and all people of colour.

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