Photo from Premier Model Management.
The harsh reality is that racism is an issue that many individuals still face. Its effects can be felt across different places and industries, including the fashion and modeling industry. Recently, Black-British model Kukua Williams wrote an open letter to the fashion industry, giving an insight into the discrimination she has faced in her line of work.
Kukua Williams is a 24-year old model who has worked with Jil Sander, Celine, and Erdem. But a photo Williams posted on her Instagram account that went viral in March was not about a photo shoot or a fashion campaign. Williams posted a photo of herself taken as she was detained in an Italian Airport during Milan Fashion Week. While discrimination against her race is sadly not a new experience for the model, this latest incident has left a mark on her.
In the open letter featured on Vogue, Kukua Williams writes an account of the events that transpired that day and other incidents of racism she experienced throughout her modeling career. She shares that Black models often reach a breaking point, and she reached hers when she was detained for 24 hours during Milan Fashion Week.
She was not the only model from her agency who made the trip to Italy for casting opportunities. She had a letter from the agency, the same one given to the other models, but Italian authorities refused to read it. They told her that castings were not a good enough reason for her to enter the country.
This situation frustrated Williams as she made sure to have all her documents in order. Knowing that non-Black models from her agency were able to travel to Italy without a fuss made the experience even more frustrating. In the letter, she says, “I was prepared for thorough checks on my documentation as well as being questioned in regards to my reasons for traveling during a pandemic (castings for potential work). What I was not prepared for was being denied entry to a country seemingly because of the color of my skin.”
Throughout her 24-hour detention, Kukua Williams was not allowed to use her phone. Her passport was also confiscated. She wrote, “The following day, I was driven to a plane that would take me back to England in a police car, as though I were a criminal. The experience left me traumatized.”
While Kukua Williams does not deny that the fashion industry has become more diverse and inclusive, she believes more work is to be done. She proposes that there should be more transparency about racism and “not just murmurs and rumors between models who can relate.”
This letter in Vogue is not the first time Kukua Williams wrote about racism. In June 2020, Williams wrote an open letter addressing suburban racism that was featured in Love Magazine. In that letter, she wrote, “Small town racism was my experience. I was the minority in basically every situation growing up, an experience which really made me hate who I was.”
Kukua Williams closes both letters with a spirited message, expressing that the time for change has come. In her most recent letter, she shares, “There is a great need for solidarity globally. People who are not of color in the fashion industry and beyond– it’s your turn now to fight for us.”
Kukua Williams is a 24-year old model based in the UK. For updates about her work, you may visit her Instagram page.