Deddeh Howard is a 27-year-old black model from Liberia in western Africa. She is an advocate of healthy living and practices yoga alongside her busy modeling schedule. Currently based in Los Angeles, Howard’s career is going from strength to strength. But she’s also making some serious waves.
Howard runs a blog called “Secret Of DD,” where she shares tips for a healthy lifestyle and offers private yoga classes. Her social media accounts, meanwhile, are awash with photos of her glamorous life.
But aside from travel, she has an interest in medicine and aiding others, which is perhaps why she chose to complete a bachelor’s degree in Health Science. In fact, on her blog, she explains that she’s “very passionate about medicine, helping people, and the study of the human body.”
Nonetheless, fashion – perhaps unsurprisingly, given the fact that she’s a model – is also a great love of hers. Indeed, she wrote on her blog, “For me, fashion is one of the keys to looking beautiful and loving [one’s] self. The way you dress is the way you are addressed.” But for Howard, simply being a model is not enough…
In recent weeks, she has blogged about the difficulties facing black models in today’s fashion industry. But Howard hasn’t just written about times when she has felt at a disadvantage because of the color of her skin. As a matter of fact, she has decided to take it upon herself to cause a stir in the fashion world…
It all started when Howard was turned down by modeling agencies that were telling her that they already had models with her look, only for her to subsequently learn that these agencies actually had hardly any black models on their books. She found the fact that big fashion brands were seemingly unwilling to show more diversity in their shows hard to swallow. So she decided to take a stand.
On her blog, Howard wrote, “I felt it was time to do something positive and inspiring about my race.” This sentiment became the basis for a powerful campaign that has since attracted a lot of media attention and given the fashion industry something to think about.
Yes, Howard and photographer Raffael Dickreuter created a campaign called “Black Mirror.” The aim? To show that black models can in fact create the same beautiful photographs as white models. In Howard’s own words on Instagram, “If Kendall Jenner can do it, so can [I] or any other race!”
She and Dickreuter worked to recreate photographs originally featuring some of the most famous global fashion brands and models. The Black Mirror project carried with it the slogan, “It is time for more diversity and models of all races being seen.” And given the publicity her campaign has generated, it seems that this mission is accomplished.
After all, no corners were cut in the making of the powerful set of photographs. In fact, the attention to detail in the lighting and styling is striking. Of course, this all works to highlight ther one big difference in all of the photos: the model and the color of her skin.
Howard posted this recreation of Kendall Jenner’s Calvin Klein campaign on Instagram with a powerful message attached to the post. She wrote, “Open your eyes and see that fashion is not black or white! Life is not black or white. I’m just like her. Right guys?” The photo attracted floods of positive comments, with many supporters insisting that it was actually better than the original.
Howard also took on shoots featuring other famous models, such as Gisele Bundchen, Kate Moss and Victoria Secret’s Candice Swanepoel. “Let’s give the next generation something to believe in,” Howard wrote.
Even model-of-the-moment Gigi Hadid got the Black Mirror treatment. Yes, Howard and Dickreuter reworked the famous Guess campaign, which shows Hadid on a motorbike in a remote desert location.
As a result of the pair’s hard work, the Black Mirror project appears to have opened up a discourse about race in fashion. For Howard, she has written on her Instagram that, having grown up in Africa believing that all people are equal, she had never had to consider race before. So she hopes that this drive will get more black models on billboards, on TV screens and in movies.
Her campaign has naturally been met with a wave of positivity from the public, resulting in various media appearances for Howard. In fact, she recently told of her joy at being invited to discuss her project on the BBC World News channel in December 2016. She also appeared on Good Morning America and described it as an “honor.”
Howard, of course, isn’t the first model to address the issue of race in fashion. In 2015 Somali model and actress Iman also called for a more diverse fashion world. Moreover, she and Naomi Campbell joined Bethann Hardison’s so-called “Diversity Coalition” after New York Fashion Week’s Spring 2014 season.
Two years since Hardison’s campaign started, Iman reported a “palpable change,” but there is clearly still a lack of diversity in the fashion world. Fortunately, the Black Mirror project seems to be picking up speed. For instance, Howard’s Instagram account, which champions the cause, now boasts around 83,000 followers.
Still, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CDFA) conducted a poll about the fall 2016 fashion season across New York, London, Paris and Milan. Unfortunately, it found that less than 25 percent of the models used were people of color.
However, this was an improvement on the figures from spring 2016, when 77.6 percent of all models across the four cities were white. And it was an even further improvement on fall 2015 when white models made up 80 percent of all models on show.
So there is clearly some progress happening in the quest to diversify the runway. But for models like Howard, it’s not happening fast enough. And now that she has made it her mission to make some noise about this issue, it will certainly be interesting to see how the catwalks look in spring 2017.