I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall even having to write this story. The fashion industry has come under fire time and time again for racism, antisemitism, and size-ism. But alas, here we are. Earlier this week two fashion powerhouses were outed for their casual use of transphobic, homophobic, and racist speech. The n-word was used. Half-assed
apologies excuses were offered. And none of it is ok.
Maybe you haven’t heard of Sergeenko or Duma. But it would be too easy to dismiss them as obscure fashion insiders. Their influence is vast. Sergeenko’s designs are worn by major celebrities, from Kim Kardashian to Kerry Washington to Emilia Clark. And Duma is more than a street style star: her publishing network, per the Business of Fashion, encompasses “11 markets across four continents and attracts advertising from top luxury-goods brands like Hermès and Louis Vuitton” and she is the founder of Fashion Tech Labs, which invests in the fashion tech space. What they say matters.
Now, anyone who listens to Kanye West knows this is a reference to his song with Jay-Z “N*ggas in Paris.” And anyone with half a brain knows that if you’re not black you don’t say the N-word.
Why? Well here’s the thing: This word has been weaponized to attack black people since the days of slavery. In the same way that Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton sang “You don’t own me,” to their terrible ex-husbands in the First Wives Club, here I am singing “You don’t own this word,” to anyone who isn’t black. After all, the casual slinging around of this phrase also emboldens people to do this:
Take a photo in black face holding a tiny Eiffel Tower, caption it “coolest n*gga with Paris,” and say it’s a satire.
But guess what? It’s not funny. It is not funny to a community of people who have to sit and watch while they’re systematically oppressed and denied access across various industries (including fashion!). Sit and watch while they’re murdered by police officers because said officers were “scared.” Watch while the President of the United States openly hires white supremacists to work in the government, then be be told that we should “go back to our country” (which by the way WE WERE STOLEN FROM) if we’re mad about all of this. It’s hard to find humor in this situation.
To add insult to injury, this incident was only the tip of the iceberg—since then, more evidence of Duma’s racist, homophobic, and transphobic viewpoints has been unearthed.
Mere hours after her Instagram story went up, a video of Duma surfaced from a 2012 Buro 24/7 press conference where, upon being asked about her feelings regarding blogger Bryanboy’s style and transgender model Andreja Pejić modeling swimsuits, Duma essentially denounced the two of them saying they were weird and should be censored for fear that little boys watch their behavior and get the wrong idea. Yes, this video of Duma was from over five years ago, and perhaps people do change as she claims to have in her apology, but her offensive Instagram story was from just this week. And that’s disturbing.
“Seeing that video was really shocking,” Bryanboy told ELLE.com. “I have incredible respect for Mira. She’s someone I look up to. What’s she’s done in this industry is admirable. So to see her speaking in front of young people and spouting homophobic and transphobic propaganda? It’s disgusting. It’s wrong.”
It’s particularly painful, Bryanboy adds, coming from the industry he so loves and which has, for the most part, embraced him. “In fashion I always felt I could be the person I wanted to be,” he said. “And now you have people like Miroslava that says that I’m wrong. And she really is a key player, she’s influential. It’s hurtful.”
Andreja Pejic responded with a poignant statement on Instagram:
“Fashion hasn’t always celebrated, to quote @miraduma ‘people like us,'” Pejic writes. “Today I can say I’ve walked for iconic designers like @MarcJacobs and even landed on pages of American Vogue as none other than myself. However for a long time I didn’t believe that I was deserving of a firm place in fashion. I remember when I was one of only two people representing a specific ‘trend’ that many people would now place under the title ‘gender diversity in the fashion space.’ Circa 2010 my friend @LeaT and I found International media attention on the one hand and no small amount of ignorance and scorn on the other. Today we are part of a movement of unique talent that is smashing the old categories that once stood and proudly displaying a spectrum of age/color/gender/class. @miraduma ‘s hopes that ‘this trend fizzles out quickly’ have not been realized. I am thankful I got to stick around!”
Pejic is still hopeful. She believes that people should be given the chance to grow and change (Duma has since offered a more thoughtful apology than her initial one) and encourages her ‘lil sisters, bros and non binary siblings’ to keep their chins up: “Evolution is no stranger to our cause and one day we’ll see revolution❤️”
Bryanboy is more wary. “Roman Polanski is still working. Bruce Weber is still working. Terry Richardson is still working. So what can we do? It’s one thing to write an apology or a denial, but life goes on. Someone does a charitable donation, consults with a PR firm, gives it a year or two and it’s back to the same. The best thing is just for people to know–for people to be educated and informed that this kind of thing should never be tolerated. No one should turn a blind eye anymore.”
It’s easy to write off these moments as being “blown out of proportion.” It’s lazy to attribute racist statements to cultural ignorance. We’re in a moment where we have to speak out. Women across the world are bravely saying #MeToo and Time’s Up. Well, time is up on this, too.