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KYA Swim, the fashion brand accused of turning away black models during a Miami Swim Week casting, has issued a statement about the controversy. Models Joia Talbott and Kacey Leggett made the allegations about the July 12 casting call in a video uploaded to Facebook.
Since then, three other models have approached Racked to discuss their experience with the casting. They stressed that they generally felt welcome at Miami Swim Week, which includes dozens of designers and fashion shows, but are concerned that racial bias played a role in the KYA Swim casting. Representatives of the brand say they find the claims of racism troubling.
“Everyone at KYA Swim is deeply disturbed by the allegations brought by Joia Talbott and other models about the casting event at Miami Swim Week,” the statement said. “KYA Swim is proud of its record of diversity, and we are in the midst of looking into the events of last Thursday [July 12] to review the actions of the production company in charge of the casting call.”
A KYA representative who did not want to be named said that the brand did not directly handle the casting for the event, and that everyone associated with the company was inside when the black models were allegedly turned away and told “Afros were a no-no.” They said Funkshion Productions handled casting for the event. Racked reached out to the company for comment.
Natalija Stojanovic, Funkshion’s chief creative officer, denied the company played any role in the casting controversy. In a statement, she said Funkshion has always striven to present runway shows that reflect the diversity in society and that it aims to break down barriers wherever possible.
“This season of swim shows featured models of all sizes, shapes, and ethnic backgrounds,” she said. “Our runways presented full figure models, petite, tall, models with disabilities, and a breastfeeding model. We even hosted a panel on this very topic. Our role in the shows is to produce and facilitate a safe and exciting environment for members of the industry and consumers alike. As much as we push for diversity and inclusion in our shows, ultimately it is the individual designers who make the final decisions on the model selections for their brands.”
The KYA representative not only denied responsibility for any racially insensitive remarks made during the casting but also pushed back at Talbott’s claims that black models were told the casting had ended while nonblack models continued to be seen. In fact, he said, the casting was over. The models Talbott and others saw after that announcement were there for fittings, according to KYA.
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Model Claire B, pictured in a group photo with Talbott, Leggett, and other black Swim Week models after the alleged casting snub, said that she wasn’t explicitly told no black models were wanted. Instead, “I was told that at the moment they were looking for ‘shorter white blondes!’” she said. “I wasn’t offended by this at all. It’s okay not to fit the criteria wanted by the client.”
The model went on to say, however, that she’s concerned KYA Swim hasn’t seemed to include dark-skinned black models in shows from this year or last. She’s not the only model to argue this point. Qui’yona Salmon accused the brand of “not casting black models for two years straight.” But Salmon stressed that any bad publicity about the casting should be directed to KYA, not Miami Swim Week overall.
“Besides all of that [the KYA casting], my experience was amazing during Swim Week,” she said. “The designers and other directors were amazing.”
The KYA rep pointed out that a “model of color” opened and closed its Swim Week show and that a “model of color” is fronting its current campaign.
Model Kate Citrone said she’s unsure why she and other black models were dismissed from the KYA casting.
“Whether it was for our skin tone or because we genuinely didn’t fit the look the designer was looking for remains a mystery. It was evident in the end that this particular designer did not include a single African-American model in her lineup this year or in the previous years.”
But like Salmon, Citrone said she had a positive experience during Swim Week overall and had booked several shows. She does not want the KYA casting controversy to reflect negatively on Swim Week as a whole. She singled out designers Tammy Rivera, Gigi C Bikinis, Pikai, Black Tape Project, Acacia, Wilfredo Gerardo, Luxiesle, Nash Beach, and Poema Swim for welcoming her.
“I have been blessed to work with a very diverse group of designers and have had rewarding experiences,” Citrone said. “I’d be lying if I said I never encountered an ignorant comment or situation based upon skin color or ethnic origin, yet I believe [I have] to rise above said comments and focus on my overall image and brand.”
She said she didn’t realize the group photo she and the other black models posed for would be used to point the finger at KYA. She said rejection is part of the industry and that models may not be picked by a designer for any number of reasons. On the other hand, she’s also experienced being the “token” black model, an experience she found disheartening. But she’s most disturbed by brands that routinely sideline models of color.
“Designers who have no intention of opening their line to women of color should have no place in the lineup of diverse shows,” she said. “Discrimination is never okay and should not be justified.”