STYLE
02/09/2014 05:44 EST | Updated 04/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Trace Reese, rare black female designer at NY Fashion Week, talks race and fashion

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Diversity on the runway is only part of the race problem in fashion, said Tracy Reese. There's plenty to be done behind the scenes as well, she said.

Reese, a rare black female designer at New York Fashion Week, sees no one solution.

"There's so many things that need to change. There are a lot of designers of colour but I think there's just a dearth of designers out front," she said Sunday as she dashed from runway walk-through to makeup re-touches for one of her models Sunday at a space in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood.

"Some of that is finance. But I think by saying that diversity is beautiful, that is a beginning, to look at all people and to see the beauty in each of us and their value is a very strong beginning. It's important to keep the conversation going, then people will start to broaden their vision."

During September's Fashion Week, supermodel Iman joined Naomi Campbell and veteran modeling agent Bethann Hardison talking loud and clear about race and runways.

They launched Balance Diversity, an effort to boost the number of black models. And they named names, calling out Donna Karan, Proenza Schouler, The Row, Victoria Beckham and Calvin Klein as among those who used nearly no black models the previous February.

The website Jezebel calculated that 82.7 per cent of that season's New York Fashion Week models were white, 9.1 per cent were Asian, 6 per cent were black and 2 per cent Latina.

Reese, known for diverse runways, said she mentors up-and-comers of all colours, including black women.

"Quite a few black women have interned for us over the years. I've hired a few of them on our team. That's important, too, to keep talking to young people and let them know what the possibilities are in the industry," she said.

But it's not all about the runway.

"There are so many amazing jobs in the fashion industry as a whole. It's not all about design," she said. "We need great PR people of colour, for one. That's a very non-diverse group. It's all facets of the industry that have to be addressed."

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Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie

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