In news that surprises absolutely no one, Kate Moss' daughter, Lila Grace, is now officially a model. But the reveal of her very first campaign with London salon The Braid Bar didn't go over so well. In it, the 14-year-old appears in colourful cornrows that'd make Riff Raff jealous — and many more disappointed. This isn't the salon's first run-in with controversy, either: Earlier this year, it came under fire for never featuring Black models in its social media posts and on its site.
Clara Amfo, a BBC Radio 1 DJ, was one of the first public figures to raise attention to the startling lack of Black representation within the shop's digital presence after they invited her in for a complimentary service. "Braid Bar essentially want to sell back to me aesthetics and hairstyles that I and many of my friends and relatives have been practising all of our lives!" she explained in an Instagram post afterwards. "Mainstream media often tells us that when black girls do their hair in braided styles like cornrows, have pierced nails, slicked down baby hairs etc it's 'unprofessional' and 'ghetto; I once read a article that called Naomi Campbell's cornrows "edgy" I mean....LOL, she's a Jamaican South London girl, that's not "edgy" that's her heritage!"
She went on to cite Kylie Jenner, a celeb who often wears cornrows, as an example of someone who's "praised for being avant-garde and trendsetting." Jenner is one of many white celebrities with a style named after her in the salon's menu — and of the 26 styles modelled mainly by white women, only five are named after women of colour (Tyra Banks, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Naomi Campbell, and Eva Longoria).
Of course, this isn't a new issue. Last year, Marc Jacobs sent his models down the runway with yarn dreadlocks. Michael Costello gave his white models Afros for a fashion week show. Concert goers wear Native American headdresses at Coachella, and Halloween revellers party in geisha getups. An appreciation for other cultures is one thing. Wearing culture as a costume — especially for profit, and when you have the opportunity to hire a person of colour — is another.
For a while, it seemed like the Braid Bar had learned its lesson. The Daily Mail reported that a representative from the salon met with Amfo directly, and the brand also posted an eloquent apology. "Having been naive, our eyes are now open to issues that we were not so aware of when we first started," a representative wrote. "The Braid Bar is a welcoming and fun place for people of all races, ethnicities, genders, and ages; an environment that is all-inclusive and accessible to everyone. We are going to ensure that this ethos is reflected in everything we do and post from now on. We understand that it is our responsibility, as a company with a broad social media following, to teach and spread the knowledge of where these ideas, practices and skills originally come from and the stories that come with them. Particularly NOW, in a world that needs us to be united more than ever."
And to the salon's defence, it did post several images of women spanning a wider range of ethnicities following Amfo's blast, but the latest misstep should serve as a reminder that an apology isn't always enough. More than ever (and certainly in the wake of the recent Pepsi and United incidents), companies have a social responsibility to do better. If you want to be woke, hire people who can look critically at your status-quo model and listen to them. The conversation doesn't end with an Instagram post; that's where it starts.