Image created by Rumana Lasker.
In 2016 Rumana Lasker looked at 52 sewing magazines published in the UK that year and realized that every single one featured a white woman on the cover.
“One of the things that struck me the most…is the feeling of being undervalued- as a consumer, as a person,” says Lasker a British sewer who was a quarter-finalist on the Great British Sewing Bee. “Because it is no exaggeration to say that by failing to represent us, they are telling people of color that we don’t matter.”
Rumana Lasker wearing an Eloise Dress she sewed from a pattern from By Hand London.
Last month Lasker conducted the experiment again, broadening her scope to include 102 magazine covers. She found that six featured women of color, but three were from the same magazine and one had again gone a full year with only white women on the cover. “I feel that underlying it all there’s something more uncomfortable going on,” she says. “The assumption that people of color don’t sell magazines.”
Why are cover models white women?
According to Ruth Walker, Head of Soft Crafts at Practical Publishing, publisher of Love Sewing as well as Sew Now Magazine, the problem has to do with the supply of models their modeling agency provides. “Being a publisher in the North of England, our access to models can be more limited than in other parts of the country,” Walker says. “Although we try our best to employ as wide a range of models as we can, the lack of options can sometimes be a little frustrating.”
Walker argues that although the magazine covers may feature white women, each issue is packaged with a print pattern and the pattern covers often show more diverse models. “The cover is one part of the package, but the cover model is usually not visible when you buy the magazine,” she says. “All of our magazines come with at least one pattern on the front, which we believe is just as important as the cover. We are lucky enough to have an exclusive relationship with Butterick and McCall’s, whose pattern artwork regularly features models of color, and these patterns are front and foremost on the newsstand in our packaged magazines. Since September last year, five of the patterns we have chosen as gifts on the magazine have featured models of color.”
Burda Style and Immediate Media, publishers of the other UK-based sewing magazines, did not respond to interview requests. Aceville Publishing responded that they would discuss Lasker’s concerns with her directly, which they have done.
Threads magazine covers 2018
US sewing magazines are doing a somewhat better job at choosing a diverse set of cover models. Two of the four models shown on the covers of Threads Magazine this year were women of color. In 2017 it was one of six, and in 2016 it was two of five.
Do cover models matter?
For knitwear designer Olgalyn Jolly the challenge of finding models who are people of color is not an excuse she’s willing to accept. “At a time when any person of privilege can be on the other side of the globe in a day, not making an effort to hire cover models who represent an ethnically diverse population makes the publisher appear ignorant and provincial even if the covers aren’t seen until the shrink wrap is removed,” Jolly says. “Many people will eventually find that type of corporate behavior impossible to support. As a person of color, I certainly can’t support that.”
Sewist and magazine reader Kyle Burkhardt agrees. “To me, the main cover model is still important,” Burkhardt says. “Yes, on the newsstand, the model is ‘hidden’ behind the free patterns that come with the issue, but once the plastic is opened, the magazine cover is what we are seeing in our homes and on our nightstands, coffee tables, and kitchen counters.”
Gillian Whitcombe organizes the collaborative sewing blog, Sewcialists, which focuses on issues of diversity and inclusion. She followed Lasker’s post, and the #sewincolour hashtag on Instagram that emerged from it, with avid interest. “Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in the sewing community, regardless of age, size, gender, orientation, ability, ethnicity, or any other factor,” Whitcombe says. “We all need to see people like ourselves looking fabulous because it gives us confidence that we ourselves are valued and worthwhile.”
It’s Time to Make a Change
One editor at a UK sewing magazine explained that modeling agencies provide a range of models of varying ethnicities and looks. To her, it seems that selecting white women as cover models must be a conscious choice. “If you use an agency you get to see the pictures of women so you can choose the best ‘fit’ and every ethnicity is included. Also wherever the agency is based, the models come from across the country and will travel so based in London, or not, shouldn’t be a problem”.
Although the choice of cover models may seem insignificant to some, Whitcombe points out that even small choices can have a material impact over time. “We can all make a difference when it comes to representation,” she says. “It’s as simple as praising people who get it right, gently challenging companies and community members who haven’t consider the importance of diversity in crafting and being reflective in our own decisions. Inclusion is about little steps we take every day, not only grand gestures.”
When Lasker published her survey of magazine covers two years ago, she was hopeful that things would change. “When it went pretty much unnoticed, I was a bit disappointed,” she says. “This time, however, I want the industry to wake up to the fact that their covers aren’t reflective of the community that I sew in and the one that I see the wider industry being part of.”
Lasker is looking for a systemic change. “I don’t just want a blip on the radar where they put one person of color on the cover and that is it. And no, I don’t want to be the person that gets asked to be on the cover as that is the easy way out as I personally have already been part of the face of sewing,” she says. ‘The change needs to be persistent and consistent.”
Maeri moved to the UK from New York 25 years ago and now combines her degree in marketing, her role as a small business cheerleader, and her love of making to start a home-based craft business on a beautiful canal outside of Manchester, UK, called The Make and Do Studio. Maeri has spoken at various industry events about the changing face of creative businesses and how they can co-exist in a digital world. She also works with woman-owned small businesses to help them become more digitally confident. Find her at http://www.maerihoward.com/