Naomi Campbell Recalls Being the "Only Black Model in a Show of 70 Girls"

The supermodel shares her experience with tokenism in the fashion industry.

By Samantha Schnurr Oct 23, 2019 2:48 PMTags

Naomi Campbell was a supermodel surrounded but alone. 

While the runway icon is one of the most famous figures in fashion history, as she recalled to WSJ. Magazine at the WSJ Tech Live conference, she was long the token black model in a sea of uniform skin tone.

On the topic of tokenism in the industry today, Campbell was asked if she can tell the "red flags." While she did not want to name brands, she said there have "been a few recently." 

"I'm not gonna call people out and I have to believe that everybody is coming from a good place," she said in footage fro the event exclusively shared with E! News. "We'll discover as we go along—we will know who is doing it for the token and who is doing it for real."

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But, as Campbell pointed out, she unfortunately understands tokenism firsthand. "I know what it's like to be the token and it wasn't a good feeling to have to always be the only black model in a show of 70 girls," she said. "It was uncomfortable. I didn't like it."

When asked how she handled it, Campbell, who rose up as a model in the late '80s and early '90s, made a powerful point. "So, if I said no, there'd be none," she said. "It was a rock between a hard place."

She also refuted the claim that she didn't want other black models with her. "Well that's not true," Campbell said. "I did."

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While racial diversity on the runways continues to increase with every fashion season, Campbell has also previously pointed out it's not just the catwalk that needs change nor is she immune to the racism that still exists today. 

"I'm the face of a new campaign and I was told that because of the color of my skin a certain country would not use my picture," she shared with Vogue Australia in April. "For me it was a reality check. I never believe in the hype, so it just kept things in perspective for me. Now I would like to know that models [of color] get the same opportunities and fees in advertising."