Bethann Hardison has done so much for people of color in the fashion industry – where do I start?
Let’s start at the beginning. Hardison was born and bred in New York City to a devout Muslim family. And from that point on, she was destined for greatness. She was the first African-American cheerleader at her high school and the first African-American salesperson in the showroom of her first job in the garment district. One day in an elevator, Hardison was discovered by African-American designer Willi Smith who encouraged her to start a successful modeling career. Iman, Pat Cleveland, and Naomi Sims were the top Black models of the time, and Hardison worked along with them.
After retirement from modeling, she became an agent for Click Model Management. Some time later and with encouragement from a friend, Hardison started her own agency. Bethann Manangement was responsible for breaking some of the biggest Black models in the late 80s and 90s. Veronica Webb became the first to gain a multi-million dollar Revlon contract, and Tyson Beckford became Ralph Lauren’s model of choice in the mid-90s.
Hardison is constantly fighting for equal rights in an industry where most magazines, ads, and runways are completely whitewashed. She and Iman started the Black Girls Coalition in 1988 and she organizes conferences to discuss industry discrimination. She has also helped with Vogue Italia’s “All Black” issue and is the editor-at-large for their Vogue Black website where she introduces audiences to different black models and style icons. Hardison has been noted as saying, “I never expected to make big money at what I do. But in terms of respect and longevity, I can make a difference for a Tyson, a Veronica Webb, a Roshumba, or the next young person who comes along.”