Hong Kong-ALSHARQIYA November 30: Harmony Anne Marie Ilonga quickly realized that few models looked like her in Hong Kong magazines, so this 22-year-old black woman chose to fight to break stereotypes in the fashion world Chinese
If the "Black Lives Matter" movement allowed raising the issue of the presence of black models in the United States and Europe, then the model of light-skinned and skinny women still dominates the world of modeling in Asia, and is the ideal image of models in it, although it does not reflect the reality of the region at all.
"When I used to go to modeling agencies, I was told that they preferred white models to black models," says Ilonga, who came to Hong Kong as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, told AFP.
"I was 17 years old, and this answer was violent," she added.
In this city of 7.5 million people, 600,000 of whom are of non-Chinese origin, fashion agencies have been asking for "tall, light, and skinny" models. This preference also applied to mainland China.
"I started using products to lighten my skin, so that it simply conformed to standards," Ilonga recalls.
After facing rejection after rejection, Ilonga decided in 2018 to establish her own agency in order to include models of various origins.
She believes that fashion can be a weapon to change mentalities, so that women do not feel they have to change themselves.
The number of exhibitors in Ilonga is 32 women and men from countries as diverse as Rwanda, Burundi, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines.
However, the agency owner admits that changing mindsets is a difficult challenge, explaining in detail the nature of customers wanting to escape the stereotypes of Chinese fashion.
"Most of these are not local brands, but rather brands trying to expand internationally," she explains.
She notes that black male models are seeing success, as they are seen as "more elegant" and casual. However, reservations remain with regard to black women.
Ilonga recalls what happened at a meeting when she suggested to a client a model with a group of African and Asian origins.
"She had Asian features, but her hair was curly, and it seemed clear that this was too much for the customer," she said.
However, the traditional Asian look is not limited to skin tone. Even though the fashion industry in the US or Europe is opening up to natural bodies, Asia is still obsessed with thinness.