After 51 Years, This Black Fashion Show Left A Critical Legacy

black women together
Zain Murdock
August 31, 2023

In 1958, the Johnson Publishing Company, which produced Ebony and Jet magazines, established the Ebony Fashion Fair. Over 51 years, the fashion show managed by Eunice Walker Johnson raised over $60 million for Black scholarships, schools, nonprofits, and hospitals. 

But it also achieved something completely priceless.

Johnson initially struggled to get European designers to sell her high fashion. But even after landing thousands of their designs, she still highlighted African-American designers who didn’t have the same resources but who certainly weren’t any less talented.

Fashion Fair became the first fashion show to employ Black models. Fully embracing dark-skinned models became a staple despite the hostility and threats the show experienced while traveling across the country.

To protect them, their white bus driver carried a pistol. And when they made stops, the white-passing models ventured into stores to gather food for the rest.

They continued challenging the industry by hiring plus-size models, too. After watching models mix foundations on set, they eventually created the Fashion Fair makeup brand to cater to our rich complexions.

Colonial norms justify erasing our personhood, especially those of us facing the intersections of misogyny, fatphobia, colorism, and more. 

But the Fashion Fair proved we don’t have to conform to these norms. We can find a success that’s meaningful to us by uplifting our community instead. And that’s a legacy worth celebrating.