FIVE WOMEN OF Color Get Real About the Fashion Industry

Verky Arcos Baldonado
Editor-at-Large, Latina

Tell me about your experience growing up and how you were drawn to fashion and beauty.

As a young child, I remember my mom -- with her big curly hair and red lips -- shopping and styling her clothes, figuring out what looked best on her. I wanted to emulate that. Once I was a teen, I learned about designer fashion from my older sister. She was wearing Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Plein Sud. I would take everything from her, so I was rocking a Louis Vuitton bucket bag in high school and wore a Yohji Yamamoto dress to prom. All of these memories have stuck with me and have drawn me to fashion and beauty.

Were there any specific Latin American people who you looked up to in the fashion industry? Was there any fashion inspiration in your community, in film or in the media?

My community was primarily Latino, so I never had to look far, or in mainstream media, for fashion inspiration because fashion and style is engrained in our culture. I do remember loving the supermodels back then – Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Claudia Schiffer – particularly Christy Turlington because she was one of the few Latinas.

What was your first break into the fashion industry?

My first break was at Latina in 2008. Before Latina, I produced photo shoots in the music industry, and while that wasn’t particularly in fashion, it introduced me to the styling world and the process. When I was a writer and editorial assistant at Latina, there were some internal transitions and one of them happened to be a new fashion editor position. I didn’t have direct experience, per se, but I was confident in knowing who the Latina girl was. I marched into the editor-in-chief’s office to convince her that I could do the job and managed to get a 3-month trial period. Once I got the opportunity I rocked it and continued on my fashion path.

What's it like working for a publication specifically focused on producing content for people of color?  

It's fun, challenging and feels like a great responsibility. It's fun because it's an ever-growing market that is slowly being noticed, so there is a lot of uncharted territory to cover and content to produce. It's challenging because we are not just Latina, we are also American, so we are always looking for that Latin thread within mainstream issues. It is very necessary for Latinas to be a part of every conversation, especially fashion and beauty, because the Latina market continues to grow and whoever ignores that is ignoring the reflection of mainstream America.

Why do you think the lack of representation and inclusion continues despite people calling it out season after season?

We need to have more dialogue so that those who make the decisions not only hear what is being said but also understand what people are saying. Those who have power and the ability to change the marketplace are going to need to push for inclusion. The more we stand up for it the more we will see inclusion.

When we talk about the numbers concerning the lack of inclusion and representation in the industry, we're often stuck at the issue and not the solution. How do you think we can actively work toward a more inclusive industry?

Like in Hollywood, part of the problem is not having minorities in positions of power to make those important decisions. In fashion, part of the solution is creating incubator and accelerator programs like Access Latina, which help Latinos excel and succeed. Programs like these will put more Latinos in positions to make a difference and include people like themselves.

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