Neelam Gill told us what the fashion industry (and beyond) needs to know about being a model of colour, and why things need to change.
Neelam Gill was one of the first British Asian women to land a major campaign when she became the face of Burberry Beauty in 2014, and since then she’s been the face of L’Oréal Paris and walked for the likes of Dior, all of which along with her passionate commentary of racism in the fashion industry, have seen her be hailed as a role model for Asian girls.
Sharp, fearless and talented, we’ve championed Gill as a Stylist cover model and asked her to present an award at this year’s Remarkable Women’s Awards, so when we were given the chance to talk to her in more depth about one of the subjects closest to her heart, we jumped at the chance.
We asked Gill about how experiencing racism in her adolescence effected her self esteem and what needs to change about the fashion industry now, as well as what she would say to young girls of colour battling with the same issues that she once did.
On racism growing up
“I remember being a kid and walking to school and someone shouting ‘Paki’ out the window. That was just so normal.
“I’d get comments like, ‘does your Dad own the corner shop?’ or ‘Is he a taxi driver?’ It makes me feel really angry. I could never imagine doing that to someone. It’s not something I’d stand for now and now I’m very outspoken about it.”
On tokenism in the industry
“The main thing that needs to change is tokenism. A lot of brands in the industry still use girls just to cover their backs. Some of my friends have been told to their face that ‘we don’t want a black girl, we already have one.’ Their show will be full of white girls but they’ll put one black girl in it, just to say, ‘yeah we had one black girl this season.’
“I do see there’s been a change. It’s not enough but at least it’s a step in the right direction.”
On advice to her younger self
“Stay true to yourself. When I was younger I was very insecure and I didn’t think I was pretty because I thought being fair was what made you beautiful. I would always hate the colour of my skin.
“You have to have a really strong belief in yourself. It’s not about being arrogant. You shouldn’t feel insecure if you’re the only woman of colour in the room. You have to learn that being different is what’s beautiful.”
Watch the full video above.