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  • Mikelle Drew

28 Days of Black Fashion History: Bethann Hardison

Updated: 6 hours ago

As one of the first Black supermodels, Bethann Hardison paved the way for future models of colors in the fashion industry. Today, she continues to be a pioneer, activist and advocate for more diversity on the runway.

A native Brooklynite, Bethann attended New York University Art School and the Fashion Institute of Technology. After working sales in the garment industry in the 1960s, she was became a fit model for designer, Willi Smith, and eventually began doing runway and print modeling as well.

Model Bethann Hardison wearing Bill Blass for Vogue US, Fall_Winter 1970.

Her groundbreaking stomp onto the scene (along with other iconic pioneers like Pat Cleveland, Iman and Beverly Johnson) at the Battle of Versailles was a historical moment for Black models and helped to launch an international modeling career. During the 1970s she worked for various top European and New York designers and appeared in multiple fashion publications.

Models Bethann Hardison (left) and Ramona Saunders (right) wearing Stephen Burrows at the Battle of Versailles fashion show, 1973.

In 1984, she launched her modeling agency, Bethann Management. Kim Hastreiter of Paper Magazine noted that her models were “never ghettoized … all different colors” and “represented girls of all ethnicities, including many white girls.” (2013, Hastreiter) Hardison has said that her intention was not to run an agency composed exclusively of models of color; however, her goal was to bring more diversity to the business. And that she did, managing well known talent including Veronica Webb and Tyson Beckford.

Bethann Hardison (right) with model, Tyson Beckford (center) and Brandice Henderson Daniele (left) at Harlem’s Fashion Row At its 2011 Style Awards.

In 1989, Bethann with close friend and supermodel, Iman, began the Black Girls Coalition. The group was initially started to allow models the chance to give back to the community. One of their first initiatives in the ‘80s was a fundraiser to help tackle the problem of homelessness. However, the group would also become a source of support, mentorship, a c