Over the past few months, the fashion industry has been forced to . In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, it would appear the world is finally facing up to the systematic sexual inequalities that have resulted in repeated misconduct and abuse.
But as with all landmark movements, it's actions – not just words – that make a difference. Inspired by the #MeToo campaign, model Kristina Romanova – who has worked for Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbana - has teamed up with lawyer Antoniette Costa to create non-profit organisation , which aims to prevent sexual harassment and abuse in fashion, as well as offering support for victims.
Having pooled their resources, knowledge and contacts, Costa and Romanova want to offer both bro-bono legal support, professional counselling and advice from industry veterans, via its website and an app. The board currently includes models, stylists and make-up artists who are all keen to important their wisdom.
'My goal is to prevent these situations from happening – if people in power know that something like this exists, they'll think twice about behaving inappropriately,' said Romanova. 'I'm not saying that they'll be scared, but they'll think twice. I also want to encourage people to talk about their experiences and for us to be able to offer a personal approach. Everyone is different – one model might want to take someone to court, while another might just want some advice or counselling.'
For Romanova, this is a personal project based on her experience of sexual misconduct in the fashion industry, both first and second-hand. Having been scouted in her native Russia, she moved to New York to model when she was just 16. Despite a supportive family and agency, she still encountered inappropriate behaviour and struggled being a teenager on her own in a new city without knowledge of the language.
'I experienced some uncomfortable situations with photographers being touchy and making inappropriate comments,' she told us. 'I was just scared to say something because we all know how easy it is to switch from one model to another. We all know what attitude they will give you if you ever disagree or say you don't want to do something – they call you difficult. I never experienced abuse but as I said, I had a couple of uncomfortable situations.'
Fear of losing her job and getting a reputation for being 'difficult' deterred Romanova from speaking out. It was only when she received a phone call from a model friend, who cried as she opened up about her experience of sexual assault, that Romanova came up with her idea for the Humans of Style.
'It was her only client and she didn't know what to do,' says the model. 'she wanted my advice and by that point, I'd been working in the industry for seven years. I told her be strong; you don't have to do anything you don't want to. She found comfort in that.'
It was around this time that the Weinstein scandal erupted and a number of high-profile Hollywood stars were accused of sexual harassment. Romanova approached a lawyer friend about setting up a support organisation for models who had experienced similar issues and the concept snowballed.
'We don't have an HR department in fashion; it's a freelance world and there's zero control over what's going on,' she said. 'This is part of the issue – there's no guidelines or boundaries.
'We're not just talking about just women either; we're also talking about guys who feel huge shame in talking about their harassment experiences. We know that it's also more competitive for guys in fashion – they are paid less, it's even harder.'
Within the next month, Humans of Style will launch an app where models can contact the company anonymously, as well as via its website.
'The fashion industry is full of young people, which is why I thought that an app was the best way of connecting people,' says Romanova. 'If someone like Harvey Weinstein, someone that powerful, can be challenged then that's empowering – it helps people to feel brave enough to talk. But, we've been talking about this for a while. We need to take actions to prevent this happening again. The door is open now and it will never go back to how it was.'