Ethan Miller: The Fabric of the Fashion Industry
Ethan Miller ’13 is a top talent manager on the New York fashion scene and a powerful social influencer. Even so, as a black man, he often has walked onto a photo shoot and been mistaken for the help – a caterer, a go-fer, a security guard – not high-level management who’s made national headlines.
“I’d find myself being so frustrated. I’d be the only black person there, and people usually thought that I was the stylist’s assistant’s assistant, when the reality is that I’m actually the agent representing the supermodel,” said Miller, who represents predominantly black clients for IMG Models in New York City, the agency known for representing supermodels Tyra Banks, Gisele Bündchen, and Kate Moss among others. “I started talking to other black people I knew: ‘Wow are you having this experience?’ They were,” Miller said.
It was an isolating feeling, entering a professional space and feeling like he didn’t belong. So Miller decided to start a broader conversation about inclusivity and what it means to be a black person navigating the rather homogenous terrain of the fashion industry – or any industry, for that matter.
In 2018, Miller launched The Fabric, a networking community that gives black creatives in fashion the opportunity to make connections and share ideas and perspectives. There’s a grassroots approach to its growth: Miller and his colleagues extend invitations mainly through direct messages on Instagram or word of mouth. There’s no formal website or online platform for it.
“The Fabric essentially is a guerilla-style organization that pops up and plans parties and events where black creators from behind the camera in the ecosystem of fashion can come and spend time together – fellowship, dance, eat,” Miller said. “Many great relationships have been created out of The Fabric.”
The concept made headlines in The Washington Post last fall. Miller said he chose the name The Fabric because black people are the fabric of the industry. So many elements of style, culture and music stem from the collective black identity, its triumphs and its strife.
But The Fabric also was partly inspired by one very influential professor at SPU, said Miller, who graduated with a bachelor of arts in French and Francophone studies.
“There were several things at SPU that pushed me forward and helped me orient myself. One of them was a professor that I consistently think about, Michelle Beauclair. She’s an amazing woman. Her class really changed the trajectory not only of my career in many ways, but also my personal life and how I oriented myself in the world.”
Miller said Beauclair expanded his horizons, introducing him to the Négritude movement, the works of philosopher Frantz Fanon – specifically “Black Skin, White Masks” – and the influence of colonialism and its effects on different groups around the world.
“At the time, it was such a revelation about understanding black identity and what it really means to be colonized. I’m forever grateful for her because in many ways The Fabric is really based in some of that literature and that point in my life.”
Beauclair, associate professor of French and Francophone studies, remembers Miller as being insightful and adept at drawing parallels between history and modern experiences.
“He had a gift for connecting with people from various walks of life and diverse cultures, so it does not surprise me at all that he is at the forefront of such a creative and innovative way of bringing people together,” she said. “After my courses, he seemed to be very bolstered in his belief that black men and women can be agents of change and innovation in all areas. And we see that’s what Ethan is doing now in the fashion world.”
To further this mission, Miller mentors up-and-coming black creators in the business logistics of the fashion industry, such as billing and negotiating contracts. Photographer Justin French is one of the professionals he’s helped. A former economist and data analyst, French burst onto the gallery scene four years ago with his portrait work, a hobby at the time. He was later recruited by Vogue to shoot actor and former football running back John David Washington. His photography career quickly took off, but the fashion industry was unfamiliar territory.
“In the art industry in general there were rules I didn’t understand. There were standards I didn’t understand. There were financial opportunities I didn’t understand,” said French, who met Miller at a Fabric mixer. “There were so many things that I wasn’t knowledgeable about, and Ethan really helped me understand how to navigate through them.”
French said Miller is opening doors for new creatives and helping update cultural fashion references to include true historical perspectives and authentic voices.
“It helps to have someone like Ethan who already understands exactly what I’m trying to do and knows how to find people who can do it,” said French. “He’s someone who’s building a network that hasn’t been built before.”
Follow them on Instagram:
Ethan Miller: @ethanmiller71
Justin French: @frenchgold