Supermodel Anok Yai recounts a racist encounter during a Zara photoshoot

In a thread of now-deleted tweets, Anok Yai claimed a photographer called her “a cockroach” while shooting a Zara campaign in 2019.

Anok Yai Zara, Zara Anok Yai, Is Zara racist?, Anok Yai racist Zara, Anok Yai cockroach, Anok Yai cockroach Zara, What happened with Anok Yai and Zara?, Anok Yai supermodel
Anok Yai says she encountered racism during a 2019 photoshoot. Above, the supermodel attends the 2024 Met Gala in New York. (Photo by Marleen Moise/Getty Images)

This week, supermodel Anok Yai took to social media to share her experience working with a popular clothing brand. In a series of now-deleted tweets, Yai recounted the discrimination she faced on the set of a photoshoot for Spanish international retailer Zara. 

“I remember in 2019 being called a cockroach by a photographer. It was from this brand that I used to always work with,” she wrote in a thread of now-deleted posts on her X. “On the last 2nd to last day the makeup artist starts powdering my face and the photographer puts his camera down and yells, ‘Lotion la cucaracha [the cockroach].’” 

Before revealing the brand to be Zara at the end of the social media thread, Yai explained how she used to work with its team constantly. On this particular day, she recalled shooting “look after look,” resulting in over 60 looks for the campaign despite the language barrier between her and most crew members.  

Sharing that everyone else on set smiled and laughed after the photographer allegedly made the derogatory comment, Yai remembered feeling like “I can’t react the way I want to react because at the end of the day I’m young, I’m alone, I’m Black…anything that I do will affect me, my family and other Black models.” 

Recommended Stories

Following the alleged incident, Yai refused to return to the set the next day if she was required to work with the same photographer. Despite Zara’s team reportedly assuring her that they would fire the photographer, stating they “don’t accept that type of behavior,” the photographer was still on set the next day. When Yai arrived, a team member allegedly pulled her aside, saying, “‘I asked the team what happened and they said you made it up. Honestly, whenever you come here, you’re never smiling and you’re never happy to be here.’” 

“By now, there’s tears running down my face. I told her I wasn’t lying, [but] she still doesn’t believe me. But I could tell she wanted me to sit down and shut up so I forced them to call my car to the airport and pay my full rate regardless,” she added. “I remember wanting to come out with the story to magazines but I was told ‘Think about what it will do to your career.’ That was my first (and not only) time being blacklisted.” 

Since being discovered at Howard University’s 2017 Homecoming, Yai has been candid about her experiences in the modeling industry as she’s since appeared in luxury campaigns, runways and magazine covers around the world. 

“In the beginning, I felt really isolated…I got thrown into the modeling industry very quickly and I kind of had to navigate it on my own,” Yai said, as previously reported by theGrio

Though Yai said this marked her first time “being blacklisted” by a brand, this is not the first time Zara has been accused of discriminatory practices. In 2015, the labor advocacy group Center for Popular Democracy released a report revealing racial profiling tendencies within the clothing retailer. According to the report, Zara referred to suspected shoplifters as “special orders,” and of the 57% of Zara employees who were familiar with the term, 46% reported Black customers were called special orders “always” or “often.”

“The majority of employees believe that Black customers are coded as potential thieves at a higher rate than white customers,” the report states, per Forbes. “Employees stated that special orders are identified by ‘dressing a certain way’ and are ‘mostly African-American.’ Special orders were also defined as ‘Anyone who looks Black, not put together or urban.’”

At the time of publication, Zara had not responded to theGrio’s request for comment.