Monday, October 18

‘Racism doesn’t dissolve once it makes the headlines’: is the fashion industry doing enough to address diversity? | fashion

This month, the unofficial watchdog of fashion, Prada diet, published a Meme “how it started versus how it goes” On Instagram. By contrasting a past moment of hope with a current moment of reckoning, Diet Prada turned its attention to the American clothing and home goods store Anthropologie.

The first image was a screenshot from the brand’s official Instagram account, showing a promise to diversify its workforce, written after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the spring. A second screenshot showed the poster for a series of virtual Christmas workshops: styling sessions, baking demonstrations and candle-making sessions led by white and blonde women.

At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, former Anthropologie employees claimed the store had a history of buyers with racial profiles, which made the company’s proclamations feel performative and hypocritical. There have been racial calculations elsewhere online – the publisher of the entertainment website Refinery29 resigned after staff claimed there was experienced discrimination in the company; fashion blog founder Man Repeller said she would “take a step back” after criticism of her company’s response to systemic racism; and the beauty brand Glossier faced criticism from employees who claimed that the company did not support black workers.

Black Italian designer Stella Jean in Rome before the We Are Made in Italy show at Milan Fashion Week.
Black Italian designer Stella Jean in Rome before the We Are Made in Italy show at Milan Fashion Week. Photograph: Remo Casilli / Reuters

As Diet Prada pointed out, this was not a good look for Anthropologie. But have other fashion companies lived up to their commitments to diversity?

“The first lesson is to realize that racism and discrimination are not something that dissolves once you get tired or once you fade from the headlines,” says Kimberly Jenkins, director of the Fashion and Career Database. . “I am waiting to see what evolves over the course of 2021 and 2022, because many companies are in the preliminary stages of starting this deep work, which will be carried out in stages,” he says. “I remain optimistic, because companies must know that they will lose oxygen and relevance if they still cannot understand cultural intelligence.”

Karen Binns, director of Fashion Roundtable, is equally optimistic. She cites the British Fashion Council Diversity and inclusion panel, Room mentoring, the Bold agency and British Vogue editor Edward Enninful as major change agents who have committed to the concept of changing structural racism in the fashion industry. “Every issue of Vogue has been a testimonial to [Enninful’s] full standing in all forms of diversity and inclusion, ”says Binns. High-profile examples have included her “hopeful face” in the September issue with Marcus Rashford, putting Rihanna on a durag and placing key workers on the front page during the summer of the pandemic. “It has become more public than any other fashion publication,” he says. Still, even Enninful encountered racial profiling at work. There is no irony here, just a daily reminder of what it means to be black in the fashion industry.

A jarring reminder of the multiplicity of racism came in July when designer Stella Jean called out on the Italian fashion community not only for symbolism, but also for deep-seated racism that led to a shortage of black designers showing their work. at Milan Fashion Week. . After months of campaigning, he coordinated a show, We Are Made in Italy, on the last day of the Milan show in September, which featured black Italian fashion designers for the first time. “You have to counteract the misconception that to be Italian is to be white,” he said beforehand. “Fashion should not miss this opportunity to tune in to the real truth of this country, which is multicultural.”

Jean said the We Are Made in Italy show was for the “ignored minorities” of fashion creatives. “Most of the designers who will be showing up at Milan Fashion Week cannot afford to design full time. They have day jobs and have tried for years to present [their work], but [they have had] no response. “He added there was an” unrealistic lack of opportunity “for black-owned fashion companies in Italy” beyond the runway. “

Elisa Di Francisca, Neelam Gill and Karen Binns at a Business of Fashion event.
Elisa Di Francisca, Neelam Gill and Karen Binns at a Business of Fashion event. Photograph: Dave Benett / Getty Images for The Business of Fashion

This year was important for revelation and guilt, but there is a very real fear that this learning moment will pass. “I feel the great urgency for brands to act now,” says Binns. “Embrace the importance of cultural understanding and apply full diversity in the workplace at all levels,” he says. “And no, not just a few pinches of dust, but to assume responsibility for equal opportunities in all their companies.”

Jenkins believes that the hardest job is addressing structural problems, for which companies are unprepared. “Beyond pursuing diverse teams, companies operating on the global stage need educational programs that equip executives and mid-level employees with historical, cultural, and socio-political perspectives,” he says. “Once someone is educated and aware, they must be able to seek and attract diversity and can be relied on as a preventative measure to avoid a crisis. I hope leaders will take this on and participate, rather than offloading this work onto diversity and inclusion officials or their racialized employees. “

• This article was amended on December 21, 2020. The photo of Stella Jean was taken in Rome, not in Milan as the caption originally stated; and the subtitle was corrected to refer to George Floyd’s death as murder, not murder, as this has not been legally established.

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