The fashion industry says it stands against racism. Critics aren’t buying it

Since May 26, headlines have now been dominated by the killing of George Floyd and the international protests it has ignited. Thousands took to the streets around the globe to denounce police brutality and anti-blackness, while on line, thousands more have posted en masse in support of #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) and called for a conclusion to systemic racism.
On social media, many fashion brands were quick to align themselves with protesters, posting black squares to Instagram on #BlackoutTuesday, and sharing lengthy captions denouncing racism, discrimination and violence. But not everybody was buying it.
“Plain and simple, I don’t think there is the intention behind it to make long-lasting, sustainable change,” Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner said in an email to CNN. “Everyone can hop onto the BLM movement right now on social media, but what are you doing in your home, in your corporate office, with your connections, with the power you have?”
Charges of hypocrisy have plagued brands considering that the onset of the protests. On social networking, commenters questioned whether the luxury brand Salvatore Ferragamo, who declined to comment because of this story, might be an ally in the fight against racism when actor Tommy Dorfman accused them of discriminating against trans models and types of color in a recent campaign; or whether LA label Reformation could truly support #BlackLivesMatter when people claiming to be former employees were accusing the make of workplace racism in the comments (founder Yael Aflalo has apologized and resigned from her post as chief executive officer); or whether Anthropologie could genuinely claim “Our hearts, with yours, are breaking at current events,” because they did in a since-deleted Instagram post, when they have been accused of racial profiling their clients — allegations that the brand has denied.
This is to say nothing of the backlash against fashion publications. Earlier this month, a CNN investigation unearthed numerous allegations of racism and workplace toxicity at Refinery29. In response to these accusations, editor-in-chief and co-founder Christene Barberich — who resigned on June 8 — said in a statement, “My goal has always been to help close the representation gap and I believe that is reflected across the pages of Refinery29.”
Meanwhile, Anna Wintour was briefly rumored to be stepping down from her vaunted post at Vogue, as former staffers and talent shared their own experiences with racism at the magazine.
Wintour, whose official title names her as artistic director and editor-in-chief of Vogue US and global content advisor, sent an internal email to her staff on June 5. In the memo, seen by CNN, she acknowledged and took “full responsibility” for the racism that flourished under her watch: “I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators. We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant,” she wrote.
Additionally, a spokesperson for Condé Nast, Vogue’s publisher, said in a statement, “Condé Nast is focused on creating meaningful, sustainable change and continues to implement an inclusive hiring process to ensure that a diverse range of candidates is considered for all open positions.”

“Everyone can hop onto the BLM movement right now on social media, but what are you doing in your home, in your corporate office, with your connections, with the power you have?”
Lindsay Peoples Wagner

Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Lindsey Peoples Wagner Credit: Kyleen James / The Society Management

It was French luxury brand Celine’s Instagram response — a black square with a caption reading, “Celine stands against all forms of discrimination, oppression and racism. Tomorrow’s world will not exist without equality for all #BlackLivesMatter” — that caused Hollywood stylist Jason Bolden, whose celebrity clients include Taraji P. Henson, Ava DuVernay and Serena Williams, to pause his scrolling. In a pointed comment that was later picked up by industry watchdog account Diet Prada, Bolden accused the brand, who declined to comment because of this story, of not dressing Black superstars for the red carpet unless these were working with White stylists.
“My focus has not been on fashion; my focus has been on lives being lost and the injustice (facing) Black people,” Bolden said in a phone interview. “But in that particular moment when I saw that go across my feed, it just sparked my rage. It just felt like a joke to me. It didn’t feel authentic.”
As a stylist, Bolden said he’s usually felt marginalized by high fashion brands. He recalls struggling to find a designer to dress Henson for the 2017 Academy Awards, where her film “Hidden Figures” was nominated for three awards, including Best Picture. “These are the exact same brands that I would see dressing talent who no one had ever heard of, and they were all White girls,” said Bolden.
“And in those moments, what else are you supposed to lean into? (Henson) has everything they could possibly want. She has the press that goes along with (the Oscar nominations), she has the major coverage, she’s presenting, she’s won a Golden Globe… she’s in critically acclaimed movies. And yet they said no.”

“But in that particular moment when I saw that go across my feed, it just sparked my rage. It just felt like a joke to me. It didn’t feel authentic.”
Jason Bolden

Stylist Jason Bolden

“I think what we’re seeing is people like myself who are tired of people and brands not walking the talk,” said Peoples Wagner. “It’s very easy for people to tap into a moment and say they care about an issue, but people have been doing that for years without making real systemic changes, and that’s what’s being demanded of brands now.”
This isn’t the first time the fashion industry has stumbled when it comes to addressing issues of race. Cultural appropriation, high-profile racist gaffes and having less runway diversity are perennial talking points, leading to a recently available wave of diversity and inclusion hires. Peoples Wagner is among few Black editors at the helm of an important fashion magazine (along with British Vogue’s Edward Enninful, and Harper’s Bazaar’s newly appointed editor, Samira Nasr, who will officially begin next month), and there are only two Black designers at the helm of European fashion houses.
“I don’t know if any White person is even able to relate to the emotional turmoil that is being Black and trying to have a business here and trying to survive (in this industry)… I don’t know if there’s any sector in fashion where Black people can say we have the same resources, we’re equal, we’re treated the same,” said model Adesuwa Aighewi, perhaps one of the most high-profile Black models working today.
Having walked the runway and fronted campaigns for some of the world’s most renowned luxury brands and appeared on the April 2020 cover of Vogue, Aighewi said she sees her “entire career” within the industry’s recent — if still limited — efforts to increase model diversity in magazines and on the runway after years of criticism. “Literally everything that I’ve done has been as the face of my race and as a diversity token. I shot the cover of American Vogue in December, and yet I don’t see any of the companies that so proudly paraded me around having meaningful dialogue about Black Lives Matter.”
Danielle Prescod, style director for BET.com, was not surprised to see brands suddenly speaking up against racism in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing. “(With) something that was moving as quickly as this movement was through social media, it would have been so glaring if people didn’t say anything,” she said.

“Literally everything that I’ve done has been as the face of my race and as a diversity token.”
Adesuwa Aighewi

Model Adesuwa Aighewi Credit: Kyleen James/The Society Management

However, she couldn’t help but question the motivation when brands that had formerly remained noiseless on problems of competition, or we hadn’t previously prioritized inclusion and variety, chose this specific moment of talking up.
“It does come across as disingenuous when a brand says something like ‘We stand with the Black community.’ It’s like, when have you ever stood with the Black community?” she mentioned. “You have had the same opportunities to defend Black lives, to defend Black beauty, to employ Black people from the onset of your business. So for you this week to decide that you do (care about Black lives) is all too convenient. It ends up looking like a marketing opportunity rather than something that they truly care about.”
Indeed, now nowadays, aligning their brand along with popular leads to can make for great strategy. According to the 2020 State regarding Fashion Report, compiled by supervision consulting huge McKinsey & Company in addition to trade distribution the Business of Fashion, almost two-thirds of consumers recognize as “‘belief-driven buyers’ who will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues.” Because with this, the record predicted more companies will certainly “elevate diversity and inclusion as a higher priority.”
At a time any time 74% regarding Americans assistance the protests, according to a current Washington Post-Schar School election, siding with protestors — in a shallow way — means going with popular viewpoint.
“If you look at how brands rally around causes, it’s usually popular causes and the causes of the majority, because what you’re trying to do is align your brand with customer values. So you now have a customer who judges your brand not as an entity, but as a person or personality,” mentioned Martin Raymond, co-founder regarding trend-forecasting agency The Future Laboratory.
“Traditionally, it was useful for brands to sit on the fence but, increasingly, if you sit on the fence, you risk getting splinters on your bottom. You end up not really understanding the pendulum of history and where it’s swinging, and where you need to be when that pendulum passes over you.”
However, simply by aligning by themselves with a result in, brands available themselves around increased customer scrutiny in addition to criticism, which is often problematic any time their promises contradict their own practices. Raymond points to the continuing conversations close to fashion brands’ sustainability attempts, which have frequently been panned as “greenwashing”: “If I examined your infrastructure, your logistics chain or your sourcing — particularly in fashion — I would find quite strange things sitting there that would be readily available for criticism and for challenge.”
However, Bethann Hardison, a former design, turned building agent and variety advocate, is much less cynical. “When people offer their solidarity, I don’t tend to question it… I don’t have time for that. We have a movement to keep moving,” she mentioned.
“These big companies, a lot of them are very good people and they do care to do the right thing, but they’re used to being who they’ve been. Now, this is an opportunity for people to wake up and look and notice that something different is happening around them and happening to them.”
For brands who else, historically, have not had to consider critically concerning race in addition to social proper rights — or perhaps address the difficulties of racism in their personal teams — an understanding curve is usually to be expected. “Some people are being challenged for the first time to talk about race openly.”

“When people offer their solidarity, I don’t tend to question it… I don’t have time for that. We have a movement to keep moving”
Bethann Hardison

Model Bethann Hardison Credit: Jacopo M. Raule/Getty Images with regard to Gucci

Some brands happen to be better from establishing unification than other folks. Bolden provides praised Valentino designer Pierpaolo Piccioli with regard to his modern casting and then for making South Sudanese-Australian design Adut Akech the sobre facto encounter from the brand. Similarly, Prescod commends plus-size luxurious e-retailer 11 Honoré for the commitment in order to using varied models issues platform and Instagram. (“You won’t go two scrolls without seeing a Black face,” Prescod noticed.)
Hardison points to Gucci as an example of any brand producing promising procedure for address having less representation within fashion. In 2019, typically the Italian company, which got faced reaction, repercussion for insensitive designs in addition to co-opting typically the designs of Black designer Dapper Dan, introduced their Changemakers Impact Fund. Last October, the account launched a $1.5 , 000, 000 diversity scholarship or grant program in order to “to ensure a new era of diverse and exceptional young people will gain opportunities and experiences across the fashion industry.” And, on June 3, the organization announced it would be donations to the NAACP, Campaign Zero (a non-profit that works to finish police brutality) and Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp. Gucci also paused US procedures on June 4 “for employees to have a day of mourning, honor the lives lost, and recommit ourselves to being part of the solution.”
But genuinely entrenching anti-racist values in to one’s company requires spectacular change towards the top, where decision-making power is. In the 2019 record on addition and diversity within the industry, typically the Council regarding Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) mentioned that concentrating on visibility — such as range on the catwalk or upon magazine addresses — is not really enough: “The industry must recognize and prioritize efforts to support greater diversity on the business side: the financiers, the chief executives, the heads of fashion houses, the senior level magazine editors, and business leaders,” wrote Erica Lovett, typically the director regarding inclusion and variety at writer Condé Nast. “Until fashion leaders across all categories become more diverse, we will continue to only progress at the surface level.”
Research suggests that varied hiring is usually more than just a matter of great optics: it’s good company. A 2018 McKinsey examine found that will companies with good levels of cultural and social diversity upon executive groups were 33% more likely to have got “industry-leading profitability.”
“People have been saying for years the steps that need to be taken: create a pipeline for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) talent, make sure that pipeline gives way for leadership positions so you don’t just have a ton of BIPOC assistants and freelancers, etc.,” Peoples Wagner said. “Inclusivity isn’t as hard as people make it seem. It just has to be a committed, company-wide decision, and not a choice unilaterally.”
Hardison opinions this second as “a first step” in a greater fight for alter and forecasts that this unrest will certainly lead to “ample changes” in the future. (She’s not the only person: in a latest interview, municipal rights powerhouse and college student Angela Davis said, “This particular historical conjecture holds possibilities for change that we’ve never before experienced in this country.”)
Aighewi is usually similarly positive but realizes that real change will not come quickly. “People need to actually do the work: get uncomfortable, have these conversations, admit that the system is not correct,” the lady said.
“These companies have been around long enough. This is not the first time Black people have complained about the fashion industry; this isn’t the first revolution. Something’s got to give.”