What The Incoming Generation Needs From the Fashion Industry Right Now
Today, the definition of activism falls under an increasingly wide umbrella, ranging from a graphic viral social media template or hashtag, to real, physical protests. Because of current public discourse, brands rush to make a statement of solidarity for the recent protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. While it is certainly encouraged that a brand does not remain silent, especially in times of major social change, it begs the question, what do these statements really mean to us, and what do we really expect? The current protests have awoken many to the conversation that industries across the board have undeniable elements of racial inequality. This piece is meant to encourage furthering those conversations into discussions about tangible initiatives that can create change beyond a statement of solidarity.
For seasons now fashion has reflected cultural movements. Activism on the runways has been increasingly popular, from major designers like Karl Lagerfeld staging a rally for Chanel’s S/S15 presentation, featuring models marching down the runway with signs rallying for female empowerment, to designers like Prabal Gurung’s F/W17 show with T-Shirts stating “The Future is Female” and “Revolution Has No Borders,” or, Alexa Chung’s FW19, claimed to be heavily inspired by female empowerment. Off the runway, brands have launched campaigns to showcase sustainability initiatives, across all levels of fashion, have become essential in the development of an environmentally responsible brand image in the face of the climate crisis. Fashion listens to culture, it is a reflection of it. It is now the time for the fashion industry to listen deeply to the current conversation of its new generation to develop initiatives combating racial inequality.
A 2018 report by New York Magazine’s fashion sector The Cut revealed major disparities of representation within elements of the fashion industry, stating that only about 3% of CFDA members are Black, only 10 Black designers have ever won a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, and less than 10% of designers who show at NYFW are Black, as well as less than 15% of models cast. The importance of highlighting these facts is that these disparities can be easily changed. Fashion is a quick-moving and highly publicized industry, and each season or event is an opportunity to elevate creatives, designers, photographers, models, etc., who need a platform. It’s equally important to acknowledge that these conversations have already begun in fashion. As brands have been recognized in recent years for poor choices representing elements of racial injustice in their collections and advertisements. Organizations like PVH Corp and the CFDA have launched collaborative initiatives to combat misrepresentation and actively initiate inclusivity. Moreover, Gucci, Chanel, and Burberry hired inclusion officers in 2019. However, these initiatives are not as widespread as they can be.
As major brands create viral marketing campaigns like Nike’s “For Once, Don’t Do It” to express solidarity, and brands share an Instagram post with a statement and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, something important to notice is that a majority of these brands’ initiatives right now are donations. While donating money is a highly encouraged, applauded, and powerful immediate response, what’s missing is a response that shows how these brands moving forward are reorganizing their missions and values. Take note of Tapestry’s response: CEO Jide Zeitlin released a statement on LinkedIn including a stance of solidarity, followed by an actionable response. “At a moment such as this, it is important to understand our roots and nurture our aspirations. Over this past week, leaders across our organization came together to think through how we can contribute to change. We are working through a plan that we look forward to sharing with you. We want to convene a number of social justice, legal, and corporate entities to formulate a longer-term plan for addressing systemic inequality. Inequality in health, economic opportunity, public safety, and other sectors. We hope to join with government, but events of this past week make it clear that we cannot wait (Zeitlin).” Brands should take note of this response, applying tangible, immediate solutions in the explaining of the practices they are preparing to implement in their corporate structure.
It’s clear that messages and calls to action that go beyond a singular statement are important for brands across the board going forward. Open the curtain to show us why you stand in solidarity, how you stand in solidarity, and what you are doing within your organization to be more inclusive actively.
By Adi Shoham