WORDS BY NATALIE YIASSOUMI
We look at some of the most meaningful responses and actions taken by fashion organizations and footwear businesses.
Brother Vellies founder Aurora James is leading the change with her 15 percent challenge. Image courtesy of @aurorajames.
As anti-racist activism gets the momentum and attention it deserves, there has been increasing pressure for the fashion industry, being one of the most visible industries in the world, to take a stand and use its global platform to encourage longterm change.
Response was indeed widespread, especially in the form of statements of solidarity and black squares posted on Instagram as part of #blackouttuesday. But in many cases these responses fell short of the gravity of the situation that requires less talk and more long term commitment and actionable strategies. What can a black square serve, if the rest of your feed excludes black people and people of colour? Is a small charitable donation enough, when company executives – predominantly white males – bring home quadruple that amount?
Those were some of the questions the online fashion community has been demanding of brands.
In the midst of all the noise, a handful of fashion figures and businesses are making more meaningful commitments however.
One of them is footwear designer Aurora James, who created the 15 percent pledge to fight for economic equality, as detailed in our previous post. Since the birth of the pledge last week, the movement keeps gaining steam and James has gathered a number of volunteers from within the Instagram community to help her do the math, highlight how many black-owned businesses the retailers she is addressing currently stock and keep calling them out.
So far, none of the companies have taken James up on the pledge.
The Council of Fashion Designer of America, or CFDA, has also laid out an actionable plan about how it intends to work towards making the U.S. fashion industry more racially diverse. This includes job placements, mentorships and apprenticeships for black creatives, who so far have been largely absent from key creative and executive positions.
“Black people in this country are reeling from years of injustice stemming from institutional constructs such as slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, police brutality and economic and voter suppression,” said Tom Ford, the organizatin’s new chairman, who has been behind many positive industry changes since taking the helm last year, including cutting down the New York Fashion Week schedule and encouraging brands to adopt a slower pace.
Ford pointed to a new in-house employment placement program that will work toward placing black talent across all sectors of the industry, as well as a separate internship and mentorship program dedicated to setting up opportunities for students and graduates.
The organization has also set up a dedicated five-person team to work on these initiatives throughout the summer and get them up and running by the fall.
In the footwear world, Aldo has made a powerful statement by committing to pay the legal fees of any of its employees who are detained while participating in a peaceful demonstration. It’s also investing in educating its staff about anti-racism and creating a hotline to report racist incidents in its stores or offices – in other words, going beyond the vague solidarity statement and towards measurable action that could help improve the situation.
High-heel maestro Christian Louboutin also went on to share a personal statement about his own experiences with racism while growing up as a mixed-race, gay boy in France. There are no details about the brand’s internal diversity policies or charitable donations yet, but by speaking openly and having the courage to be vulnerable, the designer is taking a clear stand and helping educate his audience about the racist experiences and traumas people of color have been facing all along.
“From an early age, I discovered the differences in skin color. As a kid, I could see and feel that I was darker than most of my school mates but it didn’t matter to me at the time. Much later I discovered this sadly powerful hate which is called Racism. I was an adolescent and it blew my head and froze my blood when I was shouted at and called “you little black faggot.” I could only shout back before I was forced to run, fast, if I didn’t want to be caught and probably assaulted.
This was the first time I had to feel a portion of what so many people are living through in their lives and so many have died from,” said the designer, who expanded his ‘Nudes’ range to cater to all skin tones over two years ago. Last month, the range also became more widely distributed on Mytheresa.com.
“I chose with my work to express that skin and their various tones should not create differences, we all have a unique skin tone and this is what makes life beautiful but as long as skin colour remains an issue, we shall have to fight the lowest form of misery which should no longer exist, under any form or excuse: Racism,” added the designer.
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