You’d have to be living in a rock or completely off the grid to not know George Floyd’s name.
On May 25th, Floyd was filmed being suffocated to death, as a police officer knelt on his neck. Despite onlookers desperately pleading with the officer to release his knee, Floyd eventually lost consciousness and died.
His death ignited a series of violent protests and riots across America, and an even greater movement across the world as people of all countries gathered in support of the African American community.
Fashion brands have also waded into the conversation, as label fans began to question their silence across social media. Several — including the Kering Group and Chanel – have responded with statements denouncing racism and hate. Most did so with a black tile on their social media feed – a movement that was inspired by the #blackouttuesday movement that asked social media users to mute their feed with a black square, so that minority voices may be heard.
While a statement of support against racial crimes is a step in the right direction, fashion still has to do more than pay lip service via Instagram.
01 | Money talks
One key aspect of support that many Instagram followers have been quick to call out fashion brands on is in the aspect of donations. It’s a fair question, given that several smaller and independently-owned labels have already opened their wallets to give to causes that advocate for equal rights. If these smaller companies are able to give, what more an established fashion house with a deeper reserve of money?
On Kering Group’s part, an undisclosed donation was made to the NAACP, an advocacy group that fights against race-based discrimination in the US. Other brands like Ganni, Glossier, Altuzarra and Balmain have also put their money where their mouths are and made donations to several charities supporting civil and legal rights for the African American community.
Time and time again, marketing experts have advised that millennial and Gen Z shoppers crave authenticity from brand-led messaging. In these days, simply saying “black lives matter” is no longer enough when brands have the resources to do so much more.
02 | Hire more people of colour
The interplay of racial privilege versus racial disadvantages in every society has always allowed the majority races to thrive, while minorities have to work harder to achieve similar levels of success. Diversity has always been an issue that the fashion industry has had problems addressing, but in the shadow of what’s happening today, our industry needs to take big steps to push the conversation forward.
In a report released last January by the CFDA and Calvin Klein’s parent company PVH Corp., one point highlighted is the difference between “diversity” and “inclusivity”. The former is a “measure of difference” while the latter is the environment that allows and encourages people from different races and backgrounds to feel comfortable enough to achieve their best.
The report also states that “it is often assumed that diversity is enough. However, without inclusion, diversity is ineffective. Leaders are prone to struggling with inclusion as it is often a learned skill. Even in organizations with the best intentions, diversity and inclusion leadership development is often siloed instead of being integrated in other leadership skill-training.”
The runways of Paris and Milan have shown that diversity isn’t so difficult, as the recent Fall/Winter 2020 shows in March showed that 40.6 percent of 6,879 castings across 194 shows went to models of colour. This made the season the second most diverse showcase yet, trailing behind Spring/Summer 2020’s 41.5 percentage score.
Through the lens of models, it’s a conversation that homegrown publications — us included — need to have about the faces we choose to feature in our glamorous fashion editorials. Given that Singapore is a mix of different cultures and races, it is time that more publications begin to reflect this multi-coloured society that fairly represents everyone.
This practice of diversity-beyond-token-hires needs to be reflected in how industry leaders hire people to top positions. “An inclusive industry is not only an inclusive spread of models of various sizes and skin colours,” says designer and advocate Céline Semaan, who points out that the corporate ranks of a company have to be “as diverse, [and] as inclusive, that has embraced different cultures”.
03 | Work with the public
Several fashion brands that include Chanel, Prada and Burberry have already hired diversity officers to address how their companies can do more for minority groups.
While this is a great way to modernise the working culture for a fairer and more inclusive future, fashion brands need to think about how they can engage with their legions of public fans to find out ways that they can open up the conversation and include varied voices.
The power brokers that control the industry have always worked on the basis of exclusivity, which meant that the real opportunities of minorities being offered a seat at the table may be far and few. However, fashion has always been quick to bend to the pressures from the public, given that that’s where the brand’s revenue comes from. Allowing their fans to partake in a two-way conversation on how the industry can elevate minority groups not only affirms that brands are listening and earnest to change, it shows that fashion is allowing itself to become accountable.