When it comes to tackling racism and promoting diversity, a sea change in the fashion industry is long overdue. Only now, it comes within the context of a much wider global movement. Since May 26, headlines have been dominated by the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd, igniting global protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
The BAME community is living a painful experience, and international organisations, most of which are largely whitewashed, have been challenged to remedy their ethos by denouncing racism once and for all. Many companies, including those in the fashion industry, announced their stance via Instagram on #BlackoutTuesday.
But brands and users were quick to resume their usual content-sharing practices, sparking charges of hypocrisy and tokenism. While #BlackoutTuesday signified an attempt to amplify conversations and mindful actions, there have been numerous accusations of performative posts, as users shared black squares without deeply delving into the matter.
The fashion industry was in no way exempt, with some of the biggest fashion houses posting their black squares while at the same time omitting to declare how they would be tackling racism and representation in the longterm within their organisations.
To avoid anti-racism becoming another passing trend, white people must look back through history and acknowledge the serious lack of diversity, not just on the catwalks but within the very systems, and inner workings, of the industry. Diversity matters, and so do the lives of the employees who have borne the brunt of racial inequality.
Step forward two leaders and advocates, Lindsay Peoples Wagner, Teen Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief, and Sandrine Charles, Owner of Sandrine Charles Consulting, who in the past week have created The Black In Fashion Council.
The initiative was founded to secure the industry’s advancement of black individuals, both in fashion and beauty. The project has been described as a ‘collective’ effort to pioneer diversity and hold brands accountable for their lack of inclusion.
‘We envision a world in which Black people in fashion and beauty spaces can be open and honest, guaranteed equal rights, and be celebrated for our voices,’ said Charles and Peoples Wagner.‘While we are currently working on our end, we encourage people in the industry to rise to the occasion to sustain long-term change.’
The organisation has over 400 editors, stylists, models and fashion executives and has over 35 board members now appointed, who come from all areas of the fashion industry. The company will work through a digital directory of black talents, holding meetings with corporations to diversify their work force.
Moreover, it will ask organisations to take part in a ‘Quality Index Score’, addressing the level of diversity – if the score is low, the council will recommend ways to improve it.‘What BIFC is really all about is a collaborative collective and I think what we’re trying to do is create a streamlined path for us to see productive change in the industry,’ Peoples Wagner tells ELLE.
As Peoples Wagner says, this organisation plays a crucial role in the future of fashion: ‘There’s so much value in unity, and strength in numbers for us to come together and discuss the ways in which we all so desperately need the industry to move forward.’
The change they are advocating is one that will be long lasting: ‘We are eager to gather with our peers and establish long term productive changes,’ says Charles.
Diversity gives access to a greater range of talents, not just the talents who belong to a particular worldview or ethnicity or one particular reality. And, as studies have shown, it makes organisations more successful and more profitable.