The year 2020 brought worldwide protests, even amidst a pandemic, for Black Live Matter, a movement that has been protesting racial injustice and discrimination for years. However, the events in 2020 quickly became a global outcry, bringing into focus discrimination in different industries. Although the protests began in the US, racial injustice is not a problem unique to that country.
The fashion industry, in particular, which often touts itself as a promoter of equality, has many skeletons in its closets too. It’s an industry marked by racial suppression, especially of Black people. The industry was one of the front-runners when it came to acknowledging racial injustice and making promises to fight it.
So what has changed since? Is fashion representing Black people and culture? How is it leading the conversation about change?
Words and Actions are Different Things
In 2020, we saw some bold statements from some of the top fashion brands that promised more inclusivity and diversity. It was like a domino effect, with one company after another, issuing carefully worded statements to express their solidarity with the Black community and commit to bringing the change from within.
However, saying something and doing something are two different things. The New York Times tried to gather data from some of the biggest names in fashion to gauge how much progress the industry has made since.
Interestingly, only 4 out of the 64 brands they approached answered all their questions. Around 16 brands answered half the questions. Most brands that answered were American, whereas the brands that didn’t give any numbers cited a number of reasons, such as European laws regarding collecting data about race. There were only four Black creative directors among the 69 creative directors spearheading the brands at the time.
If the New York Times report is anything to go by, fashion still needs some structural changes and more inclusivity on the top.
On a Positive Note, Some Change Has Come
The movement and the awakening that followed it has had some positive change in the fashion industry. Many brands have taken initiatives to invest in Black communities and promote more Black representation in the industry.
For instance, Gucci started the Gucci Changemakers North America Scholarship Program which plans to distribute $1.5 million over four years to bring more diversity into the fashion industry by empowering minority youth.
Another notable move came in the form of the ‘15 Percent Pledge’ led by Aurora James of Brother Vellies. The 15 Percent Pledge is a non-profit for Black entrepreneurs. So far, it has generated $10 billion for Black entrepreneurs.
However, the most notable change came from within the Black community itself, which realized that they have to support their own. As a result, Black-owned fashion labels came into the spotlight. People within the community and outside it started buying from these brands, resulting in unprecedented growth.
Whilst the fashion industry has yet to live up to all of its promises of ending racial injustice and empowering Black people, some measurable, positive change has taken place. Mostly the change is coming through grassroots movements led by Black activists and entrepreneurs. Clearly, the big names in fashion need to match their efforts and energy to bring about lasting change.