After the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and in the wake of the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests, fashion has been having a long-overdue reckoning with racism. The Black in Fashion Council, which was announced on Wednesday, is just one of the organisations founded to hold the industry to account and create change.
Started up by Teen Vogue editor Lindsay Peoples Wagner and publicist Sandrine Charles, the initiative’s mission is “to represent and secure the advancement of black individuals in the fashion and beauty industry”.
Wagner told industry site the Business of Fashion how the group would move beyond “cancel culture” to “accountability culture”. She continued: “We want to allow people to rise to the occasion of changing.”
The organisation is teaming up with LGBTQ advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign to set up an equality index score and will work with brands, media companies, corporations and trade organisations, such as the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), over at least the next three years to create index scores.
As Peoples Wagner explains in Vogue: “The Human Rights Campaign already has a corporate equality index for people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community that companies like Kering are already a part of. This would be a way to continue to give companies a report card of accountability without them feeling like they’re being shamed into it, and giving them the actual resources of what people are saying they want to see changed.”
Backed by a coalition of more than 400 black models, stylists, executives and editors, and an executive board that includes GQ deputy fashion editor Nikki Ogunnaike, Shiona Turini, the costume designer responsible for the outfits on the TV series Insecure and the film Queen and Slim, as well as the founder of Harlem’s Fashion Row, Brandice Daniel, it is due to launch in July.
The Black in Fashion Council announcement comes in the wake of a number of other initiatives being set up to address racism in the industry. Earlier this week, Law Roach, stylist of Zendaya and Celine Dion, designer Jason Rembert and hair stylist Lacy Redway announced a new not-for profit organisation, the Black Fashion and Beauty Collective. Its website describes it as “a community of fashion and beauty creatives committed to directly influencing progression within the fashion and beauty industries and the black community”.
Its plan: “to create initiatives in collaboration with others in the industry … [that] will focus on creating education and career advancement opportunities for aspiring creatives, developing industry diversification standards for brands and corporations, providing resources to support members with their professional goals, and fostering community engagement and support”.
These initiatives led by black professionals come after criticism of the CFDA’s announcement of plans to “create systemic change” in fashion.
Kerby Jean-Raymond, Pyer Moss designer and CFDA board member, called it a “watered-down, bubblegum-ass statement that didn’t address the issues”, speaking to Highsnobiety. And a group of about 250 black industry professionals responded with the Kelly Initiative, named after Patrick Kelly, the Grace Jones and Princes Diana-approved black couture designer who became the first American member of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter in 1988.
The Kelly Initiative established a petition criticising the CFDA for not going far enough, saying it had “allowed exploitative cultures of prejudice, tokenism and employment discrimination to thrive” and calling on it to provide “data on the racial makeup of employees at all levels”.
Fashion has long had a race problem, from a lack of diversity on catwalks and within those behind the scenes at shows and shoots, to multiple missteps over cultural appropriation and racial insensitivity, and the recent Black Lives Matter protests have catalysed a moment of reckoning. Brands are being called out for hollow statements of anti-racism; the US Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, apologised for not giving space to black people at Vogue, leading black supermodel Beverly Johnson to call for Condé Nast to interview black people for senior roles; and a light is being shone on the exploitation of garment workers around the world, 80% of whom are women of colour.
Meanwhile, it has been announced that Paris fashion week will go ahead in September, one of the few events not to go digital because of the pandemic. It will be a moment to see if the industry has begun to make some urgent changes.