In 2019, fashion businesses around the world were quick to donate hundreds of millions to help save Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, but critics have said their actions have been slower in following the BLM movement.
Some retailers and brands did respond by announcing new diversity hires, and by stating that they would do better to increase ethnic minorities on e-commerce platforms and work to elevate Black voices. This included Matchesfashion, who outlined a three-step plan encompassing education through a racial equality learning programme, a commitment to stocking more Black designers and greater transparency through public annual ethnicity breakdowns of both employees and designers.
“We are stepping up efforts to achieve greater diversity among the designers we retail,” says Natalie Kingham, fashion and buying director at Matchesfashion. “Over the past couple of weeks, several designers from BAME backgrounds have been in touch and we’re working our way through their collections to see if and how they might contribute to our edit.” These ethnicity breakdowns, she explains, will “allow us to see where we stand and set goals for improvement”.
Copenhagen-based brand Ganni committed a $100,000 donation to causes including Black Lives Matter, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union. It also encouraged shoppers to make anti-racism donations in lieu of purchasing an item from Ganni’s website, and pledged to commission work from more Black creators in the future.
These moves have been praised, but as diversity expert Cheryl Overton says, “Only time will tell if those gestures will have any impact beyond the current news cycle.” What does Overton think needs to happen for real change? “Hire Black talent in leadership and decision-making positions so their experience and perspective can be used in service of more equitable and unbiased corporate policy and culture – and adopt an anti-racism stance,” she says. “There should be zero tolerance of biased behaviour, doing it or witnessing it and not reporting. We’ll only effect change if there are consequences for this behaviour.” She also emphasises that the industry needs to stop stealing from Black creators. “Stop copying their designs, mass-producing and borrowing their styling.”
Meanwhile, Overton says that companies should be looking to Black-owned brands for guidance on how to effectively bring inclusion into the core of their businesses. “Leave it to Black-owned brands to guide the industry on how to do this properly,” she says. “These brands have always put purpose first – their actions and reactions aren’t merely in response to current events.” She believes Brands such as Brother Vellies, Fe Noel, Pyer Moss and Savage X Fenty have all incorporated Black traditions and artisans into their business model, while others have established collectives to help cultivate young Black designers. Black-owned brands aren’t new to this, she says. “They’re true to this.”