The Black Lives Matter movement became a nationwide phenomenon back in 2013, and inspired hope of an end to racism. The recent death of George Floyd has highlighted the superficiality of past promises to improve equality, inclusivity and diversity.
This time, race activists are pushing for irrevocable, structural change. Where better to start than in fashion?
The fashion industry harbours ingrained, structural inequality which exists at all levels. Fashion brands have finally been moved to show support via social media, but the change required behind closed doors is a more complicated and time-consuming process. However, it is this work that’s a true reflection of brand values, rather than PR power.
Fashion has profited from Black consumers and their culture, yet the voices of this community are consistently denied in powerful spaces including corporate boardrooms, catwalks, social media and retail environments. None of the officially recognised Haute Couture houses are headed by a Black designer or director. This lack of black representation at executive level is pervasive throughout the fashion industry, with Balmain and Louis Vuitton the only luxury brands with a Black Creative Director.
There have been some improvements in the racial diversity of runway shows, with women of colour comprising 40% of models in the Fall 2019 shows, but there remains a number of fashion houses that continue to overlook Black models. This denial of Black models upholds the myth that ‘whiteness’ is the embodiment of beauty, creativity and desirability.
Influencers, content creators and bloggers have also voiced criticism of the lack of Black presence in digital marketing strategy, with fewer brand opportunities, pay gaps and racist micro-aggressions in the workplace.
Designer Aurora James is calling on retailers like Net-A-Porter, Sephora and Target to stock merchandise from more black-owned businesses, declaring “We represent 15% of the population and we need to represent 15% of your shelf space”.
Not only would this financially benefit Black communities, it would also ensure the availability of products designed with them in mind. This is particularly important in the hair and beauty industry, where certain skin tones and hair textures are frequently unaccommodated.
The real changes in fashion will not be taking place on Instagram feeds, but within head offices, education, media channels and the Black communities themselves.
By Rebecca Taylor