NEW YORK, United States — Like fashion, finance or any other industry driven — at least in part — by the quest for status and power, entertainment has its fair share of secret deals and unsavoury behaviour.
For nearly three decades, film producer and studio executive Harvey Weinstein's inappropriate advances towards women were widely known but never publicly reported as no news outlets were able — or perhaps willing — to amass hard evidence. “…Always there were the persistent, terrible stories,” wrote Kim Masters, an investigative journalist who has been covering Weinstein since the early '90s. “Some executives said they had heard about his behaviour but it was maddeningly, infuriatingly impossible to pin down anything in any form that could make it into print.”
It’s telling that even Masters was unable to break through the layer of protection guarding Weinstein, one of the most powerful players in Hollywood. Why, then, were two reporters from The New York Times finally made privy to legal and internal Weinstein Company documents that indicate the filmmaker has been paying off accusers for years? Why has Weinstein only now been fired by his company's board of directors after decades of alleged misconduct?
The fall of Harvey Weinstein comes on the heels of several behaviour-related oustings in the C-suite, including the June 2017 resignation of Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick, whose company faced sexual harassment complaints that were amplified by an open letter written by engineer Susan Fowler. Just a week later, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck resigned after six women accused him of sexual harassment.
The fate of these executives suggests a new reality to which companies — and indeed entire industries — must adapt. Much of this has to do with the new transparency and connectivity of our digital world. In the past, airing grievances could be a lonely act.
Today, the overwhelming groundswell of support in favour of accusers, communicated via social media or other online channels, often compels — and sometimes forces — companies to take action. Of course, there are other factors at play. When it comes to Weinstein, for instance, his influence as a filmmaker is not as great as it once was and his business was reportedly suffering for it, making him more susceptible to the repercussions of his behaviour. But by and large, looking the other way when it comes to accusations of wrongdoings is no longer an option for businesses. Today, the entire world is watching along on Twitter and Facebook.
This new reality is equally true in fashion where there are no shortage of "don’t ask, don’t tell" practices, from shoddy factory conditions to copying other designers' patterns. Those blowing the whistle — and attracting support online — include casting director James Scully, who has made it his responsibility to call out the industry’s unfair and sometimes cruel treatment of models. "We have black and Asian casting directors being told not to cast black and Asian models to their face," Scully revealed at BoF’s VOICES gathering last December. "This business for me, which was built on the celebration of beauty and diversity of women, has totally been hijacked by a small group of stylists, casting directors and photographers, who not only seem to dislike women, but go out of their way every day to prove that on a daily basis."
Scully has since spotlighted misbehaving casting agents and brands on his own Instagram account, with the intention of not only exposing the accused, but also catalysing real change in how the fashion business is run.
Of course, the mistreatment of models is only one example of the industry's murky morals. Fashion needs to take a hard look at everything from rampant drug use to unsafe factory working conditions to racism and sexism in the workplace.
There will always be secrets in fashion, especially when money is involved. But it's becoming less and less possible for the industry to simply look the other way when it comes to injustice. It’s bad business for brands big and small, and it smears the whole industry.
Members of the BoF community, is there something unsettling happening in the industry that’s being swept under the carpet? Please let us know by emailing us confidentially at email@example.com.