NEW YORK, United States — A group of black stylists, makeup artists and hairstylists have formed a new non-profit organisation, the Black Fashion & Beauty Collective, to support black creatives working behind the scenes in the fashion and entertainment industries.
“It’s almost like creating a black glam union,” said stylist Jason Bolden, a board member of the collective, describing the group as a “safe space” to share negative experiences and advocate for equality and equal pay. Bolden is known for his red carpet work with Yara Shadidi and Taraji P. Henson, and starring on the Netflix reality show “Styling Hollywood.”
The Black Fashion & Beauty Collective is co-founded by stylist and America’s Next Top Model judge Law Roach, stylist and Aliétte designer Jason Rembert and hairstylist Lacy Redway. Other members include stylists and artists Rachel Johnson, Wayman Bannerman, Micah McDonald, Kesha McLeod, Apuje Kalu, Jessica Smalls, Ashunta Sheriff-Kendricks and Nai’vasha.
After the killing of George Floyd by the police on May 25, and the Black Lives Matter protest movement that has gained momentum across the world since, the fashion industry is grappling with its embedded racism, debt to black culture and lack of diversity at the highest levels of leadership.
Black creatives in the industry are responding in different ways, forming groups and signing petitions to push for change and serve as a resource for fashion and beauty companies who find themselves under increased pressure to do more than donate or release supportive statements.
Designer Aurora James of Brother Vellies is pushing retailers to take a “15 Percent Pledge” and commit to buying from black-owned businesses. Another group led by Jason Campbell, Henrietta Gallina and Kibwe Chase-Marshall signed a petition targeting the Council of Fashion Designers of America, asking it to hold the industry accountable on hiring and promoting black people.
Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss, told Highsnobiety that he and fellow CFDA board members Virgil Abloh, Prabal Gurung and Dao-Yi Chow proposed a list of actions for the CFDA that focused on reducing the ways fashion brands and retailers interact with the police force, among other initiatives to push for black career advancement.
Other groups are forming as well, as different schools of thought amongst black professionals develop for how to best push for change in fashion and beauty.
The Black Fashion & Beauty Collective will focus on providing resources to support its members — specifically, people working behind the scenes on fashion, hair and beauty for celebrities and models — including career advancement initiatives for aspiring creatives. The process for membership is still in the works, but the goal is to include as many people as possible. It will also partner with My Block, My Hood, My City, a Chicago-based small business relief fund that’s been helping black-owned businesses damaged during protests.
Bolden emphasised that the collective wants to not only identify discriminatory behaviour in the industry, but also partner with brands to create positive change. “It’s us being able to own our blackness and also let people know we’ve had enough and this is what it is going to look like going forward,” he said.
Stylists in the industry work largely on a freelance basis, sometimes represented by agencies. They’re typically hired based on relationships with other creatives and editors that can serve as gatekeepers to advancing the careers of black creatives and people of colour. Even as magazine covers have become more diverse, behind the scenes black stylists and stylists of colour have been tokenised or excluded from major projects. Black stylists and photographers often find they are only hired for "diversity projects," or to style or photograph black models and celebrities. They are also often disrespected on sets, and underpaid relative to their peers, said Bolden.
“Our white counterparts have very different experiences from us, from how they get paid to how they have been treated, agents... their proximity to PR, management agencies — it’s a very different experience,” he said.
Kesha McLeod, the treasurer of the new collective who styles professional athletes like James Harden and PJ Tucker, said the group’s support and shared information will strengthen her career outside of the main fashion arena as well.
“Jason is Hollywood and I am sports — never would I have thought that our worlds would have come together,” she said. “These are corporations and the production companies that we all work with and come across.”