NEW YORK, United States — The Council of Fashion Designers of America called out a pervasive lack of diversity in the industry’s upper echelons in a report released Monday, but stopped short of recommending for specific actions to rectify the problem.
The report, titled “Insider/Outsider” and published in partnership with PVH, outlines how companies’ leadership often fails to include historically disadvantaged groups — including racial minorities, women and the LGBTQ community. That lack of diversity becomes self-perpetuating, as these “outsiders” then find it difficult to assert their influence.
The CFDA, a not-for-profit trade association devoted to supporting the growth of American fashion, plans to launch a series of initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, and has hired model and activist Bethann Hardison as an advisor, said Steven Kolb, the organisation’s chief executive.
“We have more of a formalised approach now in our commitment and in our public expression of that commitment,” he said. “It’s our hope from this briefing that we can hold American fashion accountable to be inclusive and diverse.”
He added that the CFDA can’t force companies to change their practices, but “we can make sure we’re talking about it and the industry is listening and participating, making sure our members are attending our programmes and have access to this information.”
Insider-outsider dynamics exist because of unconscious biases, the report explains, which is the reason why people tend to gravitate toward those who are similar to them. Being aware of these unconscious biases, therefore, would help companies champion outsiders as well as insiders.
PVH created inclusion and diversity councils to boost representation and combat unconscious bias in 2014, said Dave Kozel, chief human resources officer of PVH. Last year, the company rolled out an education programme around the #MeToo movement.
PVH hiring policies also explicitly address underrepresented groups, Kozel added. When the company observes that a certain group is underrepresented, for instance, it will prioritise hiring people within that group.
“If we want to focus on filling a particular position with an African American female, then we’d make sure the slate is made up of only those candidates,” he said.
Representing minorities at the leadership level matters because only this would empower all employees to speak out, said Jason Rembert, a stylist who spoke on a panel at a CFDA event in October that served as a precursor to the report.
“If someone in the room is not speaking or have the confidence to speak, it’s because they’re not in a position of power,” he said.
The industry has a long way to go, the attendees of the workshop in October found. About 60 percent of attendees said they’d rate their companies’ commitment to inclusion and diversity as three out of five points.
Some critics say there is more talk than action in the field, as “diversity and inclusion” have become buzzwords in recent years.
Kerby Jean-Raymond, the designer behind the label Pyer Moss, told the audience at BoF VOICES last year that he had recently walked out of a conference about diversity in fashion because it discussed activism and inclusion as trends that benefit business.
“It’s not a trend,” he said. “I question everything, though. I’m cognisant of my place and … why I’m being asked to speak about my race versus my story.”
Ultimately, only companies themselves can set guidelines and policies, said Kozel. “The responsibility rests not with the [CFDA] but with the leadership of the companies that are part and parcel of the industry.”
In the meantime, the CFDA will continue its work in educating the industry about inclusion and diversity this year with programmes such as peer-to-peer mentorship and leadership training. Its previous programmes include last year’s Black Fashion Founders Forum in collaboration with Google, the Glass Runway study on women in fashion with Glamour magazine and a 2017 report with FWD.us that looked at how current immigration policy hurts the fashion industry’s competitiveness in the US.