CHARLOTTESVILLE, United States — Last week, the world’s eyes turned to Charlottesville, where thousands of Nazi-saluting white supremacist marchers descended on the University of Virginia in what was described as one of the largest white supremacist rallies in recent US history. The next day a speeding vehicle rammed into a group of anti-hate protestors, resulting in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 people.
US President Donald Trump’s initial failure to publicly denounce the neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan sympathisers caused public outrage. In the days following, a slew of business leaders across several industries publicly spoke against the racist groups, sharing messages of inclusion and tolerance. “Recent events, and its aftermath, require that we come together as a country and reinforce values and ideals that unite us and speak against those which divide us,” chief executive officer of General Motors, Mary T. Barra, said in a statement.
Many other top executives also spoke out, including Jamie Dimon of J.P.Morgan, Walmart’s Doug McMillon and Kenneth Frazier, chief executive of pharmaceutical company Merck & Co, who alongside Under Armour chief executive Kevin Plank resigned from the President’s American Manufacturing Council. (On Wednesday, the Trump administration was forced to disband its business advisory councils altogether.) “America’s leaders must honour our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy,” Frazier said in a statement.
US fashion leaders, however, remained relatively quiet in regards to Charlottesville. A terrorist attack on Thursday in Barcelona, killing 13 people and injuring several others, compelled some to speak out on both matters.
Fashion has a powerful voice... as an industry, we stand on the side of tolerance, acceptance and diversity.
Many did send internal memos to staff, and a small group extended that to their social networks, including designers Diane Von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, Zac Posen and Christian Siriano. “Love to Love”, wrote Von Furstenberg on her personal Instagram, alongside a quote from Nelson Mandela. American Vogue, too, published a Mandela quote on its Instagram account, closely covering the event and its aftermath.
Here, several industry leaders share their thoughts and concerns with BoF:
Ralph Lauren, chairman and chief creative officer, Ralph Lauren
“For me America has always been a country built on freedom and liberty for all. That’s why my parents came here and were so proud to become American citizens and then to pass that special privilege on to their children. Almost 50 years ago I started my company built on those American values I learned growing up. Today with almost 25,000 employees all over the world, we all share the same vision by accepting and celebrating our unique diversity and equality. These are not just American values, but the values of all good people seeking an authentic way of life for themselves and their families. These are the values that we are all committed to, that inspire me and always will.”
“Coach and the city and country that we call home are founded on principles of inclusivity and diversity. Our 20,000 team members in 35 countries across the world stand together against racism, bigotry and hatred.”
Steven Kolb, president and chief executive officer, CFDA
"What happened in Charlottesville was a very low moment for our country. There should be no restraint in denouncing racism and the violence that, without question, was the result of the hatred and intolerance of the KKK and white supremacists. Many CFDA members posted their own feelings on social media including Tracy Reese, Tory Burch, Stacey Bendet, Keren Craig, Jeffrey Banks and Diane von Furstenberg. Others feel the same. Fashion has a powerful voice and I know that as an industry, we stand on the side of tolerance, acceptance and diversity."
Tory Burch, co-chief executive officer, Tory Burch
In an internal memo addressing its global team shared with BoF, Burch said: "I simply cannot remain silent any longer on the national discussion surrounding the violence in Charlottesville, Barcelona and around the world. We are aligned with and stand by the business and political leaders that have condemned and/or taken action against racism, bigotry and intolerance of any kind."
"We strongly believe that we must celebrate our country's core values of inclusion, unity and respect for each other. Our diversity – and acceptance – is our strength and what makes America beautiful..."
"As a company deeply committed to respect, integrity and inclusion, we believe it is important now more than ever to take time and reflect on these events that have threatened to impact us, our future generations and democracy. We all must do our part, each and every day."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those impacted by these tragic events around the world."
In an internal memo addressing its global team shared with BoF, Chirico said: "When it comes to policy, nonviolent and peaceful demonstrations are the only acceptable method of protest in any free country. Any acts of violence and hate-filled speeches cannot be tolerated. Standing up to all forms of racism and inequality is always necessary. It is disheartening that I need to write this: there are no good Nazis, White Supremacists, Klansmen, or Terrorists. This should not be controversial. It should be a universal truth for all of us, regardless of our beliefs. As a global family we will continue to stand together against intolerance and prejudice in all forms, whether due to race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation."
Mark Parker, chief executive officer, Nike Inc.
In a letter sent out to its global team, Parker said: "Like many of you, I have spent this past week shocked and saddened by the violence and hatred we saw in Charlottesville. The news has been incredibly difficult to see, and I know I have not been alone in feeling this way. There is no place — none — for the kind of bias, bigotry, and violence committed by white supremacists in Virginia. Our hearts go out to the families and everyone touched by this tragedy."
"It is easy to feel lost and fearful amid the news, but in times like these I take comfort in the strength of our community. Nike has always stood up against and unequivocally rejected hatred and bigotry. We have declared time and again that Nike stands for helping all people achieve their highest potential, with a focus on equality. What happened in Charlottesville isn’t just morally shameful; it goes against everything we stand for."
"No matter where we live, across Nike we stand with those who work to see positive change in our world. There can be no question: Together we will oppose any form of racism or intolerance. We will not accept it, period."
Virgil Abloh, founder and creative director, Off-White
"I too feel it's very important that artists and creatives respond to their surroundings they feel most passionate about. The events in Charlottesville are very jarring. For me as a creative I can say it's having an effect on how I see the world which subsequently will affect future collections."
Michael Preysman, founder and chief executive officer, Everlane
"It continues to be an incredibly challenging time in our country. We began the '100 Percent Human' campaign back in January to give our customers a way to express themselves and make an impact, reminding all, that even as a nation divided, we are all human. We are proud to have raised over $350,000 for the various initiatives and causes we support through the campaign."
Julie Gilhart, fashion consultant
"The tragic incident in Charlottesville brought to light the need for all companies to stand up and speak up about issues that compromise our basic human rights. No longer are we in a time where staying neutral and non-committal works. The new 'risk management' is no longer a practice of silence but one of taking a stand. It's too risky for businesses now not to speak up."
"Where has our industry's voice gone? Looking back to the election, American fashion's voice for Hillary Clinton was so loud and clear. The proposed transgender ruling for the military several weeks ago was so troubling it compelled me to speak up and take action in my own personal way. But what about our industry? Do we not have a responsibility to respect the ideals we championed so strongly with President Obama and for Hillary? It seems we need to recast our voice and mobilise ourselves as one of the most influential American industries and speak up for inclusiveness, tolerance, moral right. As a chairman of a leading fashion business, I denounce Trump and what he stands for. Who else will join?"
Humberto Leon, co-founder and designer, Opening Ceromony, and co-creative director, Kenzo
"What happened in Charlottesville was a despicable act of terrorism in America. We need to do everything in our power to take down White Supremacy, Neo Nazis and Fascist behavior and ideology. This is every Americans duty. Everyone in every industry that has a voice should speak out against this and understand and support the importance of Black Lives Matter."