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Why I’m Listening to Kerby Jean-Raymond

Imran Amed reflects on the American designer’s comments on the BoF 500 gala.
By
  • Imran Amed

Dear BoF Community,

Some of you will have seen the Instagram post and read the statement shared by the admired American designer Kerby Jean-Raymond explaining his concerns with our BoF 500 gala celebrating inclusivity on Monday evening in Paris and his recent interactions with The Business of Fashion and myself more broadly. Kerby found the gospel choir that welcomed guests at our event to be "insulting" and an example of cultural appropriation.

“Homage without empathy and representation is appropriation,” he wrote. “Instead, explore your own culture, religion and origins. By replicating ours and excluding us  — you prove to us that you see us as a trend. Like, we gonna die black, are you?”

Kerby has every right to voice his concerns and we respect his perspective. He is also right about several things. As Kerby points out, the fashion industry has often treated inclusivity as a trend, putting diverse faces in our ad campaigns, on our runways, on our magazine covers and, yes, at our parties because it’s cool and of the moment. But I can assure you that this topic is not a trend for BoF.

When we decided to focus our latest print issue and accompanying BoF 500 gala on inclusivity, we did so precisely because a superficial approach to inclusivity is indeed insulting — and wholly insufficient. The industry needs to go further and invest in the difficult work of genuine cultural change, and our issue is focused on going into this topic in-depth, from a variety of vantage points addressing the topics of race, ability and LGBTQIA+.

I can also assure you that this topic is not a trend for me either. I feel strongly about this because for most of my life, I’ve felt like an outsider myself. Growing up, I was the always the smallest kid in the class. As the son of Ismaili Muslim immigrants to Calgary, Canada from Nairobi, Kenya, I was also the only brown kid in my class. And, although I didn’t know it then, I was gay.

This made the early years of my life very hard at times. But right from elementary school, the moments when I really blossomed and felt happy were when I felt included. The first time I remember feeling included was when I discovered choir and musical theatre in fifth grade. I felt completely differently about myself at our evening rehearsals compared to how I felt at school during the day because I could just be myself.

This is one of the reasons why I set out to build an inclusive culture at BoF, where our 110 employees come from almost 30 different countries and many different races, genders, socio-economic backgrounds and sexual orientations.

It’s also one of the reasons why we decided to focus our latest print issue and BoF 500 gala on inclusivity. We also adjusted the format of the BoF 500. Instead of removing names each year to make room for new talents, starting this year we are adding 100 new members to the BoF 500 each cycle, resulting in a community that grows stronger and more meaningful over time.

And, on Monday night, we brought together hundreds of BoF 500 members from more than 25 countries around the world and wove diversity into everything we did: Jodie Harsh from London and DJ Wolf from New York played music; Ruth Ossai, the talented British-Nigerian photographer who shot our cover story on Pierpaolo Piccioli and Adut Akech created beautiful portraits in her signature style of scores of BoF 500 members; Karim Naar, a classically trained ballet-turned-breakdancer from Bordeaux, France brought a troupe of friends of different races to breakdance on stage. And Chika Oranika, a 22 year-old African-American woman who grew up in Montgomery, Alabama and is also on one of our print cover stars, performed several tracks, beginning with her song "High Rises." This inspired the choir boy in me to suggest we invite VOICES 2GETHER, a local, multi-racial choir with talented members from Europe, Africa, The Antilles, La Réunion and beyond to perform with her, as there is a chorus of voices in the background of the track.

I am deeply sorry that I upset Kerby and have made him feel disrespected. While we may disagree in our opinions on the gala and the details of our exchanges over the past year, Kerby has my complete respect and I would appreciate the opportunity to sit down with him and learn more about his concerns and how we at BoF can do better, especially as we try to address important topics like inclusivity. While we will not shy away from addressing challenging topics, I am committed to making this a listening and learning opportunity for myself and BoF.

Ultimately, I believe that what both Kerby and BoF are aiming to achieve is to bring people together — not sow greater division — and I hope that we can be allies in the pursuit of this goal.

Imran Amed, Editor in Chief

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