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Black Fashion Leaders Push Industry to Move Beyond D&I Commitments

Civil rights organisation Color Of Change has partnered with the Black in Fashion Council, IMG and supermodel and activist Joan Smalls to launch #ChangeFashion, a roadmap to tackle racism and discrimination in the industry.
[Left to right] Joan Smalls, Lindsay Peoples Wagner, Rashad Robinson and Sandrine Charles.
[Left to right] Joan Smalls, Lindsay Peoples Wagner, Rashad Robinson and Sandrine Charles. Color Of Change.

Fashion has made big commitments to address systemic anti-Black racism and discrimination in the sector. Now industry heavyweights are throwing their support behind a new roadmap for action.

Racial justice organisation Color Of Change (COC) has teamed up with fashion advocacy group the Black in Fashion Council, talent and event agency behemoth IMG, and supermodel and activist Joan Smalls to launch #ChangeFashion, an ambitious action plan for substantive change.

It provides an industry-specific framework focused on promoting Black talent, investing in Black communities, ensuring Black representation and divesting from the police, in keeping with wider activist movements to disband or defund law enforcement linked to brutality against Black citizens. To ensure accountability, signatories will have to commit to a concrete, time-bound action plan for implementation of the roadmap within 12 months.

“What we wanted to do was move from rhetoric to action,” said Rashad Robinson, president of COC. “We see our role as kind of working hand-in-hand, to make sure those goals are met.”

The launch comes as the industry scrambles to address criticism of deep-seated racial inequality and discrimination. Last year, as Black Lives Matter protests swept across the world, companies rushed to express solidarity with the movement, pledge funding and initiatives to support the Black community and announce internal policy changes aimed at redressing inequity. But those public-facing moves rang false to many in the sector who want to see real change.

“The front-facing may look great,” said Lindsay Peoples Wagner, editor-in-chief of The Cut and co-founder of the Black in Fashion Council, a group of Black editors, models, stylists and executives established last year to address systemic racism in the fashion and beauty industries. Peoples Wagner pointed to the black squares, Martin Luther King Jr. quotes and Black models filling Instagram feeds over the last year. ”We’re trying to make sure that people are being held accountable on, and being transparent on, the ways in which they need to to rise the occasion of making changes,” she said.

Beyond pushing companies to action, #ChangeFashion aims to establish infrastructure that enforces change. In particular, it’s calling for the widespread introduction of inclusion riders, a practice that is increasingly popular in Hollywood, where high-profile talent demand a diverse cast and crew in the terms of their contracts.

It offers support and resources too. The Black in Fashion Council is working on creating a vetted directory of Black creatives to help organisations diversify the talent they use.

“We all know nepotism is very prevalent in the fashion space, but also when a lot of the companies and brands do have to branch out [or] decide ... to hire a person of colour for a shoot or cover or [any other] opportunity they tend to only hire the same person over and over again,” said Peoples Wagner. “Most of those creative roles are never really posted online for jobs, so the pipeline is not really that diverse.”

COC has worked to drive change in institutions from courtrooms and political offices to Wall Street and Silicon Valley, but work with culturally influential industries like fashion can carry special weight because these sectors get to “dictate who is seen, and who is represented, in so many ways,” said Robinson.

The organisation’s work with the fashion industry builds on a #ChangeHollywood initiative that launched in July 2020 with actor and producer Michael B. Jordan.

Fashion has some catching up to do, but there is growing momentum and a crop of new industry and company-wide initiatives that aim to meet these demands. For Robinson and Peoples Wagner, this plurality of voices with a common objective can only be a good thing.

“I think fashion deserves a movement for change,” said Robinson.

Editor’s Note: This article was revised on 18 February, 2021. An earlier version of this article described IMG as a model and talent agency. This has been updated to describe the organisation as a talent and event agency.

Related Articles:

Black Fashion Industry Leaders Want to Move From Cancel Culture to Accountability With New Coalition

Retailers Pledged Action on Diversity. Delivery Is Proving More Elusive.

When Your Corporate Diversity Strategy Isn’t Enough

The BoF Podcast: Rashad Robinson on Addressing Racial Inequality in Fashion





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