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Fashion Industry Remains Silent at Trump’s Immigration Ban

While the giants of Silicon Valley took public stances against President Trump’s immigration order, the silence from fashion's largest companies has been deafening.
Source: Shutterstock
  • Imran Amed

NEW YORK, United States — One by one, they didn't come. While executives from other prominent industries across the United States raised their voice against president Trump's immigration order — freezing the country's refugee program and barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US — our industry has remained silent.

On Sunday — two days after the signing of the order and a day after widespread protests at US airports and an emergency stay, issued by a federal court in New York, halting Trump's ban, after a legal challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — BoF emailed executives at LVMH, Kering, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta for comment. For the most part, the requests were met with silence — or short, polite replies declining to comment.

We asked some very straightforward questions: What is your response to president Trump's immigration ban? What operational impact do you see for your business and your employees? Has this changed your assessment of the pros and cons of the new administration? Has the immigration ban altered your calculus on dressing America's First Lady? Yet only Steven Kolb of the CFDA and Diane von Furstenberg, in a personal capacity, chose to comment.

Contrast this with the clear positions taken by America’s influential technology industry. Apple, Facebook and Google — the giants of Silicon Valley — all took public stances against the ban, in part because thousands of legal, foreign workers from the targeted countries were affected.

"As an immigrant and as a CEO, I've both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world. We will continue to advocate on this important topic," Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella wrote on LinkedIn after the company said 76 of the company's employees could be affected by the ban.

Airbnb co-founder and chief executive Brian Chesky announced on Twitter that the company would provide free housing to anyone impacted by the ban. Tech titans like Chris Sacca — an early investor in Twitter, Instagram and Kickstarter, and star of ABC’s Shark Tank — matched donations to the ACLU, giving $150,000. (Over the weekend, the organisation received almost $25 million in fresh donations).

On Saturday evening, Google co-founder Sergey Brin was seen amongst the crowds at a protest at San Francisco International Airport. Brin, an immigrant to the United States from Russia, declined to comment to CNN, saying he was there in a personal capacity — but his presence spoke volumes.

On Sunday, Mark Parker, CEO of American sports giant Nike, also issued a rare political statement: "This is a policy we don't support," he wrote in a message to staff that was widely shared online. "Today, I'm thinking of everyone who is impacted, like Sir Mo Farah... What Mo will always have — what the entire Nike family can always count on — is the support of this company. We will do everything in our power to ensure the safety of every member of our family: our colleagues, our athletes and their loved ones."

Many in Hollywood also took a stand. “I am the daughter of an immigrant. My father fled religious persecution in Nazi occupied France. And, I am an American patriot and I love this country. And because I love this country I am horrified by its blemishes — and this immigrant ban is a blemish and is un-American,” said actress Julia Louis Dreyfus, accepting an award at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday evening.

In the last 48 hours there have also been strong statements against the ban from Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, Mark Fields, CEO of Ford Motors, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola and scores of other executives.

As the Trump brand becomes increasingly unpalatable to people around the world, the risk of being seen to support, even implicitly, his administration’s policies is rising. Take Uber, for instance. On Saturday, when the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, many of whose members are Muslims, stood in solidarity with protestors of the ban, calling on drivers to temporarily halt pick-ups at JFK airport, Uber made an altogether different announcement, saying that its “surge pricing” would be turned off at JFK and riders might face longer waits. Some saw this as a sign that Uber was trying to profit from the airport protests and resulting chaos.

This — plus the fact that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is among 19 executives (along with the CEOs of Walt Disney Co and Pepsico) on Trump's business council — was enough to spawn a #DeleteUber campaign, encouraging people to dump their Uber accounts and download competing transport app Lyft, which announced a $1 million donation to the ACLU. As a result, Kalanick was compelled to set up a $3 million legal defense fund for drivers impacted by Trump's order and has since stepped up his criticism of the ban, calling it "unjust."

Thankfully, some in the fashion industry — like von Furstenberg — have taken a stand. "The fashion industry has always been a reflection of what America is all about... inclusion and diversity," she wrote via email. "It will continue to stand by these standards. I am personally horrified to see what is going on." And scores of industry professionals — including Phillip Lim, Public School's Dao-Yi Chow, IMG's Ivan Bart, models Gigi and Bella Hadid and casting director James Scully — participated in protests which they shared on Instagram.

But where are the rest? Why are fashion’s largest companies silent?

There was a time when big businesses and their high profile executives were expected to remain neutral on political issues. But the extreme nature of Trump’s agenda makes it clear: now is not that time.

Update - January 31, 2016, 10.58am: In a message on the Kering Group Twitter handle, CEO François Henri Pinault wrote: "At a time when diversity is at stake, I want to reaffirm how crucial this value is to me and to Kering. Diversity of origin, opinion and belief is part of our identity and our success."

Update - February 1, 10.07am: In a post shared on the official Tory Burch Instagram account on Tuesday, the company stated: "Respect, civility, acceptance and inclusion are at the core of who we are and should be a given. Embracing all people of all nationalities is beautiful. #loveisuniversal."

Dame Natalie Massenet, chairman of the BFC, also posted a message of solidarity for the refugees refused entry to the US, alongside an image of the Statue of Liberty. Quoting the words at the base of the New York landmark, she wrote: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" #refugeeswelcome."

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