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Belonging: The Business Case for Diversity in Fashion

How can an exclusive business built on keeping people out let more people in?
Belonging. The Business Case for Diversity.

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During haute couture week, Imran meets with Samira Nasr, and they have good reason to celebrate. During global lockdowns amid the pandemic, Samira became the first woman of colour to helm Harper’s Bazaar in the American magazine’s 154 year history.

Yet amidst the joy comes tough reflections about racism and belonging in fashion. Samira explains that she is committed to using her position of influence to elevate marginalised voices.

“This role isn’t about ‘me’. It’s about ‘we’. It’s about the community that I can bring together, share this platform, elevate these voices and bring them along with me. So it’s about the ‘we’. But I believe we all have a responsibility. You get through the door and every one of us has a responsibility to look back... and extend your hand and pull someone in with you.”

This sparks a personal journey for Imran, an Ismaili Muslim of Indian ethnicity and East African heritage who was once a fashion outsider himself. He sets out to explore a critical question “How can a business built on exclusivity throw its doors open to all?

Back in London, he catches up with Sinéad Burke, who refuses to be excluded, despite fashion’s poor record on welcoming people with disabilities. Sinéad and Imran reflect on her fashion journey which began at BoF VOICES in 2017, when she took on fashion’s creative and business leaders, calling them out for entrenched behaviours. Now she advises leading luxury brands on common sense: what business would wilfully ignore the collective spending power of the 15 percent of the world’s population?

Sinéad reveals that her quest has changed in recent years. As well as wanting to see inclusive products, she wants fashion companies to start with who and how they hire. “Five years ago, if you’d asked me what success was, I would have said the availability of clothes. My vision has widened. I really do think the availability of product is important, but I think it’s more important that we are hiring disabled people within these companies.”

Imran and Sinéad head out to meet June Sarpong and Jamie Gill who were both appointed non-executive directors of the British Fashion Council following the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. June, a renowned British TV broadcaster and Jamie, chief executive of Roksanda report that there is a real lack of diversity behind the scenes in fashion and provide guidance to industry leaders on how to welcome people from all backgrounds.

“The first thing to do is to connect with the most disenfranchised group within your organisation and ask them what their experiences of your organisation. That’s going to tell you everything about your culture,” says June.

“We’ve got to do something visually, externally projecting that we are welcoming,” adds Jamie “From the operational side, [we need to show] what is it like to be an operations director of a fashion business... I think we do need to be working on that as a collective.”

Things take an uncomfortable turn when Sinéad’s refusal to be treated differently leads to her own unease in the face of a mannequin being made in her image. She finds the process unsettling because her body shape is so different from all the others in the North London factory, then concludes, triumphantly, there’s space for us all.

“My mannequin is a composite of me. My lumps. My bumps, my curves... When I first saw the mannequin in person, I was pretty insecure about it, because it didn’t look like any of the mannequins that I had seen... But I’m not uncomfortable with me. It’s the world making me feel like I don’t conform to everything else. And actually, that discomfort proves the importance of this.”

Imran’s journey provokes deep reflection on representation. But the answer to the central question is clear — belonging is good business.

“The BoF Show with Imran Amed”, an immersive video series streaming on Bloomberg Quicktake airs on Thursdays at 9pm New York time and is available for on-demand viewing.

Explore the first six episodes here and stay tuned for the biweekly episode launches.

Related Articles:

Why Some Black Founders Are Uneasy About Fashion’s Diversity Initiatives

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

When Your Corporate Diversity Strategy Isn’t Enough

How Fashion and Beauty Can Better Engage with Black Businesses

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