9 Ways to Actively Fight Anti-Black Racism In Fashion
If you’re like us, you’ve been reflecting, listening, and educating yourself on the current racial injustices in the world. This was sparked by the brutal murder of George Floyd in the United States and the associating protests that have happened as a result of that. We, as a world, have been made aware (again!) to the grim reality that still faces a large population of our world, simply based on the color of their skin. This MUST change and this must change now. Colonialism and its damaging effects have been a part of North American culture for over 400 years now. It affects every industry and every sector of our society. Nothing is free of the effects of racism still happening today, and the fashion industry is most definitely a part of that.
As a way to feel like you can make positive change at an individual level, we’ve outlined proactive steps consumers and fashion professionals can take to fight the good fight against anti-Black racism. Some are easier than others, but all are worth our time and energy. This can’t just be a Black problem; it needs to be everybody’s problem, which we all have a responsibility to fix.
Support Black-Owned Fashion & Beauty Brands
As a fashion consumer, the best way to put your money where your mouth is would be to support Black-owned fashion and beauty brands in order for your purchasing behaviour to send a message of solidarity, support, and call for change. Black men and women have been creating notable and attention-worthy fashion for decades now. Is it more difficult for Black artists and designers to break into the luxury world of fashion? 100%
To actively change this, the call to action for all fashionistas is to invest in great designer brands, created and controlled by Black owners. Here are the best lists we’ve come across for Black-owned designer brands to support from sources like Flare, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, and Shoppe Black.
There are plenty of local Black-owned fashion and beauty brands that you can support and feel good about. It literally has never been easier to find these brands online, as fashion media and publications have been seeking these brands to feature to their audiences, so that we can all play a role in this positive change. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. These businesses need your support right now, but especially tomorrow and next year and 10 years from now as we all MUST do more to support Black-owned brands even down the road when the focus shifts.
Hire Black Artists
If you’re fortunate enough to be in a hiring position within the creative realms of a fashion company, hiring Black artists and designers on to your creative team, ensuring that you listen to their decisions, and trust their taste is critical. This also needs to be reflected in the content your company puts out. Including education on racial injustices as a part of a brand’s ongoing social media and marketing strategy is essential at ALL times, not just when it’s being highlighted in the news cycle.
This leads into our next point. With Black creatives on your team, there is a better chance that cultural appropriation and insensitivities will be spotted and stopped before it hits retail stores. Having an all-white lens to the world around us actually makes it more difficult to spot inequalities and unethical use of another’s culture for our own gain. A lot of the time, this plays out in the fashion world as forms of cultural appropriation.
Identify and Call Out Use of Cultural Appropriation in Fashion Brands
It’s a tale as old as time and something every consumer or person working within the fashion industry has grown to understand: Companies profit and thrive off of Black culture without being respectful of it or Black lives. The definition of cultural appropriation is the adopting or co-opting, usually without acknowledgement, of cultural identity markers associated with, or originating in, minority communities by people or communities with a relatively privileged status. We see this in fashion brands adopting tribal prints, insensitive language or naming of collections or pieces, or selling typically “Black” styles to their white audience.
In addition, the latest form of cultural appropriation has come as companies find ways to profit off the Black Lives Matter movement by selling merchandise priced-for-profit and then not doing anything with that profit besides adding it to their bottom-line. According to Ayesha Barenblat of Remake speaking to Instyle magazine, “Right now, we’re seeing a lot of brands co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement to sell us more products while continuing to oppress and mistreat the Black and Brown people within their retail operations and supply chains. We are here to hold these brands accountable.” We’ll say this loud and clear: It is never okay for a fashion company to profit off a human rights movement. It’s one thing if a Black-owned business is seeing an influx in their sales as a result of people seeking to support Black-owned businesses. It is quite another if an existing brand piggy-backs off this movement as a solution to bring in more revenue, especially after a market slowdown caused by a global pandemic.
Challenge Fashion Media and Advertising to Do Better
The white, thin, young model has been the pillar of high-fashion since its inception. Many companies have already taken the steps to challenge this over the past decade, but has it been sufficient enough? Are Black models given the same opportunities as white models? Are fashion companies still trying to “fix” Black model’s hair to reflect a westernized ideal? This old way of thinking what universal beauty is has to change and it has to change now. Fashion media and advertising must reflect the diverse world that we live in; diverse of skin color, body type, gender, age, and ability. As consumers, or even individuals that work in fashion, it is our call to action to do better and expect better from fashion brands and media.
The fashion industry has always benefitted from active racism. In the most notable way, it has given us the ability to buy clothes at a ridiculously cheap cost and in large quantities. If the entire world and its population were treated equal, sweatshops wouldn’t exist. If sweatshops didn’t exist, the fast-fashion market wouldn’t exist. It’s that plain and simple. Besides the damaging costs on the environment, this is why it has never been more important to shop sustainably.
Furthermore, in her interview with InStyle, Ayesha Barenblat went on to explain the reason behind the #NoNewClothes pledge. It’s a 90-day call to action that seeks to empower people to hold brands accountable. It's an action that Barenblat says people can take to change the performative inclusiveness of the fashion industry and push for real changes. As brands are posting awareness about equity (and some even admitting their shortcomings), the vulnerable Black and brown workers are still in danger. Barenblat goes on the explain that, “In the end, we the people hold power over brands and it is our purchases that will goad brands to do right by people and our planet.”
Interestingly, #NoNewClothes doesn't mean you have to stop buying; it means you should be aware of your purchasing power. So, if you do want to purchase something, think about doing so from a Black-owned brand or a small business. Barenblat explains, “The #NoNewClothes pledge does not equate to 'no shopping.' Rather, the hope is that by refraining from purchasing new clothes over the next three months, pledge takers will become more aware of their consumption and habits, and to learn how to vote with their voices and wallets towards brands that mirror our values."
Look for Transparency in a Company’s Hiring, Board of Directors, and Culture
Ever wanted to see where a company puts their trust and receives their knowledge from? Ask to see a picture of their board of directors. Chances are the identities and experiences of those individuals are what are influencing decision making, hiring practices, and company culture. Seeing only white folks in that picture? That could be a problem as that is reflected on the kind of work culture that is being implemented throughout that company. Do the people on the executive team and hiring teams reflect the true diversity of the country in which they operate and sell in? Or is it all similar looking people? Has the company implemented anti-racism practices into their hiring practices? These are the questions you should be looking for clarity on when making your purchasing decisions.
Amplify Black Voices
This can be done in a variety of ways. For one, companies need to do better about hiring Black individuals internally to have these voices spoken within their company. For brands to practice what they preach, they need to hire and promote Black talent. This starts the conversation at an internal, organizational level, so that it can then be amplified throughout all front-facing communication a brand does (social media, advertising, marketing, etc.). Encourage the conversation outside of the organization by engaging customers and social media followers to continue the conversation. Companies should consider lending their platform to Black voices to bring awareness to things that are greater than fashion, even though we know these things have an effect on fashion. This requires working with Black influencers and professionals, creating partnerships, and always finding new ways to grow and keep the conversation going well after the news cycle stops.
Support and Follow Black Fashion Influencers
Influence marketing provides brands an opportunity to tap into new communities and subgroups that may not be influenced or affected by traditional marketing. Today, they have entire agencies dedicated to helping brands find the right fit in regards to influencer marketing. This is a tool that can be used to support, provide space, and amplify Black voices in the fashion industry.
Of course, we could go on for days listing and spotlighting some of the amazing, diverse, and ample amount of Black talent out there right now. Here are some great lists and recommendations of Black fashion influencers to put on your radar from Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, and Essence.
Seek Out and Support Companies that are Not Just Talking the Talk, But Walking the Walk
This current movement we are in shouldn’t be treated as a PR challenge, but a deep reflection on one’s own self and a company’s own self to bring about systemic change. Systemic, positive, and permanent change cannot be achieved by an Instagram post, an official company-wide statement, or even a one-time donation. Companies MUST do the hard work and must continue this hard work for the entire future of the company. This involves rethinking their branding/marketing strategy to include Black bodies and voices, revamping their hiring processes to exterminate any hiring barriers of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), remodel their Board of Directors to reflect true diversity and inclusion of all voices, and redesign their entire business model to accommodate for fair wages from their factories to the retail stores. This also includes implementing anti-racist training for all staff, from your board of directors to your retail service workers. As well, companies need to work hard to allow company culture to be one that encourages and gives room for tough conversations on racism and amplifying voices of those who have experienced racism.
In addition, we are all well aware of the profit levels both fast-fashion and luxury fashion companies turn out each year. In order to do the hard work, companies must shift resources and invest in Black organizations as a standing item in their yearly budget. All companies set aside a certain amount of finances each year for stewardship. The organizations that companies choose to support with their stewardship fund reflect the morals and values of that company.
This work cannot be done overnight, but it does need to start today. As consumers, we must put our money where our mouth is and rethink our purchases if the brand does not reflect our values. Doing our part in this movement cannot be performative, it must be reformative.