Representation in fashion has been a hot topic in recent years, with many brands and retailers attempting to rise to the challenge of combating systemic racism and becoming more inclusive.
Last year, Gap Inc. unveiled its Power of the Collective Council, a group dedicated to creating better access and advocating for historically marginalized and vulnerable communities. VF Corp. is on track to reach gender parity at the director level by 2030 and 25 percent BIPOC representation during that same time frame, according to its 2022 annual profile on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action (IDEA). In 2021, Target made a five-year, $2 billion investment in Black-owned businesses. A year earlier, PVH Corp. launched the People’s Place Program under Tommy Hilfiger to help increase opportunities for under-represented communities within the global fashion industry.
But is it enough?
According to the 2021 State of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Fashion survey by McKinsey & Company, 50 percent of employees of color reported that a career in the fashion industry is not equally accessible to all qualified candidates, and almost one in four questioned the meritocracy of opportunities. Black employees reported greater inaccessibility to the fashion industry (68 percent) versus white employees (37 percent).
It’s clear that fashion still has a long way to go to shed its ultra-exclusive image.
At Project New York last week, Edwina Kulego, vice president of the Informa Markets Fashion-owned show, moderated a panel discussion on representation within the industry. Inclusive voices and diverse perspectives are key contributors to building impactful social messages, strong communities and authentic content. Speakers examined how cultural diversity uniquely influences business strategies and personal experiences.
Kulego asked panelists about some of the elements they consider when building content from a representation perspective.
“Most of the time for social media, when thinking of how to say what we want to say to our audience, we want to connect with them while also challenging them to think,” Maiya Carmichael, associate social strategist at Vice Media Group, said.
For Jean-Philippe “JP” Robert, owner of Canadian down-insulated outerwear brand Quartz Co., his company leans into feeling.
“You surround yourself with people that really understand that message,” he said. “For me it really starts with who you have with you in your team.”
“I’m a big believer that [in] campaigns, you need to create opportunity,” Vesna Cremona, CEO and founder of content creation agency AMER_ICAN, said.
Cremona recalled a time she tried to do just that. While shopping in Whole Foods, she saw a Black woman who “beautifully expressed” herself with her eye makeup. “It was so artful and soulful that I asked her [if] she would model in this campaign, and she was all taken aback, thinking ‘can I really do this?’ I’m like, you’re doing it every day, that courage it takes to walk out with [the makeup], it takes courage to wear it like that.”
The woman’s story became part of the campaign. “I thought that it was really the place where we can talk about real stories, keeping it personal, keeping it powerful,” she said.
Content creators are challenged by balancing creativity and commercial success, however.
“When I’m creating it, its’, ‘what do I love?’ Because I will put everything into it no matter what it is,” Carmichael said. “And after I figure out what I love, how does my audience want to ask the retailers how to do that?”
Cremona said it’s important that content creators remember what they believe in, while for Robert, people who make the new media proliferating on social must being okay with themselves at the end of the day.
“I think that instead of throwing the product at me or anyone else, it’s about creating a culture with your audience,” Cremona said. “’What’s my story? What am I selling? What have I learned?’”