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One Year on From Fashion’s Diversity Awakening, Saks Fifth Avenue and Reebok Share Next Steps

“Over the last year, the intensifying conversation around equality and social justice has made it clear there is more work to be done to improve representation, including within the fashion industry,” according to Marc Metrick, CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue. Now, the luxury retailer is laying out its plans for advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within its ranks.

On Tuesday, the company released a set of commitments that it hopes to achieve by 2023, including hiring and advancing BIPOC talent into 40 percent of manager-level roles and above, directing 60 percent of the Saks Fifth Avenue Foundation’s grants to supporting underserved communities, mobilizing volunteer groups to donate their time, and investing $100 million in Black designers and Black-owned brands by strategically expanding its assortment.

“We’ve taken the time to listen and learn, so that our plans can have a meaningful and lasting impact for our customers, employees, partners and communities,” Metrick added. “Sharing this roadmap is a pivotal milestone in our efforts and we remain committed to making Saks Fifth Avenue an inclusive experience for everyone.”

The company’s plan notably includes the establishment of the Saks Emerging Designer Program, which aims to harness the department store chain’s far-reaching platform and expertise in luxury fashion to help develop nascent brands with the potential to take off.

The program, which will be sponsored by Mastercard, will focus strongly on lifting up BIPOC talent, with the commitment that each year, half of the participants will be Black or minority-owned brands.

“Our goal is to provide the opportunity for these talented creators to thrive over the long term at Saks Fifth Avenue and across the greater fashion industry,” said Tracy Margolies, Saks’ chief merchandising officer. “The development of this program furthers our commitment to not only increasing representation in our assortment, but also using our platform and industry resources to help emerging brands succeed.”

The program will also improve the Saks Fifth Avenue shopper experience, as many customers are likely to feel empowered by the diverse offerings to “express their identities through relevant and inspiring style,” she added.

The retailer has already chosen the program’s first eight introductory players who will participate in an inaugural year-long program. Ashya, BruceGlen, Busayo, Kimberly Goldson, LaQuan Smith, Reese Cooper, Alejandra Alonso Rojas and A.W.A.K.E. Mode will take part in an onboarding bootcamp this summer, and will have access to mentorship opportunities and entrepreneurial workshops throughout the course of the year that will help them scale their businesses at Saks and across the retail landscape.

Brands will also be eligible for grants to support their growth, the company said, along with marketing support through the company’s corporate operations. Mastercard has offered participants access to its Digital Doors platform, which includes resources designed to aid small businesses in growing their digital presence.

While Saks Fifth Avenue aims to bolster the designers of tomorrow through the accelerator program, it has also taken action to diversify its current assortment. The chain has added 38 Black-owned or designed brands to its roster, including Saks Emerging Designer Program beneficiaries Busayo, Kimberly Goldson and LaQuan Smith, as well as Stella Jean, A-Cold-Wall* and Ree Projects.

“As a leading luxury fashion destination, we work every day to ensure we offer our customers an experience for exploration and discovery of new fashion,” Margolies said.

Reebok

One year after announcing its own commitments to furthering diversity and inclusion and fighting racism with parent company Adidas, Reebok provided a glimpse behind the curtain this week.

On Wednesday, the sportswear brand issued a progress report noting the status of its five most pressing DEI initiatives.

One of the brand’s stated 2020 goals was to re-launch the Reebok Human Rights award, which ran from 1988-2007 before being discontinued. Over the course of the past year, employees have dedicated more than 2,700 hours to reinstating the program, working alongside the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Alabama State University. They also established an advisory board to govern its operations.

The program officially relaunched on Feb. 8 this year, receiving more than 100 award nominations from 11 countries across the globe, Reebok said. The board identified three award recipients in mid-April, and those winners will be announced on Aug. 12 at a virtual Human Rights Summit.

Reebok’s product development team has also implemented a wholly new function, dubbed Product with Purpose, which aims to establish a long-term product platform that demonstrates the brand’s commitment to human rights.

The first product capsule collection under this banner is a footwear, apparel and accessories collection called Human Right Now, which will launch at the Human Rights Award Summit. According to Reebok, the brand has identified a non-profit that works to educate and empower individuals within the sports community with the goal of championing social justice and combatting racism, and this yet unnamed group will receive donations of the capsule product.

Boks, Reebok’s decade-old youth physical activity program, took steps over the course of 2020 to further penetrate Black and Latinx communities, the company added, establishing mentorship partnerships with a number of non-profits like Mission Society, After School All-Stars, Jack and Jill of America, Mentor, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools and Communities in Schools.

According to Reebok, Boks has reached 8,245 kids to date, and has also put in place an improved grant strategy that ensures that its assets are divided equitably. The group disseminated $300,000 of funded programming across underserved communities throughout the 2020-2021 school year alone, and surpassed its goal of focusing 75 percent of that outreach on Black and Latinx youth.

In February, Boks teamed up with Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), established by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to create new educational activities focused on social justice to inspire Boks trainers and kids.

While Adidas has formally undertaken steps to divest from Reebok as of earlier this spring, the two companies continue to partner on implementing improved hiring, promotion and retention practices that prioritize diversity.

Reebok says it has made significant progress when it comes to meeting its hiring targets for Black and Latinx talent within the U.S. market, and is on track to fill 30 percent of open roles with individuals who identify as such. Fully half of all new hires have been considered diverse candidates, the company said.

The companies have also launched a Creating Culture of Inclusion training program for their global operations, where issues like unconscious biases, microaggressions and other diversity-related topics are explored. Nearly all Adidas employees have completed about 25 hours of training over the course of four months, Reebok said, and in September, the companies hosted their first annual Global Day of Inclusion—a celebration of culture.

The pair has also taken action to build out anti-discrimination and harassment policies, developing a matrix for corrective action that provides clear guidance on how the company will address non-compliant conduct. Both companies also signed the Juneteenth pledge, officially marking June 19 as a paid holiday in the U.S.

Training programs like the Champions Program, which aims to drive employees to demonstrate consistency in their hiring processes, along with the Pilot Reebok Career Coaching Program, a six-month course in which 120 employees and leaders were matched for mentorship, were also implemented in recent months.

“Through all of this, a dedicated team of Reebok employees have supported each of these initiatives by working to drive a cultural transformation here at Reebok—emphasizing change, commitment, community and conversation,” the company wrote.

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