5 Black Fashion Designers on What the Shift in the Industry Means to Them
We must continue to raise our voices.
Throughout the past several weeks, brands flooded social platforms with solidarity statements and pledges against racism and inequality. From immediate donations to organizations dedicated to supporting and amplifying Black voices, to lengthy lists of call-to-action items that outlined how companies will move forward in the fight against racial inequality, companies are seemingly taking a step back to educate, listen, and learn to implement long-lasting change. The fashion industry is one that has continually been called out for its lack of diversity and is now being called upon for actual change outside a simple social post.
While this is by no means a new issue, there does seem to be a newfound energy and commitment to fight against racial inequality. Perhaps this is because major fashion brands are finally being held accountable for their actions, and as Mateo of Mateo New York simply commented, “words are just words.” Ahead, we interviewed five Black fashion designers to hear what this current shift in the industry actually means to them, what moving forward looks like, and what they hope to see from the fashion companies and major retailers pledging their dedication to diversifying the workplace. For many Black designers who have been paving their own way in the industry, real change will not happen until corporate structures and leadership positions are filled with Black creatives.
Whether it’s sharing their story to inspire young Black designers, or joining together with other industry thought leaders to continue to support each other, these designers will continue to inspire those around them. And if you are still wondering how you can help amplify Black creative voices, the below offers great insight into how you can make a real difference.
“I think the demand for racial equality feels different. The global awareness of the injustices Black folks face at the hands of the police is different. Sadly, some of the recent pledges and commitments are vague, noncommittal, and will be hard to verify implementation in the long term, which is what this is all about. I do hope I am wrong on the last front. I am part of “In the Black,” a global group of designers who are uniting our creative communities—from hairdressers, factory and warehouse owners, model agents, and designers who are Black—and sharing and connecting our vast and varied expertise amongst each other. Independent entrepreneurs coming together is never easy; COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter have galvanized us to engage and support each other. It is an important change to a creative mindset. Creatively, I plan to move forward at a slower pace, but with the same vision. My collections have always had a celebratory designer leisure-wear vibe.” For Glemaud, what he hopes to see from other brands amidst this shift is simple: honesty, support, and community.
“The issues that are being discussed in the national conversation right now are not new, but there does seem to be a newfound energy in the fight against racism and inequality. It’s refreshing to see people from all backgrounds galvanize into action and demand change—and not just individuals, but brands and corporations, too. That’s really powerful. This is an ‘all-hands’ effort, so let’s keep the momentum going! I’ve always been so proud of my Jamaican roots and proud to be a Black female entrepreneur. It’s always been a priority of mine to uplift fellow businesswomen, especially BIPOC. The road to success will inevitably have discouraging moments, and a strong community and peer support [are] invaluable. My hope is that this change breaks down barriers for young people and Black women in all industries. I can’t wait to see more BIPOC celebrated in business and art.
“I’ve never been more compelled to support organizations that help young people in need. Giving back has always been part of my business, but moving forward it will be amplified and more concentrated on emerging nonprofits that serve youth and the Black community, such as Black Girls Code, Girl Trek, and The Loveland Foundation. It’s been so encouraging to see brands supporting Black-owned businesses and actively standing up against inequality. It’s important to stay vigilant and to keep showing support to BIPOC always—don’t let up! It’s also important that all the businesses who have been making statements promising to be better and be more diverse actually follow through on those promises. I’m endlessly grateful for the love and support BYCHARI has received lately. Sending so much love to everyone now and always!”
“I’m hopeful that this time will bring about change—it has been promising to see brands speaking up and using their platforms. What’s important now is for brands to take action outside of just a post on social media; brands need to now demonstrate to us all how they are going to take steps to diversify their workforce at all levels and how they are going to hire, support, and listen to Black creatives when developing their marketing campaigns and brand messaging. When I was growing up, there were so few women of color at the helm of design houses or in visible positions in the fashion world—it was difficult for me to aspire to success without prominent role models who looked like me to look up to. To me, real change will allow us to continue pushing this needle forward by appointing people of color in leadership positions—giving our community the necessary platform and ability to lift up and foster young Black talent. I feel it is my role to set an example for young men and women everywhere who look like me. To inspire, foster, and mentor young talent, to use my voice to share both my story and others, and to ensure our community is represented in important conversations—whether it be publicly in the media, or internally within my team. I am dedicated to continually championing and representing people of color in my own brand messaging and content and to supporting other Black creatives in our industry. I believe that the major fashion groups and houses are the ones who truly set the tone for our industry as a whole. I would love to see more people of color appointed in positions of leadership within these companies—on both the creative and the corporate side—as I believe this is when change will truly begin to trickle down globally in our industry.”
Mateo, Founder of Mateo New York
“To be completely raw, for me, the pledges from all of these brands truly do not mean anything until actual action is taken. Simply put, words are just words. Major retailers and fashion companies need to be mindful about the long-term solution—for instance, these companies need to take a real look as to who they are hiring in their top executive positions, and until they take a look internally, no real change will be made. A lot of these companies that are posting—it means nothing. The boards have to change. The board should reflect the world we live in today: a multiracial and multicultural world. That’s the root to fix this problem in these companies. When you look at every major company’s roster, you can barely find one Black person or one Latino represented on these boards. So you have a predominantly white board saying things and making decisions with no true experience of the Black culture. We’ve been here before, and it will not truly change until everyone is treated as an equal. As Jamaica’s national motto says, ‘Out of Many, One People.’ It is something that I live by—it means that we are all really just one. As a multiracial nation, we have people from all walks of life, and of this vast, diverse world, we are just humans. We are just one. It’s really that simple.”
“I think the past few weeks have been, for most people of color, the past few years or their entire life, where they are thrown up against a wall and can’t climb over to get to a particular place in life. Before I was a designer, I was a model for three years at Wilhelmina in Miami—I have had my fair share of either ‘you’re not Black enough’ or ‘you’re too Black’ in the industry. I’ve also shot a magazine spread where I was supposed to be featured on the cover, but it was too ethnic or too Black, which was pretty blatant. For me, this is something that has been going on for generations, for years, but you have to start somewhere. And as far as the fashion industry, where I have a lot of Black friends or Black model friends who have faced issues by just being their color and having their skin tone, I think what is happening now makes me very, very excited. I am happy that people are recognizing that yes, Black lives do matter, and yes, we do need to speak up for the Black lives, but also acknowledging that they need to have inclusivity and diversity. In doing so, you are able to absorb diverse ideas in whatever you are doing to create a level of synergy in any type of business, whether it be fashion, creative, or modeling. When many ideas from many different backgrounds come together, it makes things more exciting. In Jamaica we are multicultural, and our motto is ‘Out of Many, One People,’ and what I’m seeing now in the US is there is such a diversity happening, and you need to embrace it. You can’t stay connected to the past; you have to move forward, and you have to know that we are all part of the whole. So I am happy that people are speaking out and standing up for themselves. While it is upsetting and sad because I can identify and relate with so many people on so many levels, I know there will be a better reality and new normal once we overcome this pandemic. We need to make sure, as a race and as a culture, that we will move forward.
“As far as the brands making statements, this is [systemic]. This hasn’t come overnight. This is because of one boss who followed one boss who followed one boss, and so on. This does not mean you should continue it. Make the decision to break the cycle—then, moving forward, there will be a lot more synergy. Step into a role where you can make a difference, and ask yourself, ‘How can I make a real difference?’ And be the difference by changing the status quo. Most people need different right now. We cannot all have the same minds. Finally, let go of fear. Continue to raise your voice to the people—this is what creates a movement.”
Top photo: Courtesy of Carly Cushnie
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