Barbara Kennedy-Brown, our co-founder and member of the British Fashion Council’s diversity and inclusion steering committee, outlined the steps fashion businesses must now take to stop the industry remaining “elitist and unobtainable for many” in a recent interview for Drapers.
At the start of 2020, no-one could have forecast what would come to dominate conversations that year, with the global pandemic setting the agenda, closely followed by diversity and inclusion
The death of George Floyd in US police custody last May quickly rippled across the Atlantic with Black Lives Matter protests bringing racial injustice to the forefront of societal issues. Resulting criticism of the fashion industry provided global headlines, with numerous brands being called out on social media for not being inclusive and, at times, being racist.
The knee-jerk reaction of the industry was to show solidarity with Floyd and the resulting Black Lives Matter campaign, by including more people of colour and from minority groups through their marketing channels, social feeds, catwalks, and campaigns.
My initial feeling towards the industry’s response was that, whilst welcome, it was rather superficial and that the major changes needed to be internal, as opposed to focusing on image. I have been a successful fashion and lifestyle PR for more than 15 years and, as a black woman, my perspective has been that you can participate, however, having experienced racism and micro-aggressions, the industry remains elitist and unobtainable for many.
I was motivated to be at the heart of this change and founded the Fashion Minority Alliance with international celebrity stylist, Cheryl Konteh, in order that FMA becomes the trusted advisor to the industry, helping to facilitate a better future for people and creating an ethical and inclusive community.
It is important to note that when I am talking about diversity, I am not just talking about ethnicity. There needs to be diversity in terms of age, colour, size, body ability, gender and sexuality. This is not just a box-ticking exercise at consumer level but needs to be at the core of businesses.
Since launching in September, we have had a brilliant response and have been joined by some incredibly successful and inspiring names from the fashion industry including Alexis Williams, international fashion advertising director at Vogue, Scottish fashion model and actress Eunice Olumide, Asos design director Vanessa Spence, Farfetch chief people officer Sian Keane and world-renowned photographer, Rankin.
In collaboration with our partners we plan initiatives and programmes that work from the inside out to realise positive and transformative change, as well as deciding on collaborative strategies with brands, publications, talent, organisations, industry gatekeepers, and influential decision makers.
2020 was a hugely difficult year for fashion businesses, with the pandemic ripping through many businesses’ profit margins. This resulted in diversity and inclusion sliding down the agenda. When you look at how quickly many brands pivoted with marketing and product lines adapting to a new world, the response to the issue of inclusion is on the whole lacklustre.
Some of the conglomerates have had diversity and inclusion departments for at least 10 years, others have created them more recently, often in light of missteps and controversy over product and campaigns that severely impacted not only reputation but sales.
Saying that, since launch we have been humbled by working with some of the world’s leading fashion brands and, just as they set the season’s silhouettes, we believe others will follow.
To now ensure diversity remains a priority focus for fashion businesses throughout 2021, there are several crucial areas for attention.
For some businesses understanding the importance of inclusion will help shape the journey.
We have spoken to some brands that have said that they have no interest in diversity and inclusion, others that want to embark on a journey but do not know where to start and are scared of doing something wrong. The best approach is to be honest and open, nobody is perfect and nobody should expect to get everything right.
The industry, and diversity and inclusion, is constantly evolving so what is seen as acceptable today may no longer be in the future, even for those that have been trailblazing in the arena for many years.
Read the full interview with Drapers here.