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Skirting Diversity and the Fashion Industry Issue

Skirting Diversity and the Fashion Industry Issue

Gareth Evans

Gareth Evans

September 25, 2018

"Now that we are focused in diversity of workforces, as well as the internal workings of the fashion industry, fashion businesses are under a double-headed microscope."

"Fashion brands can unpack complicated terms like 'diversity' and understand how different expressions of it resonate differently in culture."

LinkedIn

By Gareth Evans
Senior Director, TRIPTK

September 10, 2018

 

The fashion industry has a particular relationship with the issue of “diversity.” Before diversity of the workforce—meaning the representation of different sexes, sexualities, races, nationalities, ages and social backgrounds in a given group—became of wider interest, fashion businesses were scrutinized for the lack of diversity in their model casting.

Now that we are focused on the diversity of workforces, as well as the internal workings of the fashion industry, fashion businesses are under a double-headed microscope. Unsurprisingly, given the problems in the model force over the years, the workforce-related picture lacks diversity. Earlier this year ex-Vogue US editor, André Leon Talley, voiced questions in the New York Times that have clearly been bubbling around the industry for some time: “Where are the black people…I look around everywhere and say, ‘Where are the black people?’ I think fashion tries to skirt the issue and finds convenient ways to spin it.”  

To give a taste of what’s being skirted, 73% of the 15 largest fashion companies are led by white male CEOs. There is one (male) African-American artistic director across the entire fashion portfolios of the luxury brands LVMH, Kering, Tapestry, and Richemont combined.  

I believe it is important for fashion businesses to increase the presence and contributions of employees from ethnic minorities, low-income backgrounds, and non-university educated backgrounds. Many fashion businesses, and people within them, pride themselves on being able to bring together disparate references from different geographies, social movements, and historical moments into cohesive, modern, collections. Values like expression, exploration, and curiosity are at the heart of the fashion industry and this brings a responsibility, in today’s world, to challenge traditional recruitment and career development processes.

But it’s also important to examine what diversity means in today’s culture in general and—if you claim to be as committed to it as most companies’ websites would suggest—what your brand’s approach to diversity is. As we can see from the way that some companies have replaced the language of “diversity” with ‘inclusivity’ or, as another example, the myriad ways companies use the term, “sustainability”, there is not a universally understood meaning for such terms. They have become muddled; they mean different things to different generations, in different parts of the world, in different contexts.

No one expects fashion companies’ workforces to change demographics overnight. There are generations of systems that need rewiring in order to accomplish that. But there are few things more off-putting than an obviously empty statement about diversity on a brand’s corporate webpage, probably juxtaposed with photos of white models and white board members.

By studying culture, continuously engaging with your audiences, and, crucially looking at practices outside the fashion industry, fashion brands can unpack complicated terms like “diversity” and understand how different expressions of it resonate differently in culture. The brands that care enough to do that, to make that investment, will be the brands that can build realistic and impactful strategies around diversity. They will be the brands that can tackle diversity in a way that genuinely reflects their spirit and values as a business, rather than fumbling for generic, short-term responses that are likely to expose a lack of perspective and informed strategy.

Extensive research reveals that brands need to have a point of view on key societal issues to maintain credibility with millennials and younger people, and in today’s environment that increasingly means brand strategy that’s all encompassing: an internal culture that reflects brand expression and vice versa. At TRIPTK we partner with companies to identify, instill and put into action values that are culturally and societally important and relevant. We are here to help companies stop skirting the issues and create strategies that beneficially impact the organization and perception of the total brand.

"Fashion brands can unpack complicated terms like 'diversity' and understand how different expressions of it resonate differently in culture."

LinkedIn

By Gareth Evans
Senior Director, TRIPTK

September 10, 2018

 

The fashion industry has a particular relationship with the issue of “diversity.” Before diversity of the workforce—meaning the representation of different sexes, sexualities, races, nationalities, ages and social backgrounds in a given group—became of wider interest, fashion businesses were scrutinized for the lack of diversity in their model casting.

Now that we are focused on the diversity of workforces, as well as the internal workings of the fashion industry, fashion businesses are under a double-headed microscope. Unsurprisingly, given the problems in the model force over the years, the workforce-related picture lacks diversity. Earlier this year ex-Vogue US editor, André Leon Talley, voiced questions in the New York Times that have clearly been bubbling around the industry for some time: “Where are the black people…I look around everywhere and say, ‘Where are the black people?’ I think fashion tries to skirt the issue and finds convenient ways to spin it.”  

To give a taste of what’s being skirted, 73% of the 15 largest fashion companies are led by white male CEOs. There is one (male) African-American artistic director across the entire fashion portfolios of the luxury brands LVMH, Kering, Tapestry, and Richemont combined.  

I believe it is important for fashion businesses to increase the presence and contributions of employees from ethnic minorities, low-income backgrounds, and non-university educated backgrounds. Many fashion businesses, and people within them, pride themselves on being able to bring together disparate references from different geographies, social movements, and historical moments into cohesive, modern, collections. Values like expression, exploration, and curiosity are at the heart of the fashion industry and this brings a responsibility, in today’s world, to challenge traditional recruitment and career development processes.

But it’s also important to examine what diversity means in today’s culture in general and—if you claim to be as committed to it as most companies’ websites would suggest—what your brand’s approach to diversity is. As we can see from the way that some companies have replaced the language of “diversity” with ‘inclusivity’ or, as another example, the myriad ways companies use the term, “sustainability”, there is not a universally understood meaning for such terms. They have become muddled; they mean different things to different generations, in different parts of the world, in different contexts.

No one expects fashion companies’ workforces to change demographics overnight. There are generations of systems that need rewiring in order to accomplish that. But there are few things more off-putting than an obviously empty statement about diversity on a brand’s corporate webpage, probably juxtaposed with photos of white models and white board members.

By studying culture, continuously engaging with your audiences, and, crucially looking at practices outside the fashion industry, fashion brands can unpack complicated terms like “diversity” and understand how different expressions of it resonate differently in culture. The brands that care enough to do that, to make that investment, will be the brands that can build realistic and impactful strategies around diversity. They will be the brands that can tackle diversity in a way that genuinely reflects their spirit and values as a business, rather than fumbling for generic, short-term responses that are likely to expose a lack of perspective and informed strategy.

Extensive research reveals that brands need to have a point of view on key societal issues to maintain credibility with millennials and younger people, and in today’s environment that increasingly means brand strategy that’s all encompassing: an internal culture that reflects brand expression and vice versa. At TRIPTK we partner with companies to identify, instill and put into action values that are culturally and societally important and relevant. We are here to help companies stop skirting the issues and create strategies that beneficially impact the organization and perception of the total brand.

Gareth is a Strategy Director at TRIPTK, based in London.

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