As an active social media user, many of you have witnessed performative activism whether you’ve realized it or not. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, all it means is activism done to increase social capital rather than devotion to the cause. In other words, clout chasing! When it comes down to discrimination, diversity, and inclusion, the fashion industry is no saint. Many designers, brands, and fast fashion companies have been called out for their activism being purely performative. It is hard for us to believe they are trying to combat discrimination when an effort to make ethical and impactful changes has not been made.
However, with the Black In Fashion Council, our favorite former Teen Vogue EIC, Lindsay Peoples Wagner, and public relations expert, Sandrine Charles, have begun to change the narrative of the fashion industry. Both fashion insiders represent the black community and put the proof in the pudding in terms of their activism. They began an organization “founded to represent and secure the advancement of black individuals in the fashion and beauty industry.” They believe that “as an industry, we cannot continue to claim that we are progressive if we are not working to force diversity and inclusion in corporate structures while rectifying systemically racist policies that have permeated our industry for hundreds of years.” By forming this organization, these two ladies are forcing non-black brands, publications, and people of influence to acknowledge how they’ve played a role in discrimination and how they can be accountable.
Just last August, BIFC announced that they had partnered with 38 fashion and beauty companies from Glossier to Conde Nast as a way to make internal change surrounding diversity and inclusion. Since then, they have signed almost 100 brands. In a BIFC statement, it was disclosed that in these partnerships, “brands have pledged a commitment to work with the Black in Fashion Council for the next three years and work with the Human Rights Campaign to put policies into practice further to demonstrate their commitment to Black employees at all levels.” Not only have these ladies created room for internal change within the industry, but they’ve also opened many windows of opportunity into the industry.
As part of their mission to represent and amplify black people at entry, junior-level, and c-suite positions, BIFC has previously taken measures such as partnering with NYFW to organize a showroom for emerging black designers. The organization has also formed a job board in which industry job listings, positions, and opportunities are shared. The company’s most recent initiatives include its virtual classroom in partnership with Depop to educate entrepreneurs in the fashion industry and its June 5th virtual job fair. I, along with other College Fashionista members, attended the fair and experienced the great work and mission of this company firsthand.
During the job fair, I acquired great knowledge and advice about landing a career in the fashion industry and how to get my peers in these spaces as well. The keynote speaker was my girl, Storm Reid, and I got the chance to speak with other industry professionals from companies such as H&M and Hearst Magazines. During the fair, I got the opportunity to network with many other individuals and even gained a mentor! I was very grateful that BIFC allowed me to feel like a part of a community and make so many connections that will ultimately further my career. I spoke with other CF members and industry professionals about BIFC’s impact on them and what diversity in the fashion industry looked like in their eyes.
Aiyana Ishmael, a CF member and recent graduate, shared that she loved the BIFC virtual job fair event as it provided her with many contacts and new connections. When asked what she felt diversity in the fashion industry looked like she explained, “Diversity in the fashion industry to me means building an inclusive pipeline for young minorities to not only gain entry-level jobs within the industry but give them the necessary resources to thrive and eventually gain higher-level positions…[it’s] looking in an office space and seeing less tokenism, and more of an equal number of people of color.”
Lauryn Jiles, a senior public relations scholar at the University of South Carolina, also recalled her time at the BIFC virtual job fair. Jiles exclaimed that she “loved getting to listen to all of the speakers giving insightful information about working in fashion [and that] it was wonderful getting to hear about their journeys and perspective on fashion and being black in the industry.” Concerning my feeling of belonging to a community, Jiles also shared her feelings of community. “I’ve been able to make so many connections with young people interested in fashion. I’ve connected with many PR professionals, which has been great, and everyone who attended the event has connected via social media so it’s nice to have a community of like-minded people.” In terms of diversity, Jiles feels that there needs to be a better representation of black people in the fashion industry. “Diversity in the fashion industry to me is seeing more diversity behind the scenes and seeing us in positions of power as well. It means having more of us work in the industry.”
Tameka Shockley, a publicist and fashion/beauty insider, communicated her feelings about the event. “The event was amazing! It was super dope connecting with so many individuals in the same lane as myself”. Shockley is no newbie to the industry but she too was inspired by the event. She expressed that her takeaway from the event was that “pretty much nothing [or no one] is above you when you are establishing yourself”. When asked what diversity in the fashion industry meant to her Shockley replied, “Diversity in fashion to me looks like a room full of people with different backgrounds, some that look like me, some that don’t, those with different views and skin tones, and upbringings!”
It is safe to say that the common denominator amongst us all is that we want to be represented in the industries we love the most. There is room for everyone in the fashion industry and the BIFC made it their mission to ensure that we are granted this opportunity. Many have been positively impacted by the work of this organization and many will continue to be as long as the fashion industry is continuously being held accountable to diversify.
Featured photo via Black In Fashion Council