The Color of Fashion: Diversity is More Than Just an Accessory

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“On This Runway, Black Lives Matter.”

So begins Vanessa Friedman’s final recap of the Spring ’19 RTW collections from the NYC-leg of September fashion week, which just wrapped for its London/Milan/Paris chapters.

The NYTimes’s head style writer noted the surge of political mottoes on the runways, such as Christian Siriano‘s passionate plug for NY primary candidate, Cynthia Nixon, as the state’s next governor (she lost a couple days later to Andrew Cuomo) via a “Vote for Cynthia” slogan tee, with echoes of Marc Jacobs’s Sept. 2016 Hillary Clinton t-shirt endorsements worn by Anna Wintour.

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Friedman also noted the Pyer Moss show, where designer Kerby Jean-Raymond set his 5th-anniversary menswear/womenswear show against the historic African American site, the Crown Heights’s Weeksville Heritage Center, along with a gospel choir, a FUBU collaboration, and all models of color.

The idea, Mr. Jean-Raymond said after the show, was to continue his exploration of black American life, but this time to address the “present-day moment of people calling the cops on black men having a barbecue” by exploring what “black American leisure looks like.”

A timely dialog, especially after that recent New York magazine feature by Lindsay Peoples Wagner, which profiled more than 100 blacks working in fashion on the latent/overt racism within the fashion industry, and its ramifications.

The piece is sobering and exhaustive, and makes a clear case for change, which can be boiled-down to four points:

  1. It’s simply not enough to hire black models for runways, covers and presentations. There needs to be more people of color at every level, especially in decision-making positions such as creative, editorial, and executive. Otherwise, diversity’s just an empty gesture.
  2. People of color within the fashion industry need to support other minorities in solidarity and create an accessible network of black talent. For instance, black celebrities should hire/promote black creatives such as stylists, artists, and designers.
  3. The standards of beauty/fashion needs to be more inclusive. Ethnicity should be embraced until the mainstream becomes, by default, multicultural. Black beauty, with its exclusive demands, is particularly stagnant and homogeneous.
  4. The disparity between salary and labor needs to be reformed. Equal pay for equal work, regardless of skin color.

Change is coming, thanks to recent appointments such as Virgil Abloh as men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton and Edward Enninful as editor-in-chief at British Vogue.

But unless the needle is moved with more urgency, the fashion industry will become an artifact: the U.S. Census Bureau concluded that by 2045, Asians, Latinos and African Americans will be the majority of the U.S. population, and by 2020, the majority of Americans 18 and under.

Fashion has often borrowed from minorities — most recently Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+, and #MeToo — but soon minorities will no longer be a trend. The incoming generation guarantees it. Get with it, or get lost in it!

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(Photos: Landon Nordeman for The New York Times)

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