With the increasing adversity black people are facing in these distressing times, now is the best time to have as many difficult conversations and take as much action as we can. With racism so stonkingly rampant, I decided to see what the industry I have grown to love has had to say about current affairs.
The result? Not nearly enough.
Let us dissect this from the top. Brands and designers are happy to pick and choose the history of different cultures to integrate into their runway shows but are hesitant to include the faces to represent.
Many leading figures in the industry often use ‘creative vision’ as an excuse. ‘Our creative vision unfortunately meant we were not able to include certain ethnicities’. Demna Gvasalia, the creative director of Balenciaga and previously Vetements, has been heavily criticised for his ‘white model only’ mentality seen on his runways.
“I would never compromise the credibility of a collection, for instance, to cater to what someone might think regarding our politics, or to send an insincere, first-degree message about something people expect for the sake of correctness,”
Vetement collections that are inspired by American streetwear but fail to represent the very people walking down these American streets. People from all walks of life. I’m no fashion expert, but surely the collections credibility is out the window when the designer fails to realise diversity is at the heart of their collections.
Racism in the industry will never be an easy fix when the industry is saturated with rich white men. More people of colour employed in the highest positions are what the industry needs to abolish any notion that designers are deliberately (or at least subconsciously) excluding other races.
As much hate as Alexander Wang received when he took over Balenciaga. These are the people needed at the very top. Alexander Wangs tenure was successful but backwards-minded fashion journalists loathed a foreign presence embellishing the crown of a large establishment. A position, in their eyes, exclusively for middle class white people.
It has to also be said that many companies will hire people of colour to give the appearance of progression and diversity. You may remember from one of my recent articles on Virgil Abloh’s rise to Louis Vuitton, one of the main reasons he was given the creative director position ahead of Kanye West was because Virgil Abloh does not have a track record of expressing polarising ideas into the public. What this message conveys to me is ‘sure, hire black people in top positions, but make sure it’s the quieter ones’.
It has to be noted the accusations surrounding Virgils sincerity in progressing black people in the industry has recently come into question. Publicly showing receipts of a $50 donation to BLM for someone currently worth $4M is very telling on his part. Having no black members in his creative team at Off-White has also raised many eyebrows.
The truth is, a larger representation on the surface level will not amend the major underlying issues concerning race. The main issue that is rarely mentioned when addressing racism in the industry is the connection fashion racism has to exploitation at the lower level.
Underrepresentation is only one side of the story. The fashion industry is a billion dollar industry and runways are just the tip of the iceberg. Women (predominantly) and children in underdeveloped countries slaving away for the clothes we wear once or twice before carelessly tossing them aside. Underpaid workers exploited because they have no other choice.
I am not here to criticise working class consumers for choosing fast fashion, but rather point the finger of justice at the large fashion corporation’s incentivising their competition to minimise labour costs by further exploiting the exploited. Until this is addressed, not much will change.
If you take anything from what I’ve written today remember that the very clothes on your back are symbols of oppression. Crafted by poor, non-white women and children whose countries progressively worsen not only by the exploitation of Western fashion brands, but by their greedy and inhumane governments constantly tearing down their countries.
I’m Muslim. I’m brown. I understand oppression. Above all I understand injustice. You don’t have to be black to empathise with a man executed because of the colour of skin. We all have a part to play in abolishing racism for good.
We are ALL responsible.
If you haven’t already:
Sign the petition
Consider donating to at least one:
The Bail Project – Combatting racial and economic disparities in the bail system.
Gas Mask fund – Helping those protestors to protect themselves against tear gas
Communities United Against Police Brutality