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How the Fashion Industry Is Answering the Call for Racial Equality

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Over the last few weeks, tens of thousands of people have taken to streets, parks, plazas and monuments all over the world to protest against racism and injustice.

Spurred on at first by the death of George Floyd after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee against the man’s neck for almost nine minutes—an encounter caught on video that went pinging around the world—it soon became apparent that what happened to Floyd was going to have far greater repercussions.

An outpouring of support for Floyd’s family and calls for legal action were to be expected, especially coming on the heels of the shooting deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in February and Breonna Taylor in March. The now former cop who put his knee on Floyd stands charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter (bail has been set at $1.25 million; he has not yet entered a plea and his next court date is June 29) and the three officers with him, also since fired, have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

But a combination of factors—not least of them being the COVID-19 pandemic that has cost millions of jobs and taken a greater economic toll on the Black community—has led to what feels like an unprecedented call to action in response to these killings.

Deep-rooted economic inequality being one of the societal ills atop the list of reasons for this level of civic unrest, there has been an extraordinary response from seemingly every corner of public life and the business world, with promises echoing everywhere from Instagram to corporate boardrooms to listen more and actively do more when it comes to lifting up people of color.

The fashion industry—which has been at the forefront of acceptance and equality in some arenas but has also been called out for not always extending that level of inclusion to racial diversity—has started to respond in recent weeks. Be it through the sales of special items, by disseminating information or, like some, by launching bold initiatives intended to set the tone for the foreseeable future, what these brands have in common is the knowledge that silence is no longer an option:

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Ashley Graham, CFDA Fashion Awards, Fashion industry reacts to the protests

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ESC: Imaan Hammam, H&M x Erdem

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Prabal Gurung, Fashion industry reacts to the protests

Prabal Gurung / Instagram

Nicole King, Fashion industry reacts to the protests

Nicole King / Instagram

Kate Mulleavy, Laura Mulleavy

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Peter Do

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ASAI, Fashion industry reacts to the protests

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Kikoko Stadinov, Fashion industry reacts to the protests

Kikoko Stadinov / Instagram

Citizens of Humanity, Fashion industry reacts to the protests

Citizens of Humanity / Instagram

Lou Dallas, Fashion industry reacts to the protests

Lou Dallas / Instagram

Procell, Give Racism the Boot, Instagram

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Christian Siriano

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GUCCI EQUILIBRIUM, Fashion industry reacts to the protests

GUCCI EQUILIBRIUM / Instagram

There is a lot more to be done, as A-Cold-Wall’s Samuel Ross reminded this month, telling Vogue he was “severely disappointed” by the fashion industry’s response to date to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Model Joan Smalls has also expressed her dismay over the lack of big names putting their money and influence where their Instagram sentiments are, stating via Harper’s Bazaar, “Much to my amazement, a good amount of this industry, which I am a part of, has not spoken up to show their solidarity for equal rights and equal treatment for all, specifically the Black community. 

“This encompasses the whole gamut of the fashion industry, from agencies to magazines to brands. An industry that profits from our Black and Brown bodies, our culture for constant inspiration, our music (that continues to glorify these brands), and our images for their visuals has tiptoed around the issue at hand. You are part of the cycle that perpetuates these conscious behaviors.”

Ross says that part of the solution lies in making a commitment to cultivating young Black talent.

“It shouldn’t be an industry hidden from the Black community,” Ross said. “The next generation must be given the time of day and the skills to succeed.” He added, “Black people need to be hired for their intellect and credentials, not as a marketing tool.”

Designer Peter Do also told Vogue, “With the murder of George Floyd, we as a family decided it was our duty to speak for the first time on the brand channel and to follow words with actions via a financial pledge: An attack against one is an attack against all. This is our ongoing commitment to fight for a racially equitable world, not only in word but in deed.”

This series of events—numerous instances of police violence caught on video, social media flinging news and opinions every which way 24/7, a pandemic and an already-fraught political atmosphere—has already exposed major cracks in the system. Perhaps it will also be the one to, as some hope it will, send the existing structure crashing down so a new, more secure one can rise in its place.

“E! stands in solidarity with the black community against systemic racism and oppression experienced every day in America,” the network said in a statement. “We owe it to our black staff, talent, production partners and viewers to demand change and accountability. To be silent is to be complicit. #BlackLivesMatter.”

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