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Black culture in fashion seeks to move from the runway to put an end to lack of diversity

More than 40 years after Beverly Johnson became the first black model to grace the cover of Vogue, the fashion industry is facing its reckoning over racism and exclusion.

Anna Wintour, regarded as one of the most influential figures in fashion, has apologised for “hurtful and intolerant” mistakes by the magazine during her 30-year tenure as Vogue’s editor-in-chief.

However, this might not be enough, as Black members of the industry point out the fact that real change must come from corporate boardrooms that often exploit Black culture but do too little to support its creators.

“I think fashion is a great example of a platform and business that loves Black culture, loves Black bodies, but doesn’t want to pour back into the Black community financially,” said Emil Wilbekin, the former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine.

A model presents a creation by designer Virgil Abloh as part of his Fall/Winter 2020 collection show for fashion house Louis Vuitton during Men's Fashion Week in Paris, France. Image credit Reuters, Charles Platiau, File Photo

As mass protests took place nationwide and worldwide after the brutal murder of George Floyd by the U.S. police, Johnson proposed the Beverly Johnson Rule.

The Beverly Johnson Rule would require fashion and beauty companies to interview at least two Black professionals for openings on executive boards and other influential positions.

“I believe that the door has been cracked open just a little bit,” said Johnson, who first graced the Vogue cover in 1974.

Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan added that she can easily spot the lack of diversity in luxury brands by looking at their end products.

Egregious missteps in recent years include Prada’s 2018 keychain of a monkey with inflated lips and Gucci’s 2019 “blackface” high-neck sweater with a mouth cut out and trimmed in red.

“There’s only two that have men of colour at the helm. Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. And Virgil Abloh who designs the menswear for Louis Vuitton,” Givhan noted.

“The place where the changes have to happen are inside the executive suites, because that’s where the decisions are made about what the designer looks like, and the designer is then the decisive person who can determine what the runway show looks like and what the advertising campaign looks like,” Givhan said.

Fashion Stylist Law Roach with singer Zendaya. Image credit STEVE GRANITZ, WIREIMAGE.

Stylist Law Roach, who has worked with singers Zendaya, Ariana Grande and Celine Dion, claimed he sometimes feels as if he does not exist in the industry too.

“Have I ever been introduced as the assistant and my white female assistant like me? Absolutely, a thousand per cent,” pointed out Roach.

He said that when the fashion shows in New York take place, he had been asked to "see my ticket or to see my text message with my seat assignment many many times.”

Yet, one of the first steps Roach will take to bring about change is to do better at championing Black brands.

“I’m holding myself accountable as somebody who has the power to make a difference in someone’s career and life. I’m holding myself accountable to make sure that I do it more frequently for people who look like me,” he concluded.


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