Black Live Matter and the Fashion Industry: a Story of Failures and Successes

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests scream for attention. African Americans look for a spotlight in a time of darkness. After the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Elijah McClain by the police, entire cities and communities stopped to mourn and to demand change and justice. 

The BLM movement took over the news, the conversations and the hashtags. Everyone was condemning police brutality and giving out opinions -most of the time, unwanted. How has the fashion industry responded, globally? Not as a unified front. 

Brands didn’t pay much attention at the beginning of the BLM movement, which was born in 2013. It was born out of rage for the acquittal of police officer George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Treyvon Martin. Seven years ago, very few people outside of the African American community took notice. What was different this time around, was the loudness. Black Lives Matter couldn’t be ignored, not even by fashion brands. 

It would have been a smart business decision, backed by research. According to a Morning Consult survey, 65 percent of respondents believed that companies should emphasize their efforts on the death of George Floyd and the BLM movement. Some brands only responded by posting black squares on Instagram with the hashtag #blackouttuesday and that was the end of their efforts. Prominent figures in the fashion industry made even bigger mistakes. Notably, Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton and CEO of Off-White, Virgil Abloh, who donated $50 to the BLM cause, which backfired right away. 

“Plain and simple, I don’t think there is the intention behind it to make long-lasting, sustainable change,” Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner said to CNN. “Everyone can hop onto the BLM movement right now on social media, but what are you doing in your home, in your corporate office, with your connections, with the power you have?”

What Wagner did was funding the Black in Fashion Council, whose mission is to represent “to represent and secure the advancement of black individuals in the fashion and beauty industry.”

Luckily, some brands took action too. Jordan has pledged to donate $10 million to Black Initiatives in the course of 10 years, a long term commitment and stance that ensures racial inequality will always have a spotlight. Tommy Hilfiger is launching the People’s Place Program which has an initial minimum commitment of 5 million US dollars in annual funding for the next three years. Nike pledged $40 million in support of BLM and launched the For Once, Don’t Do It video. 

“Don’t sit back and be silent, let’s all be part of the change,” the video states. 

Edward Buchanan, creative director of luxury knitwear brand Sansovino 6, has a clear idea of how the change can happen in the fashion industry. And he shared his 20 years of expertise and learning with Fashion United UK. 

“A precursor to change is understanding how students are being recruited,” he says. “You go to China, to Japan, to recruit. But why not Africa?”, asked Buchanan. 

For the fashion industry, the Black Lives Matter movement poses challenges that can’t be ignored. It is time for brands to leave behind the idea of passing, impairment trends and to make a difference, make a statement. It is time for long-term commitments, diversity and to stop cultural appropriation. For once, let’s change. 

Help the Black Lives Matter movement in their pursuit of equality and justice by donating at this link: Black Lives Matter

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