NEW YORK — A message of inclusion reverberated through the Black Retail Action Group Annual Scholarship and Awards Dinner at the Chelsea Piers on Friday, where five individuals were honored for “breaking barriers” while many in the crowd of 400 said career opportunities are still often closed to people of color — and that’s bad for business.
Diversity in the ranks of retailing leads to better decisions and bigger revenues, including more effectively targeting the African-American market, which is expected to exceed $1.2 trillion this year.
“There is a big opportunity for us to reach out and recruit more,” said Tim Belk, chairman and chief executive officer of Belk Inc., who received BRAG’s Business Achievement Award. “Every year, the markets we serve are getting more diverse, so we have to work harder to stay in touch. We want to increase the pipeline for African-Americans going into retail and moving up.”
Belk, the Charlotte, N.C.-based department store chain, supports BRAG’s efforts by sponsoring scholarships and providing internships and, according to its ceo, has been stepping up its hiring of people of color in a range of jobs. “We really believe in the cause BRAG stands for,” Belk said.
“This industry has a lot of room for improvement,” observed Fern Mallis, the fashion consultant and former head of IMG’s New York Fashion Week, which she acknowledged continues to get heat for its paucity of black models on the runways. Mallis also received BRAG’s achievement award and marked the occasion by wearing a Tracy Reese sequined paisley top.
Susan Akkad, senior vice president for local and cultural relevancy at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., received the business achievement award, and June Ambrose, celebrity stylist, received the J.J. Thomas Business Innovators Award. In addition, 31 winners of BRAG scholarships were honored onstage.
Beverly Johnson, who in 1974 became the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue, received BRAG’s Special Recognition Award. She’s since become an actress and entrepreneur. Before modeling, she was on an all-black swim team and recalled being barred from certain locker rooms. On occasion, she saw pools suspiciously being drained after her team competed, hardly the usual procedure for maintenance. Asked how she sidestepped racial barriers on the path to success, Johnson said simply, “I don’t know. I was just there. Ninety-five percent of everything is just showing up.”
Edward Wilkerson, designer director for Lafayette 148, would agree. While attending the High School of Art and Design, he showed up at scores of Garment District showrooms seeking a job, until finally he got one in the design studio of Anne Klein. “If you really want it, no door is closed,” Wilkerson said.
“I think there are still barriers,” added jewelry designer Elma Blint. “You have to have a certain level of confidence when you are African-American, and you have to always prove yourself. Financing, too, is a major issue in starting a business. If you’re African-American, it’s hard as hell.”
“I am committed to BRAG,” said Gail Monroe-Perry, who has just embarked on her second stint as the group’s president. She succeeded Gary Lampley last summer and previously served from spring 2004 to spring 2008. The nonprofit organization, which is run by volunteers and supported by retail and retail-related companies, works to promote the advancement of people of color in the industry through an internship program, an executive-development program, seminars, college campus clubs and fund-raising events that spotlight the mission and provide scholarships. Friday’s gala raised about $350,000.
As president, Monroe-Perry is the top volunteer and apt to spend evenings and weekends on the cause, since she’s also got a paying job as senior director of talent acquisition at Warnaco Group Inc. Busy schedule notwithstanding, she seems determined to bring change to the group and noted that she’s bringing “SWOT” — a strategic-planning method that involves evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to a business or organization — to the table.
“We have to be very clear about the ‘value add’ to the members of BRAG, the community and our business partners,” Monroe-Perry said in an interview. While volunteerism keeps the organization moving, Monroe-Perry expressed the need to hire a full-time executive director, with a team underneath, to further pump it up, which would require intensified fund-raising.
In yet another fashion show shuffle, @elleryland is moving its show in sync with the Paris couture calendar — though the brand is still keeping one foot on the city’s ready-to-wear schedule. Their runway show in January will coincide with the launch of a new strategy: designing two main collections each year instead of four, which will then be released in four drops. “As we all know, the system needs to change. We need to show sooner to give time back to artisans and designers to do what they do best — create,” said founder Kym Ellery. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @kukukuba)
@maxmara’s classic 101801 coat was the cornerstone of its pre-fall 2018 collection. The design team expanded the traditional double-breasted, kimono-sleeved style into a trapeze coat, lean belted styles and a peacoat and presented them in monochromatic looks – like the camel one pictured here. #wwdfashion #prefall18 (📷: George Chinsee)
The @cfda has shifted the dates of #NYFW, with Men’s showing on February 5 through February 7, and Women’s will directly follow, running from February 8 through 14. The preliminary schedule will be released on the CFDA’s web site in the next few days, but Mark Beckham, VP of marketing for the CFDA, revealed that @rafsimons will be back to close the men’s-specific part of the week with a show on February 7 #wwdfashion (📷: Kelly Taub)
@ferragamo is introducing a new space dedicated to the development of women’s and men’s leather good samples. The laboratory, which is created eco-friendly materials and designed to reduce the environmental impact of the manufacturing processes, will allow the company to expand its accessories offering through traditional artisanal approaches. #wwdfashion (📷: @aitorrosasphoto)
How does a “regular, degular, schmegular” girl from the Bronx, N.Y., become a Grammy-nominated artist with a certified platinum record in less than a year? Call it the @iamcardib come up. The 25-year-old has become a musical sensation, and the fashion world is taking note. “If I could describe her style I would say drama. She’s really into the dramatics,” says Cardi B’s stylist @kollincarter. See how Carter styles her bold and out there looks with the link in bio. #wwdfashion
“There is no formula. There is no guideline. I can watch Ted Talks all day, but there is no one who can advise me on exactly what it is I should be doing,” said @ronniefieg, CEO of @kith, in an interview with WWD’s @ariahughes at the brand’s new SoHo office in Manhattan. Head to WWD.com to see how Fieg went from hanging out in shoe stockrooms at 13 to building his own business. #wwdfashion (📷: @weston.wells)
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion