With Black History Month officially underway, some fashion brands, retailers and organizations are trying to further the conversation about diversity, hire and support more Black creatives and focus on health and well-being in the Black community rather than just sell commemorative products.
Groups like the Black in Fashion Council continue to call on companies of all sizes to not just improve representation in the industry, but also to create more job opportunities — at all levels — and to establish an educational pipeline that will inspire future generations. While some are on board with that ideology, others have yet to step forward.
“Prep, Push, Pivot” author and career coach Octavia Goredema noted that brands that are truly invested “make a sustained, ongoing commitment to the advancement of Black talent and executives all year-round, not just during the month of February.”
Companies that are striving to hire more diverse talent for executive positions also need to “commit to doing better, when it comes to retaining and advancing diverse talent,” she said. Investing in professional development and coaching for underrepresented employees, offering mentoring and fostering an environment that “creates a sense of belonging for everyone” are key, Goredema said. “These are big important steps that require a long-term investment.”
This year, the theme around Black History Month is Black health and wellness, and some companies are aligning their efforts with that aim.
Research from Gartner also indicates that diversity, equity and inclusion is one of the top five human resources priorities for 2022 with more than 80 percent of companies planning to earmark more money for that. With that in mind, the Black Women’s Health Imperative is developing a national workplace equity and anti-racism initiative to improve the health and wellness of Black women, especially in relation to their workplace.
Brands like Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Talbots and others are also putting health and wellness at the forefront of their efforts.
Saks Fifth Avenue’s monthlong efforts for Black History Month include digital content that highlights Black designers, virtual Saks Live events about Black health and wellness, a window display at its Rockefeller Center flagship and a $60,000 donation to the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM through the Saks Foundation. For its new digital content, the retailer tapped fashion designers LaQuan Smith and Monrowe’s Dani Evans to spotlight some of their favorite Black designers, and the importance of progress in the community and celebrating Black history. Peloton instructor and Love Squad founder Ally Love will host a virtual event Wednesday highlighting her favorite styles from Black-owned brands. And on Feb. 17, designer Fe Noel will unveil her Fe Noel at Saks label.
Designs from Wales Bonner, Kimberly Goldson, LaQuan Smith, Tove, Frederick Anderson and others will be showcased in the flagship windows through Feb. 14. Saks employees will have the opportunity to participate in a panel about mental health through a partnership with HealHaus.
The beneficiary of Saks’ donation, BEAM, offers nationwide training and grants for the healing, wellness and liberation of Black and marginalized communities. Advocates, artists, yoga teachers, lawyers, religious leaders and psychologists comprise BEAM and are committed to envisioning “a world where there are no barriers to Black healing.”
Talbots is of a similar mind-set, aligning with the Black health and wellness theme for this Black History Month. The retailer has broadened its podcasts, books, documentaries and ways to give back on its DEI site so that associates can learn more. Masterclass videos will also be available, including one about “Black Health in America” that will be offered at the end of the month.
Having asked staffers to share their perspectives on the meaning of Black History Month last year, Talbots is offering more of a two-way conversation this year, with weekly roundtables led by its DEI council. The aim is ensure employees are more comfortable speaking with one another about Black history, as well as other heritage celebrations, in order to expand DEI initiatives and expand staffers’ cultural knowledge, according to a company spokesperson.
To support youth education and empowerment, Macy’s has started a monthlong give-back program that will benefit the United Negro College Fund. The online and in-store donation campaign will raise funds for scholarships at HBCUs, allowing Macy’s customers “to help directly impact and empower the next generation of Black leaders nationwide,” a company spokesperson said.
The retailer declined comment on the projected goal for this year’s UNCF initiative. Last year’s initiative by Macy’s raised $1.2 million with 50 percent benefitting the UNCF and 50 percent going to Black Girls Code.
The 570-unit retailer is also spotlighting seven on-the-rise Black-owned brands and their stories on its site and through a Feb. 8 Macy’s Live event. In addition, lifestyle and home decor designer Robin Wilson, who previously participated in “The Workshop at Macy’s,” a women-owned retail business development program, is selling her Clean Design Home x Martex collection through the retailer.
With 650-plus stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, J.C. Penney is debuting its first philanthropy-driven brand, Hope & Wonder.
The kickoff features a Black History Month collection and 100 percent of the net proceeds going to benefit Black Girls Smile, a nonprofit committed to mental wellness. J.C. Penney’s in-house Creative Coalition, a group of designers of color, made the collection. The winning student from JCP’s recent “Young, Gifted and Black Design Challenge” also pitched in. Going forward, the Hope & Wonder collections will help families celebrate and honor cultural moments including Pride Month, Juneteenth and Hispanic Heritage Month, among others.
Looking to encourage companies to hire more Black employees, the Fifth Avenue Association will host “Recruiting Black Creatives,” a virtual panel on Feb. 9. Executives from LVMH, June79, Cartier and Instagram will join Vanity Fair’s Nicole Chapoteau in a 45-minute chat about enhancing Black talent and leadership in the fashion and retail sector.
The Fashion Group International will be rounding up business partners for a virtual discussion on Feb. 22 about the significance of African fashion and luxury goods. The organization is inviting students as its guests, as well as its current and past “Rising Star” recipients. In addition, FGI will welcome African business colleagues, whom it has met in conversations to expand FGI to Africa, according to president and chief executive officer Maryanne Grisz. FGI has also partnered with L’Oréal Luxe for Black History Month and International Women’s Day events.
Apple’s efforts include drawing attention to Black businesses and innovations, and playing up Black voices through exclusive content and curated collections. During this month, Apple Music 1’s “The Message” will feature special episodes highlighting Black individuals’ contributions to culture, and the importance of health and wellness in the Black community.
Apple is debuting a special edition Apple Watch Black Unity Braided Solo Loop and matching Unity Lights watch face inspired by Afrofuturism. As part of this launch, Apple is supporting organizations that advance inclusion in science and technology for communities of color through its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative.
On Feb. 7, Apple Fitness+ will release a new episode of “Time to Walk,” an audio experience on Apple Watch led by Ayo Tometi, a founder of Black Lives Matter.” In the talk, she discusses how Trayvon Martin’s killing deepened her commitment to activism and why changing her name impacted her outlook on life.
Shortly before the start of Black History Month, We the Urban, a Black, queer-owned Instagram page with more than 4.3 million followers, launched the We the Urban capsule collection of unisex apparel. Started by Willie Greene in 2009, WTU remains dedicated to empowering, inspiring and uplifting marginalized voices. Along with hoodies, T-shirts and a tote, the new line offers posters imprinted with messages of affirmation and a journal. The assortment ties back to WTU’s “Handle With Care” campaign that magnifies a message of self, family and community care, and aligns with the core values of Black, brown, Indigenous and queer communities.
This month, Target is marking to occasion with an assortment of initiatives, including encouraging diverse suppliers to register their businesses with Target for potential opportunities. Both product and service companies will be considered.
Target also is offering a Black History Month collection designed by its HBCU Design Challenge winners. The company is also seeking applicants for its accelerator programs that pair start-ups with industry leaders to help them take their companies to the next level.
Shoppers at Target will also find a selection of Black-owned or -founded brands, and be able to learn about the entrepreneurs behind them, such as Jacqueline Dow’s J. Dow Fitness, Kim and Keyondra Lockett’s Jolie Noire, and Chioma and Uchenna Ngwudo’s Cee Cee’s Closet. The Ngwudo sisters are trying to connect women with West African culture. The company has sold more than 30,000 head wraps made by a team of tailors in Nigeria. By working with the New York-based brand, the company said the tailors have finessed their skills and are able to send their children to school, provide them with good health care and inspire them to dream.
PacSun has revealed its latest drops under Circulate Market, a showcase of Black-owned brands culled by brand partner Circulate and its founder Corey Populus. Little Africa, ALL CAPS Studio and Heron Hues are among the labels.
The 1stDibs site has partnered with the Black Artist Fund to offer a selection of art by BAF grant recipients curated by artist and BAF voting committee member Darryl Westly. And on Wednesday, the digital-first athleticwear brand Gymshark is debuting a “To The Heroes” campaign with Obsidianworks. It will highlight local leaders that champion Black culture and communities across the country.
And it’s not only major companies supporting Black creatives and entrepreneurs. In Canada, Black Designers of Canada founder George Sully will announce the second annual BDC award of excellence on Feb. 22. This year, 20 designers are being honored. Sully said recipients of the award often have to work twice as hard “for less than what’s been offered to others.”
Separately, Justine Mangum, a Black artist and founder of Winnie Weston, has partnered with Zenni Optical to create three illustrations that feature bespectacled Black historical figures. She is also releasing a Black History Month collection on the Winnie Weston site. Having started the company in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic and as social unrest was on the rise due to George Floyd’s murder, Mangum said that created in her “a need to create a space dedicated to showcasing Black art,” while also helping her process “the racial injustice still going on in society.”
Referring to her Black History Month art print collection, she said, “As a Black woman and person in this society, we as Black people need to see art showing our brilliance and beauty.”
In honor of Black History Month, QVC and HSN are spotlighting Black-owned brands. QVC and HSN are also donating $100,000 to the Black Women’s Health Imperative. In addition to supporting Black-owned brands, shoppers have the option to make direct donations to the organization via the HSN and QVC sites.
As part of Nordstrom’s monthlong campaign, the retailer partnered with the Invisible Collective, a Black-owned creative production company, to launch a video series giving employees the opportunity to share their experiences as members of the Black community. They are sharing their insights through beauty, style, parenthood and relationships.
Nordstrom is also highlighting Black-owned and Black-founded brands such as the Harlem Candle Co., Vitae London, King + Lola and others. Later this month at the Seattle flagship, shoppers will find an in-store market with Black-Owned Brooklyn, a digital publication that spotlights Black-owned, Brooklyn-based businesses. The retailer is also celebrating Black food culture by featuring recipes created by Spice Suite’s founder Anael Greaorio in its coffee bars through the end of the month.
Neiman Marcus’ Black History Month initiatives includes a partnership with the Fashion Scholarship Fund to support the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund to help advance academically promising Black students. The luxury retailer is also enacting in-store activations and corporate programming to raise awareness for Black talent. Neiman Marcus has updated the “Belonging” wall in its North Park Dallas store to pay tribute to U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who is retiring after 30 years on Capitol Hill. Before venturing into politics from 1972 to 1975, Johnson was a Neiman Marcus associate, working with Stanley Marcus.
Meanwhile, Foot Locker has unveiled its 2022 “Sole List” inductees of Black photographers whose work exemplifies authentic Black stories. Andy Jackson, Joshua Renfroe and Flo Ngala are this year’s group. As part of a new campaign, they have photographed products from Black-owned brands from the retailer’s “Home Grown” program. Content will be unveiled throughout the month and the worl will be showcased in an art gallery exhibition.