Fashion for all, social justice, humanity, sustainability

Fashion sustainability initiatives broke out in a fever pitch last year, but in the wake of George Floyd’s death, many brands find themselves at a loss for words.

“Crickets” is how Hannah Stoudemire, cofounder and chief executive officer of Fashion for All Foundation, described the reserve she witnessed from the fashion industry in speaking out after a series of black killings, including Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, in July 2016.

As with Floyd, these men were unarmed and killed by police officers — with each incident captured on camera.

“The fashion industry is so visible and influential and powerful — it is your human duty to speak out against these atrocities against the black community and in America today,” said Stoudemire.

Stoudemire, then a Lanvin employee and the only black person and woman on the Madison Avenue men’s selling floor, was fed up with the silence she witnessed from her colleagues and fellow fashion industry when it came to the Black Lives Matter movement. Especially when just a month prior, shootings in Orlando and Paris received what Stoudemire considered proper “acknowledgment” from the industry.

She and cofounder Ali Richmond formally launched Fashion for All Foundation following a Black Lives Matter demonstration Stoudemire organized outside of Skylight Clarkson Square at New York Fashion Week: Men’s in 2016, a time “when it wasn’t safe to be ‘political,”’ as Stoudemire reiterated.

Even as recently as 2017, ties were cut for similar political discourse when L’Oréal Paris ended its contract with its first black transgender model, Munroe Bergdorf.

Reflected on the series of disturbances leading up to her organization’s founding, Stoudemire asked: “Why didn’t these brands speak up four years ago?”

In spite of gritting her teeth and challenging brands and companies on their missteps, Stoudemire emphasizes the power of social media as a platform, launching the “Breaking the Silence” campaign under FFAF last weekend, on May 30.

The campaign confronts brands and companies to speak up on human injustices and “stand in solidarity with us as we urge the fashion industry, major fashion brands, fashion publications, fashion media and fashion influencers to break their silence on racial injustice, anti-black hate crimes and the brutal killing of black people,” ending with a plea to condemn racism, murder and stop the “eerily ironic” silence.

Having worked with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Dapper Dan, among others, through the work of FFAF, Stoudemire emphasized: “We are always looking to educate and help build these campaigns and build that place so that it is authentic. We understand that [companies and brands] have to unlearn racist actions and unlearn racism because it is built into the very systems of which they run, operate and make money off of. We understand that.”

It becomes disingenuous when companies and brands are “unwilling to do the work,” as she added, and can be painfully obvious to consumers.

If only speaking in terms of profit, fashion companies and brands cannot afford to stay silent on matters of racial injustice, as women of color have a buying power of $1 trillion, with more than $361 billion in revenue generated each year from businesses owned by women of color, according to a 2018 study from the Network of Executive Women. The study surveyed more than 3,600 network members and U.S. employees in retail and consumer goods across ethnic and racial groups.

Whether it’s human rights infringements of the mostly black and brown female garment workforce down the value chain, misappropriation of black culture in fashion designs, discriminatory hiring practices or less inclusive workplace culture barring advancement — the fashion system has a stake in this conversation whether it wants to or not.

In a 2017 CFDA study with that included more than 160 industry professionals, 85 percent of the participants indicated that “foreign talent is important to the growth and success of their businesses.”

Yet, as indicated in that same report by Network of Executive Women, retention is another story entirely. For example, women of color reported less optimism for career advancement, with studies revealing declining opportunities for advancement into roles at the manager, senior manager and executive level over the next 10 years, despite being projected to comprise a majority of women by 2060.

FFAF is one of many organizations using Instagram as a vehicle for change, accountability and direct engagement with the fashion community.

Exposing the initial hypocrisy of brands overzealous in sharing climate-related sustainability news, yet going quiet or coming up short in solidarity for human injustices, Stoudemire said: “Racism is a sustainability issue; it cuts down on life expectancy. You can’t be sustainable and not be anti-racist.” True, the U.N. sustainable development goals cited by many in their sustainability reports cover global challenges, including verbatim — inequality and justice.

Luckily, Stoudemire has said the sustainable brands are mostly accountable and engaged.

As for those brands that engaged directly with the campaign, they included Gabriela Hearst, Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurung, to name a few. When asked, Hearst shared FFAF’s campaign “within minutes.”

“I just DM’d her and said, ‘you know we really appreciate you standing with us and posting more than a statement. People want to hear more than that, they want to hear it in your own words and know that you really feel this way,’” reiterated Stoudemire.

Many more social media campaigns have erupted since, including Brother Vellies designer Aurora James’ #15PercentPledge, calling on corporations like Walmart Inc., Whole Foods Inc. and Target Corp. to commit to buying 15 percent of products from black-owned businesses; #AmplifyMelanatedVoicesChallenge, urging social media users to amplify the social justice work and content of BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color), and #BlackoutTuesday, which shares a similar intention to the former in re-centering the conversation.

On Tuesday, many more black squares appeared by brands, companies and consumers.

“Black lives are worth more than a black square. Use that space responsibly, you do more than that to sell lipstick,” said Stoudemire, but at the very least being human is a start.