Renewing the push for diversity, Gary L. Lampley, president of the Black Retail Action Group (BRAG), is encouraging African-American consumers to buy from firms that support minority workers, use them in marketing and advertising campaigns and promote them to senior management.

This story first appeared in the April 8, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

It makes good “dollars and sense” for retailers and brands to bolster hiring and awareness of minority customers in the recession and “address their needs in a bigger and better way,” Lampley said.

“Diversity is even more important in these tough economic times,” he said. “Multiculturalism and diversity have been buzzwords for many years but these words have been treated like a fad. Seeking better ways to service African-Americans and all people of color should be a strategic priority for business leaders.”

The ascension of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama has heightened the urgency for multicultural advances in the fashion industry, Lampley said.

“Every once in a while a moment occurs in history that has a lasting impact on how individuals view their lives regarding service and community, which is exactly what BRAG’s mission and purpose is: service and community,” he said.

“I think such a moment has now occurred, and it is time to encourage the fashion industry to address the need for diversity and inclusion,” Lampley added. “We know this work cannot be done alone and we welcome industry partnership.”

Despite progress, minorities face obstacles in entering the fashion industry and reaching management positions, he said. Although people of color in other industries have already achieved success, retailing and fashion have lagged, Lampley said, adding that his observations were based on anecdotal information.

BRAG, a nonprofit organization founded in 1970, has sought to boost minority participation and job promotion. It plans to release a “Black Paper” report this month, with more specific statistical data, on the needs of minorities in the industry, he said.

The purchasing power of African Americans, as well as those of other minorities, is rising, according to the Selig Center For Economic Growth at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. African Americans’ buying power was $913 billion in 2008, compared with $590 billion in 2000, and is projected to reach $1.2 trillion in 2013.

“Our mission is to narrow the gap between the number of consumers of apparel and related products and the disproportionate number of African-Americans in executive positions or with major presence in retail stores, ad campaigns and runways,” Lampley said.

A former retail executive and stylist, Lampley became BRAG president in April 2008 and has been with the organization more than 20 years. He said minority consumers could ensure companies respond to them by “voting with their dollars.The market is growing rapidly, and it’s thirsty for product and communication that speaks to them.”

BRAG intends to put more effort into programs like its job bank, launching in the second quarter of this year, and summer internship program. The internship initiative for college juniors and seniors is a pet project for Lampley, who has been an adjunct assistant professor in the fashion merchandising management department at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The job bank will enable companies to list available positions or openings on the BRAG Web site, which members will be able to access and submit applications.

Companies participating in the internship initiative include Macy’s Merchandising Group, Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, Phillips Van-Heusen, Foot Locker, Wal-Mart and Barneys New York.