That was the word from panelists discussing embracing racial diversity in the fashion industry as part of Black History Month at TheRealReal’s SoHo store Thursday evening.
“It’s a problem,” said designer Victor Glemaud, who was gearing up for his New York Fashion Week presentation this week. He believes while some progress has been made championing diversity in front of the camera, more needs to be done on the corporate side.
“A lot of the things that have happened recently as of today with Gucci and Prada at Christmas and all of these things, it’s because there aren’t people who understand what that means there — whether it’s in the studio designing it, merchandising, sales, retouching a campaign picture,” he added. “There’s a lot of people who go through and touch all of these things and create a boy in a monkey T-shirt at H&M, which is a client of mine by the way.”
Glemaud was referring to an H&M image in its online store showing a black boy wearing a hoodie with the phrase “the coolest monkey in the jungle”, which sparked global outrage last year. The Swedish retail giant has since appointed a diversity and inclusion chief.
More recently, Gucci has faced accusations that a balaclava-style sweater available on its online shop and physical stores evoked blackface and apologized Thursday, stating that it considers “diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected and at the forefront of every decision we make.” The turtleneck-style top, which covers the bottom half of the face with a cutout and giant red lips around the mouth, is no longer available online or in stores.
In December, Prada Group issued a statement saying it “abhors racist imagery” amid online accusations that animal-like figurines and charms, called Pradamalia, in its stores and windows evoked blackface. It subsequently removed them.
This followed Dolce & Gabbana canceling its Shanghai show after a series of videos showing an Asian model being told, in Mandarin, how to eat pizza, cannoli and spaghetti with chopsticks by a male voice-over caused uproar.
“These are things that if people are in the room and part of that process and they’re allowed to speak — that’s also another thing that we forget — potentially or hopefully these incidents will cease and not happen. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon because I know a lot of people in New York and in Europe and in the studios where they work, whether its design, photography, photography agents, it’s not a lot of diversity,” said Glemaud.
Activist Bethann Hardison, who was also speaking on the panel, added that behind the door, the corporate world is “very tough. That’s not fashion. It’s business,” she said.
Julie Gilhart, a fashion consultant for companies including Amazon and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton who also sits on the board of British handbag maker Mulberry, was hosting the event. She concluded: “Maybe that’s the next thing we have to talk about. Not just designers, but back of house.”