As models, entrepreneurs and advocates, Naomi Campbell, Iman and Bethann Hardison are and always have been forces for change.
Examples of their dedication, resiliency and drive were discussed during their virtual conversation Wednesday, which was part of “The Atelier With Alina Cho.” Beamed in from their respective homes, the guests teamed up for what was the restart of the talk series, which under normal circumstances is held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Descriptive as they were about the challenges, discrimination and accomplishments during their careers, the speakers were most poignant in discussing how the time is now to exercise real change. Cho broached the subject by talking about “this pivotal moment in time that we’re in. This really is the genesis as to why we decided to get together in the first place.”
Cho said, “In the midst of the worst pandemic in a century, we also saw the death of George Floyd and countless others at the hands of police. The protesters have poured onto the streets in numbers like we haven’t seen all over the world. And the calls for racial equity have come from every corner including fashion.”
Asked what she makes of all these recent efforts and where we go from here, Hardison said, “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Floyd had to lose his life, and it’s unfortunate that so many people have to lose their lives. It’s fortunate that we now have cameras on phones that things are recorded so that we have some sort of documentation. The greatest thing about what has happened recently is that we’re having the conversation. Conservation has never happened like it’s happening. So I’m very happy about that. We all are.”
Acknowledging how corporations are conscientiously concerning themselves with how they might do things better in terms of racial equality, Hardison said, “There have been many initiatives brought up to ask, ‘Please, let’s do something. Let’s help.’ These different people in different branches of the industry [are asking], ‘How can we do better?’”
While now many people are interested in diversifying their boards, Hardison said they should also be interested in hiring people for full-time positions. “Having people just on your board is a nice idea, but they are sort of on the outside of everything. It’s nice to have people live and work together with many people of color,” she said.
From Harrison’s perspective on another front, there is a combination of agitators or disruptors. “There’s a difference between the agitators and the disruptors. The disruptors are like Black Lives Matter — you have to disrupt. Then you have some people, who agitate. They just come after the system,” she said. “…Everybody needs to understand that we all need to be responsible. Many people didn’t speak up. Now we all are so now it’s an important time to recognize that we should never be quiet. We should always be able to speak up — respectfully, for sure, because you don’t want to lose your job. But you have to definitely be able to say something.”
During this crucial time, many people are asking how there will be clarity to ensure that companies are following through, Hardison noted. “Companies might be saying in the beginning, ‘I’m down with Black Lives Matter. Or I’m here to do what I have to do. What can we do? What can we say?’ They say it now in the beginning and later on maybe nothing happens and you have to have some kind of accountability.”
Hardison praised Aurora James of Brothers Vellies for her 15 Percent Pledge, which calls on big retailers to dedicate 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. The Black in Fashion Council, started by Teen Vogue’s Lindsay Peoples Wagner and publicist Sandrine Charles, also earned high marks from Hardison for working to hold the industry accountable. “There’s a lot of movement in our industry and now we’ve just got to hope and pray, as we continue to be forceful, that it continues,” Hardison said.
Hardison is overseeing another initiative that supports, offers mentoring and aims to accelerate the careers and exposure for designers of color. Set up under the umbrella of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Designers Hub is working with 25 to 30 young brands and designers of color.
Cho repeated something Campbell once said: “History always repeats itself until all those who have come into this business also feel seen, heard, considered and respected. We still have so much work to do.” Asked what she meant by that, Campbell said: “Basically, I feel that a lot of these companies feel like they’re going to take the models and then you’ve covered the quota, so to speak. That’s not enough even if you hire a model of diversity or a Black model, are you paying them the same? They’re doing the same work but they’re not getting the same pay. I find this unethical and always have.”
But decision-making can only go so far, according to Campbell, who noted the rush by many corporations to announce how they now have diversity boards. “That’s great but why didn’t you have it in the first place? Why don’t you have it in-house to begin with? Why do you have to go outside to bring it in? Why are you looking to make the company diverse to begin with?” Campbell said. “I feel like there are some people who are not being true who are just trying to cover their asses. And that won’t work.”
Cho mentioned how during last week’s pre-event talk, Iman said this moment is bigger than fashion, and it’s about participating and getting out the vote. Iman said she will always remember how Floyd’s [six-year-old] daughter Gianna said, “Daddy changed the world.” She continued, “So that death that changed everything — that brought people out into the streets to demonstrate and all that — what we need now is to collectively really, really think about, ‘What is the change that we are looking for?’ In our industry and in a lot of other industries, we’re talking about giving us a seat at the table. Now we have moved away from that. Nobody cares about that damn table anymore, right? We can create our own tables,” Iman said. “What we need [to do], all of us, not just Black or white, everybody, is to collectively think about what that real change is. Not a tokenism change, not a moment of change but a real change [is needed].”
Iman continued, “Personally, I think a real change happens by bringing people — people of Black and brown — into the decision-making of fashion. That’s where real change happens, not just by saying, ‘OK, we will do this.’ And then there is no transparency, no accountability.”
To that end, she cited the news by the Oscars to improve diversity that is “a true change. Our industry needs to take that into account and really think. It’s not about dismantling. It’s about bringing in people, who can really help with real change.“
Earlier this week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed representation and inclusion standards in order to be eligible for the Best Picture category. For the 94th and 95th Oscars ceremonies, a film will submit a confidential academy Inclusion Standards form to be considered for Best Picture. As of the 96th Oscars in 2024, a film submitted for Best Picture will need to meet the inclusion thresholds by meeting two of the four standards.
After emphasizing the importance of having people of color involved with decision-making, Iman said, “We also need transparency, as Naomi was talking about, and accountability. Nobody is going to get off the hook easily anymore. That is the most important part. And everybody is accountable.”
She continued, “I want to say that the rage is justifiable. The anger is justifiable. But I don’t want us to use it to ruin our joy and our existence, and be stuck in a place of just being hurt. We want to be part of that change and change from within — not just having cosmetically changed.”