SYDNEY — Australian fashion label Zimmermann has been forced to defend allegations of racial discrimination and a toxic workplace culture.
On Monday, the Diet Prada Instagram account leaked an internal beauty guideline memo that had been issued to Zimmermann retail staff and also aired the grievances of “multiple” former interns who claimed to have firsthand experience of anti-black discrimination at the company.
According to the leaked “Grooming & Presentations Standards” document, which featured no black models and, according to Diet Prada, was in circulation until as recently as September 2019, the hair of Zimmermann retail staff must be “soft, textured loose waves, or blow-dried straight,” with “high buns, top knots, plaits, braids” prohibited.
In February 2019, the New York City Commission on Human Rights introduced anti-discrimination legislation to protect the rights of New Yorkers at work, school and other public spaces to maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic or cultural identities, with fines of up to $250,000 for anyone in breach.
According to Zimmermann’s public relations director Marie-Claude Mallat, the retail grooming guide in question has not been in use at the company for more than 12 months.
Zimmermann did not immediately respond to additional questions pertaining to its current retail grooming guidelines and whether or not high buns, top knots, plaits and braids are permitted.
In a statement supplied to WWD, the company said, “We acknowledge that we must confront instances of unacceptable behavior in our company and any business practices that contribute to the broader problem of systemic racism in society. We have a responsibility to actively do better and make changes without delay, not just in America but here at home in Australia and in our teams globally. As a brand and as a company, we condemn racism of all kinds and we need to consistently demonstrate this in our actions. We have reflected on how we can do more to educate our teams, build on our diversity and advance equality in our organization. We have listened to the feedback from people both inside and outside the business and are determined to be part of meaningful and positive change in the global fashion industry.”
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The tragic recent events in America have been heartbreaking to witness from here at home in Australia. But of course, these are not just American issues – racism and discrimination continue to exist in our communities regardless of where we live. If recent times have taught us nothing else, people throughout the world are more connected than ever before. But there are inexcusable divisions that need to end. We must continue to act beyond our words to demand equality, embrace love, act with fairness and engender respect for all. We stand in support of the victims of racism everywhere. #BlackLivesMatter
The post attracted more than 900 comments, including a number of negative observations that the brand needs more diverse casting in its campaign imagery and a number of claims of racist commentary by staff members in its stores.
One commenter, Desirée Celestin — who interned with Zimmermann in New York from January-February 2019, according to her LinkedIn profile — claimed she had witnessed a Zimmermann employee mocking a black model’s hair, adding that the model had been temporarily dismissed after referring the matter to her agency and was later made to apologize.
Mallat confirmed that the company was aware of the incident regarding the black model, which occurred in New York last year. According to Mallat, the matter was brought to the attention of Zimmermann management in early 2019 and following an internal investigation the staff member who made the derogatory comments about the model’s hair was “immediately dismissed.”
On June 6, Zimmermann posted another black tile to Instagram, with the words “Our Commitment” and outlining steps it is taking to address the criticisms.
The company said it has zero tolerance for racism or discrimination in its workplaces and intends to ensure diversity in recruitment across the business and create a Diversity and Inclusion leadership group at the company.
The company said it will also implement additional training for all corporate and retail teams to build a culture of diversity and inclusion; introduce an anonymous service for the reporting of incidents; ensure “constant” diverse representation in its campaigns and shows, both behind the scenes and on the runway; donate to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in America and the Aboriginal Legal Service in Australia, and encourage its partners to make similar commitments and be active in the conversation about how brands can be a force for change.