Looking to attract more diversified creatives to the fashion industry in all capacities, not just in design and modeling, the Council of Fashion Designers of America is rolling out its Impact Program.
Tracy Reese, a founding adviser of the initiative, shared some of what’s in the works in a Thursday morning session at the third annual digital fashion summit of Harlem’s Fashion Row.
Although the designer did not cite the demographics of the CFDA’s membership, the group said in June that of its 477 members, only 19 identify as Black, accounting for 4 percent of the group’s total base.
The designer spoke about the challenges of diversity in the fashion industry. “The initiative was set up to identify, connect, support and nurture Black and brown creatives in our industry,” said Reese, noting how the CFDA has done significant research about the state of the industry in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion and recently released a report with PVH Corp. and McKinsey & Co. that will help to plan for specific annual progress.
Part of the Impact initiative involves creating an in-depth directory of Black talent in the fashion industry spanning design, the executive level, production and technical aspects among all the other facets that are involved. Mentorships are another priority that will be made possible through the CFDA’s roster of members, who will be encouraged “to lend a hand to creatives, who could use this focused direction. It’s really being pulled in the industry in a way that we often don’t have the opportunity to experience,” Reese said.
On another tier, facilitating paid internships between students and brands and other organizations in the industry is another important pillar of the effort. The CFDA is working with colleges, universities, Stateside design schools, HBCUs and other institutions to help them access talent at a earlier stage. Scholarships are also in the mix. “We have to have an impact at every stage in a creative’s development,” Reese said. “And pull people into our industry in a way that they’re learning, being supported and really understanding what the industry is about and what opportunities for them might look like.”
HFR’s founder and chief executive officer Brandice Daniel encouraged others to read the aforementioned CFDA and PVH “eye-opening” study, titled “The State of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Fashion Report.” Going forward, Reese spoke of the need to continue to speak up about inequities in the industry, in the country and in the world “as we have been in this past year.…We have to hold brands, companies, governments accountable for promises and pledges that have been made. We have to understand where everybody is on the journey.”
In addition, there has to be a community of supporters beyond Black and “brown people who are helping to push these initiatives forward and are committed to being a part of change — change within ourselves, our companies, our communities, our country and our world — the list goes on and on. We need people to be invested and to stay invested,” Reese said. “Once people realize the advantages to themselves, to their companies and organizations of being more equitable and having a more diverse workforce and management team — how much more real it feels — that’s going to help keep the momentum going.”
Addressing an audience of 25 retailers, Reese acknowledged while many retailers have initiatives, the percentage of Black and brown-owned brands being supported by them is still very low. “It remains to be seen when the rubber hits the road, who’s really taking substantive action, going into the market and creating relationships with Black and brown brands,” Reese said.
Noting how she has worked with Bethann Hardison on her CFDA-supported Designers Hub initiative for a couple of years, Reese said, “It’s also for our community to decide how we want to participate in all this. A lot of brands have created their own pathways with direct-to-consumer and they’re very comfortable with those relationships and they have one-on-one contact with their customers, which is really important to build. In many ways, they’re ahead of some of these big retailers in how close those bonds are,” she said.
However, it remains challenging for Black or brown creatives to get serious attention from retailers, according to Reese, who would like to see “more uniformity in it and more opportunities for large groups of Black brands and creatives to get in front of retailers whether that’s beauty, accessories, apparel” or other sectors. The pandemic has steepened that challenge and inhibited holding trade fairs or expos that highlight Black and brown creatives’ wares. With such events on hold until safety restrictions ease, Reese said, “We’ve got to get really creative about ways to make sure we are seen and that budgets are set aside to support our businesses.”