Channing Hargrove, Antoine Gregory, Mecca James-Williams and Alexis Bennett

Juneteenth, now a federal holiday and a cause for brands to pipe in with statements, has long been a celebration of joy within the Black community. The day, named for the shortening of June 19 and commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S., has manifold meanings for those who mark it.

For Antoine Gregory, founder of the Black Fashion Fair, Juneteenth is about the celebration of family. “It’s always been a time where we could come together to celebrate ourselves,” he said.

This year, as the holiday coincides with the year marker on fashion brands’ commitments to diversity and inclusion in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, WWD checked in with Black industry creatives on what the day means to them and some things for companies to consider as they find their footing in recognizing the day.

Antoine Gregory

Antoine Gregory  Erica Genece/WWD

Antoine Gregory, founder, Black Fashion Fair

WWD: What does Juneteenth mean to you and how do you recognize it?

A.G.: I think for me Juneteenth is about the celebration of family. It’s always been a time where we could come together to celebrate ourselves.

WWD: How do you feel about the racial climate this Juneteenth versus all that was happening last Juneteenth?

A.G.: We’ve had such a traumatic year as a people and a country that I believe this is going to be the most significant Juneteenth in recent memory. We have spent the past year just holding each other together. I’m excited to be able to feel that togetherness in person.

WWD: How do you feel about how the fashion industry has responded to the callouts on racial inequity and lack of diversity among their staff?

A.G.: I believe it’s going to be a long time before we see real change within the industry, especially when it comes to who has the seats at the tables. We’ve seen time and time again this show of solidarity that doesn’t really mean anything and doesn’t last too long. It’s been less than a year and we’re already back there.

WWD: Do you think fashion can get to a place where people of color are leading the charge in roles across the industry just as much as anyone else?

A.G.: I think that we can, I think there are people who are doing the work. I think those people need to be uplifted and we need to continue to own the narratives around Black fashion, style and culture.

WWD: What do you want to see change about the fashion industry?

A.G.: Credit given to the communities and cultures the industry so freely pulls from. I would like to see Black designers and Black creators have equity in the industry they continue to push forward.

Channing Hargrove

Channing Hargrove  Erica Genece/WWD

Channing Hargrove, Culture Editor, Grazia

WWD: What does Juneteenth mean to you and how do you recognize it?

C.H.: While I don’t think I have roots in Galveston, Texas (but, honestly, who really knows with Black families), Juneteenth is a reminder of my bloodline’s perseverance. We were not supposed to survive. When I was a child, my parents framed Juneteenth as a celebratory holiday, and while it is, and should be, as an adult, it really makes me sad, and angry, really, when I think about how much has not changed systematically.

WWD: How do you feel about the racial climate this Juneteenth versus all that was happening last Juneteenth?

C.H.: Eh. Last Juneteenth everyone was beside themselves to show they understood the meaning of Juneteenth and had been reading the anti-racism books or whatever. I’ve celebrated Juneteenth all my life, so I didn’t understand why it suddenly needed to be a commercial holiday everyone was entitled to celebrate. It feels quieter this year, I think the term is ally-fatigue?

WWD: How do you feel about how the fashion industry has responded to the callouts on racial inequity and lack of diversity among their staff?

C.H.: There were a lot of surface-level changes for optics, which were appreciated but I’m not sure it’s enough. Have any of the C-suites changed? The marketing teams? What about sales? It’s not enough for diversity to happen in the consumer-facing roles, especially, when the people in those roles often are not given the opportunity to provide input that supports true inclusion.

WWD: Do you think fashion can get to a place where people of color are leading the charge in roles across the industry just as much as anyone else?

C.H.: I want to be optimistic about this, I really do, considering I’ve spent more a decade in fashion journalism, but most of these institutions are inherently homogenous and were systematically set up to be such. For real change to happen there must be a relinquishment of power and I’m just not so sure this industry, or the world, for that matter, is ready and willing to decenter whiteness.

WWD: What do you want to see change about the fashion industry?

C.H.: I’d love for the onus not to be on Black people to diversify a company’s bottom line as well as its content. We did not create this problem, and we alone cannot fix it. It’s clear Black people are not only inspirational but aspirational and I’d love to see that celebrated more. Not in listicles to hit a quota, or small mentions on a website pegged to an SEO term to check a box, I’m talking about thoughtful journalism. More joyful content, please. Yes, educating people is important, but we shouldn’t have to rely on social media callouts (which get aggregated onto media websites) as the only source of education. Joy and celebration work, too. We also know that Black women lift as they climb so I’d love to see more Black women in positions of thought-leadership and changemaking that is celebrated instead of being under constant critique — actually set these women up for success.

Mecca James-Williams

Mecca James-Williams  Erica Genece/WWD

Mecca James-Williams, MJW, stylist

WWD: What does Juneteenth mean to you and how do you recognize it?

M.J.W.: Juneteenth is a day to commemorate freedom, honor our ancestors, and commune as a community on a day that is sacred. Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the resilience of Black people, and educate future generations on our true history.

WWD: How do you feel about the racial climate this Juneteenth versus all that was happening last Juneteenth?

M.J.W.: Last year was a hard year for everyone. We all felt like we were fighting a justice war while trying to survive a pandemic. We all had to face hard questions on how we exist in America and how we deserve true freedom. This year I am focused solely on my peace, my family’s health and education, and celebrating a tradition without mainstream’s acknowledgement. I have released the notion of dedicating my time and energy focusing on systems that are no longer serving my greater good, and that includes educating people on history that they should already know.

WWD: How do you feel about how the fashion industry has responded to the callouts on racial inequity and lack of diversity among their staff?

M.J.W.: The fashion industry is a system that is rooted in capitalism and tokenism. Until we really conjure the industry to change the purpose to align more with art, culture and equity for everyone, we will continue to see performative steps versus innovative change.

WWD: Do you think fashion can get to a place where people of color are leading the charge in roles across the industry just as much as anyone else?

M.J.W.: I think it’s extremely important for people of color to have leadership roles to open up opportunities for us all to have success and tell untold stories. I also think it is really important for us to ensure we are taking positions and roles that aren’t rooted in tokenism and selectivity as well. It’s important we use these opportunities to rewrite a new narrative that vanguards the change we really need, and not be a token of inclusivity. The latter can also be detrimental.

Alexis Bennett

Alexis Bennett  Erica Genece/WWD

Alexis Bennett, writer, Vogue.com

WWD: What does Juneteenth mean to you and how do you recognize it?

A.B.: I’m the great great granddaughter of Percel and Viva Woods, who were both born into slavery and forced to pick beans from sunup to sundown. Juneteenth gives me a moment to reflect on the emancipation of my great great grandparents and 4 million others who were enslaved. It’s a reminder that I come from a long lineage of courageous survivors, and it’s also a symbol of the freedom that I now get to enjoy every single day.

WWD: How do you feel about the racial climate this Juneteenth versus all that was happening last Juneteenth?

A.B.: I’m so grateful that more and more people are becoming aware of Juneteenth. It’s the perfect moment for us all to acknowledge our nation’s dark history of slavery, which, sadly, is all too often swept under the rug. I feel optimistic because a lot of healing has taken place since last Juneteenth. Vital conversations are happening and — even more importantly — people are taking action, and that gives me hope.

WWD: How do you feel about how the fashion industry has responded to the call outs on racial inequity and lack of diversity among their staff?

A.B.: I am so grateful for all of the allies in the fashion industry. In just the last 12 months, I’ve seen an overwhelming shift toward racial equality and equity. But all of the issues that have been around for centuries won’t change overnight. It’s going to be a continuous work in progress, so I just want to encourage everyone to keep doing the work. Being an ally is a lifelong commitment and a responsibility that you have to decide to show up for every single day.

WWD: Do you think fashion can get to a place where people of color are leading the charge in roles across the industry just as much as anyone else?

A.B.: I absolutely believe that the fashion industry can get to a place where people of color are leading the charge. I hope it doesn’t sound cliché, but I have to be optimistic, especially since I have so much love for the industry. I know it is far from perfect, but I do have hope that lasting change will come. Maybe it won’t happen in my lifetime, but perhaps the next generation will get to reap the benefits of all the work that’s being done today.

WWD: What do you want to see change about the fashion industry?

A.B.: I would love to see the day when diversity, equity, and inclusion are the norm for the fashion industry. Right now, it’s often the subject of panel discussions, meetings and, sadly, sometimes feels like another “thing” that needs to be checked off of the to-do list. We have to evolve from talking about it to fully encompassing and being it.

Channing Hargrove, Antoine Gregory, Mecca James-Williams, Alexis Bennett and Dapper Dan

Channing Hargrove, Antoine Gregory, Mecca James-Williams, Alexis Bennett and Dapper Dan  Erica Genece/WWD