But the competition was more friend than foe Thursday morning, the start of New York Fashion Week, as they gathered here in Tapestry’s Hudson Yards headquarters to talk about the importance of inclusion in the fashion industry.
“We are all much stronger in what we do, the more we’re able to have each one of us in this room and within our various organizations feel very comfortable expressing ourselves, bringing our best selves to our workplaces,” Zeitlin told more than 100 of fashion’s finest.
The breakfast event marked Tapestry pledge to the “Open to All” campaign, a nationwide anti-discrimination initiative run by Movement Advancement Project, or MAP, a nonprofit and think tank that works to promote equality. Founding members of the campaign included the likes of Old Navy, Banana Republic, Intermix and Levi Strauss & Co., in addition to other non-fashion brands.
But today, leaders from Capri Holdings, Hudson’s Bay Co., Zara, PVH Corp., Movado Group, Tiffany & Co., Rag & Bone and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, among others, came to make the pledge to combat discrimination as they mingled with the newly appointed chief executive officer of the Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman parent company, sipped on biodegradable boxes of water and snapped photos.
The occasion also marked Zeitlin’s first public comments after succeeding Victor Luis as the new ceo of Tapestry only a day earlier.
“This is a great event to talk about engagement and celebrate the power of inclusivity, the important of diversity across our various organizations,” said Zeitlin, who spent 13 years on the company’s board and the last five as chairman. “The environment that we all live in today, [this is] something that is worth, not just privately celebrating, but publicly celebrating.
“We have at least 20 different organizations, which is a really powerful statement about our industry and about the values of our industry,” he continued. “Clearly, having us all together is even more powerful than opposed to having us in our individual corners, pushing forward various initiatives.”
Open to All was started two years ago and has since grown to include more than 5,000 businesses and 200 civil rights and racial justice organizations.
“It’s a very cool effort,” said Marc Metrick, president of Saks Fifth Avenue. “This is something that has been out there for a long time. And it’s great that the industry is going to take it a little bit more seriously and bring it to the forefront.”
In addition to Open to All, Tapestry’s efforts for inclusion incorporate awareness around Pride Month, International Women’s Day and Black History Month.
Metrick added that companies and brands need to also consider inclusion among its customer base, which includes everything from diverse marketing campaigns, photography and stores.
“This is a moment where major brands across America are sending a message that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you’re from, no matter what your individual style or expression is, we welcome you,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director for MAP and campaign manager for Open to All. “Open to All is so much more than a non-discrimination campaign. We see it as a campaign to transform America. At a time when it seems like all we see is our divisions, we want to build a thriving, inclusive, competitive America, where everyone is welcome.”
She added that diversity and inclusion does more than just boost company morale — it’s good for business too. Two-thirds of Millennials prefer to buy products from companies and brands that share their values, or that are involved in some kind of social good, according to Mushovic.
“When Americans fall in love with certain brands or styles, they also care about what those brands stand for,” Mushovic said.
Zeitlin’s diversity can’t be ignored either. In addition to the fact that he is part of a very small group of African-American ceo’s — the numbers get even smaller among fashion and retail ceo’s — Zeitlin has an interesting background.
Born in Nigeria and later adopted by Russian-Jewish immigrants, he spent many years in what he called “Muslim-majority” countries.
“So, on one level, I am a completely confused individual,” Zeitlin said. “But at another level, I really, hopefully, do get it. That the really important part is ultimately making sure each of us have the confidence and the comfort to be able to express ourselves and to be able to bring everything that we have in us to the table.”