As businesses and organizations across the country are evaluating how they engage with the black community and to what extent they employ members, the Council of Fashion Designers of America has unveiled several initiatives.

Protests have been held across the U.S. in recent days in response to the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who had been under police control in Minneapolis. All four of the former Minneapolis officers have since been charged.

Creating an in-house employment program “specifically charged” with placing black talent in all sectors of the industry to help make it racially balanced is one of the key actions. The CFDA will also create a mentorship program and an internship program designed to place students and recent graduates with established companies in the fashion sector.

The CFDA is also going to implement a diversity and inclusion training program that will be available to its members. The group is also making immediate contributions and will take up fund-raising activities to support organizations that work toward equality for the black community. The NAACP and Campaign Zero and other organizations will receive support from the CFDA.

The fashion industry has for years been criticized for its lack of support for black designers, and the absence of black executives in leading roles at major companies, both in the fashion sector and in retailing. Despite past initiatives aimed at increasing diversity, the fact remains that the vast majority of executives at leading firms are white, and often male, while there are few black designers in senior positions at leading brands.

In a letter dated June 4, CFDA chairman Tom Ford informed the membership during Tuesday’s board meeting: “Given the deplorable acts of racism and violence that we have seen play out in our country over the past week, our response as an organization was first and foremost on our minds and in our hearts. Black people in this country are reeling from years of injustice stemming from institutional constructs such as slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, police brutality and economic and voter suppression. The black community is experiencing anger and frustration on top of the effects of the global pandemic that has hit communities of color the hardest.”

Ford noted how speaking out against racial injustice, bigotry and hatred is the first step “but that is not enough.”

In closing, Ford wrote, “We urge each and every member of the CFDA to take stock of their corporate structure to ensure that they have a racially balanced workforce, and we challenge the retail sector of the fashion industry to ensure that their roster of brands and their product assortment is representative of the black talent within the industry.”

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