This month, fashion’s unofficial watchdog, Diet Prada, posted a “how it started versus how it’s going” meme on Instagram. Contrasting a past moment of hope with a current moment of reckoning, Diet Prada turned its attention to the US clothing and homeware store Anthropologie.
The first picture was a screengrab from the brand’s official Instagram account, showing a pledge to diversify its workforce, written after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the spring. A second screengrab showed the lineup for a series of Christmas virtual workshops – styling sessions, baking demonstrations and candle-making sessions run by blond, white women.
At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, former employees of Anthropologie claimed the store had a history of racially profiling shoppers, which made the company’s proclamations feel performative and hypocritical. There have been racial reckonings elsewhere online: the editor of the entertainment website Refinery29 resigned after staff claimed they had experienced discrimination at the company; the founder of the fashion blog Man Repeller said she would “step back” after criticism of her company’s response to systemic racism; and the beauty brand Glossier faced criticism from employees who claimed the company failed to support black workers.
As Diet Prada pointed out, this was not a good look for Anthropologie. But have other fashion companies followed through in their commitments to diversity?
“The first lesson is realising that racism and discrimination aren’t something that dissolves once you tire of it, or once it’s out of the headlines,” says Kimberly Jenkins, the director of the Fashion and Race Database. “I am waiting to see what evolves over the course of 2021 and 2022, because many companies are in the preliminary stages of starting this deep work, which will be carried out in stages,” she says. “I remain optimistic, because companies should know that they will lose oxygen and relevance if they still can’t grasp cultural intelligence.”
Karen Binns, the director of Fashion Roundtable, is similarly optimistic. She cites the British Fashion Council’s Diversity and Inclusion panel, Room Mentoring, the Bold Agency and British Vogue’s editor, Edward Enninful, as being important change-makers, who have committed to the concept of changing structural racism in the fashion industry. “Every issue of Vogue has been a testament to [Enninful’s] complete stand on all forms of diversity and inclusion,” Binns says. High-profile examples have included his “face of hope” September issue featuring Marcus Rashford, putting Rihanna in a durag, and placing key workers on the cover during the summer of the pandemic. “He has made more awareness of it than any other fashion publication,” she says. Still, even Enninful encountered racial profiling at work. There is no irony here, just an everyday reminder of what being black in the fashion industry means.