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.

A jarring reminder of the multiplici . ty of racism came in July when the designer Stella Jean called out the Italian fashion community not just for tokenism, but also for deep-seated racism that led to a dearth of black designers from showing their work at Milan fashion week. After months of campaigning, she coordinated a show, We Are Made in Italy, on the final day of September’s Milan show, which highlighted black Italian fashion designers for the first time. “The misconception that to be Italian is to be white must be countered,” she said beforehand. “Fashion should not miss this opportunity to tune into the actual truth of this country, which is multicultural.”

Jean said that the We Are Made in Italy show was for the “ignored minorities” of fashion creatives. “Most of the designers to be presented at Milan fashion week cannot afford to design full time. They hold day jobs and have tried for years to submit [their work], but [they have had] no answer.” She added that there was an “unrealistic lack of opportunity” for black-owned fashion companies in Italy “beyond the catwalk”

This year was an important one for revelation and culpability, but there is a very real fear that this moment of learning will pass. “I feel the severe urgency of brands to act now,” says Binns. “To embrace the importance of cultural understanding and to apply full-on diversity in the workplace on every level,” she says. “And no, not just a few sprinkles of dust, but to take on the responsibility of equal opportunity throughout their companies.”

Jenkins thinks that the harder work comes in tackling the structural problems, for which companies are not prepared. “Beyond pursuing diverse teams, companies playing on the global stage need to have education programmes in place that equip executives and mid-level employees with historical, cultural and sociopolitical perspectives,” she says. “Once someone is educated and aware, they should be able to pursue and attract diversity and it can be relied on as a preventative measure to avoid a crisis. I look to leaders to take this on and participate, rather than offloading this labour on diversity and inclusion officers or their racialised employees.”

• This article was amended on 21 December 2020. The photo of Stella Jean was taken in Rome, not Milan as the caption originally stated; and the subheading was corrected to refer to the death of George Floyd as a killing, not a murder as this has not been legally established.