The Fashion Industry’s Failed Response to the Black Lives Matter Movement

While the Instagram feeds of fashion newcomers and stalwarts alike were awash with black squares and motivational quotes on Tuesday, BRICKS questions the sincerity of this support.

IMAGE Shot by Carlos Montilla for BRICKS Issue #6 The Body Issue.

There’s been no shortage of reactions to the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota by police officers last Monday. Floyd, followed by Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade were all victims of police brutality within the space of three days in the US. 

The murders, and the lack of justice for victims and their families, has sparked outrage online and seen protesters take to the street in all 50 states and across the globe, including here in London. Those unable to join protests, many due to the coronavirus pandemic, instead spread awareness over social media, with posts featuring black businesses and brands to support, advice for protesters and education on anti-racism.

The fashion industry, like many, was quick to join the social media rally and pledge support to the Black Lives Matter movement. While most chose to limit their support only to their Instagram feeds, some brands including H&M, Spanx, Gap, Ganni, Collina Strada, ASAI, and LuluLemon have announced donations to the Black Lives Matter movement, bail funds for protesters and other black charities. 

At the time of publishing, Gucci is the only major luxury fashion brand, other than those owned by black designers, that has promised to donate (albeit an unspecified amount) via their North America Changemakers Impact Fund to the charities @naacp, a grassroots-based civil rights organization, @campaignzero, who are fighting to end police violence and @knowyourrightscamp.

But for many, this social media display was far from comforting – it only takes a few minutes to have a quick think back and remember some of the controversial design scandals we have seen from the likes of Gucci and that turtleneck, or Prada and that monkey keychain, for those cute Instagram illustrations and hashtags to fall short. 

Founder and creative director of creative agency, Superimpose, Ollie Danger took to his Instagram story to share: “to brands, platforms and institutions a simple Instagram press release with empty words won’t cut it. It’s time to take immediate honest public action. No place to hide.”

Others chose a more direct route for discussion. BRICKS cover star and community member Munroe Bergdorf provided her followers with a compelling testimony of hypocrisy calling out beauty giant L’Oreal’s ‘speaking out is worth it’ post on Instagram. In 2017, The billion-dollar company dropped Munroe as an ambassador and model for speaking out about racial issues. She writes “Fuck you. Fuck your ‘solidarity’. Where was my support when I spoke out? Where was my apology? I’m disgusted and writing this in floods of tears and shaking. This is gaslighting.”

In a second post, Munroe gives L’Oreal 48 hours to respond before continuing. “It cannot be reduced to a series of corporate trends by brands like L’Oreal who have no intention of actually doing the work to better themselves or taking ownership of their past mistakes or conscious acts of racial bias…Speaking out can’t only be “worth it” when you’re white. Black voices matter.” 

Brands also owned by L’Oreal include: Dark & Lovely, Garnier, Maybelline, NYX, Essie, Lancôme, Kiehls, Urban Decay, Ralph Lauren, Biotherm, La Roche Posay, Kerastase, Clarisonic, YSL and Giorgio Armani. 

It did not take long for Monroe’s supporters to point out that, when Notre Dame cathedral caught fire last year, L’Oreal were quick to pledge 200 million euros. The comparison of the industry’s financial support for the rebuilding for Notre Dame versus that of Black Lives Matter donations has been repeated numerous times throughout this week’s discourse.

“It’s ridiculous to think, for even one second, that international brands like these are happy openly showing that they care more about buildings than black lives,” says fashion stylist Goldie Sampson.

Industry watchdog Diet Prada has also shown concern at the industry’s lack of sincerity, drawing attention to a comment from celebrity stylist and creative director Jason Bolden calling out French label Celine in which he says “@celine wait really, you guys don’t dress any black celebs unless they have a white stylist”. 

Upon inspection, Celine’s Instagram grid has not seen a black model since June 2019. Diet Prada continued their research by publishing Celine’s runway model diversity statistics: Spring 2019: 6% (6 out of 96 exits), Fall 2019 Men’s: 8% (5 out of 66 exits), Fall 2019 Womenswear: 12% (7 out of 59 exits), Spring 2020 Menswear: 6% (3 out of 51 exits), Spring 2020 Womenswear: 9% (6 out of 64 exits), Fall 2020: 9% (10 out of 111 exits).

We took it upon ourselves to further investigate the runway statistics of brands sharing social media posts via The Fashion Spot’s Diversity Show Report. The report saw a 1% drop in runway racial diversity during the AW20 season, but has been on a general upwards trajectory since it began in SS15. However, this upwards trend is largely due to emerging designers in London and New York, not the heritage brands that call themselves industry leaders. The worst-offending fashion house was Chanel, with a measly 5.5% of models being non-white.

This is not news to any of us – or at least, it shouldn’t be. Despite major labels announcing ‘sensitivity training’ or hiring diversity chiefs, the industry’s biggest names are not impressing young consumers, who have blasted the brands’ failures online.

If we support black businesses, and more importantly stop supporting brands that obviously don’t give a shit about us, then we’ll see the industry that we want.

The easiest solution? Stop supporting them, says Sampson. “Stop buying magazines that don’t feature black faces, don’t buy clothes from brands that don’t use black models – it really isn’t that hard,” she says. “What with the pandemic going on right now and everything as well, lots of companies are going to have a hard time bouncing back financially, and some will definitely go bankrupt. It’s important for people to remember that we get to choose, as consumers of their products, which companies stay in business. If we support black businesses, and more importantly stop supporting brands that obviously don’t give a shit about us, then we’ll see the industry that we want. It’s our time.”