Consumers Care About Diversity & Inclusion — and They Want Companies to Own Up to Their Mistakes

Diversity is likely among the most-discussed topics for fashion brands and retailers right now. But it isn’t just a buzzword: Consumers are now increasingly making their shopping choices based on a brand’s approach to diversity and inclusion.

According to a First Insight, Inc. report released today, over half of U.S. consumers said having women and minorities in senior leadership positions was important — with 52% of women and 54% of men saying that companies should hire chief diversity officers. Roughly half of Americans surveyed (48% of men and 45% of women) said cultural inclusivity was important.

First Insight also surveyed British shoppers, who reported slightly lower numbers in the same categories. Roughly 39% of U.K. women said it was important to hire women and minorities for senior leadership roles — with 36% saying cultural inclusivity mattered. (For British men, those numbers were 43% and 44%, respectively.)

As D&I dominates fashion industry discussions, luxury brands have beefed up their initiatives. Gucci named Renée E. Tirado its first-ever global head of diversity, equity and inclusion in July, while Prada announced a diversity council with Ava DuVernay and Theaster Gates as co-chairs in February. Just this month, French luxury conglomerate Kering appointed Kalpana Bagamane Denzel chief diversity, inclusion and talent officer.

Fast-fashion and athletic brands have also taken steps to improve their D&I. In 2018, H&M selected Annie Wu as its global leader of diversity and inclusiveness and Nike installed Kellie Leonard as its first chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Notably, many of the brands that have taken steps toward diversity and inclusivity have done so in response to scandal. For instance, Gucci came under fire in May for selling an $800 “Indy Full Turban” resembling a religious article of clothing for Sikhs, as well as in February for selling an $890 balaclava sweater that consumers said looked like blackface iconography. Meanwhile, Prada’s Otto character sparked backlash in December 2018, as many deemed its appearance similar to blackface. And Burberry took heat when it sent a model out at its fall ’19 show wearing a hoodie that featured a drawstring, resembling a noose.

Per First Insight’s data, while American and British consumers differ in the level of importance they assign to diversity in company leadership, both groups want to see accountability in the wake of brand missteps. In the U.S., 83% of women and 77% of men said they expect an immediate apology for an offensive design, compared with 86% of women and 74% of men across the pond. More than half of both U.K. and U.S. women (58% and 55%, respectively) would temporarily boycott a brand that’s released an offending product, versus 42% of American men and 47% of British men.

“Diversity and inclusivity are growing in importance in retail across the world,” said First Insights CEO Greg Petro. “With countless retailers and brands continuing to make significant missteps by selling offensive designs, it will be incredibly important that brands listen to their customers, test products at the early stages of the development process, and bring in a more diverse base of talent at every level of the organization to ensure products will resonate with their customers.”

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