Two Fashion Industry Leaders Are Holding Companies Accountable on Their Diversity Efforts

As nationwide unrest surrounding racial injustice continues, two fashion industry thought leaders are demanding companies within the space do better by Black professionals. To ensure progress is made, they have created a council to hold businesses accountable.

The Black in Fashion Council, created by Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner and communications consultant Sandrine Charles, was founded to help the advancement of Black men and women in the fashion and beauty industry. However, the group isn’t intended to simply call out companies who may be underperforming. Instead, the goal is to encourage stepping up to deliver long-term change for the better.

To accomplish this, the Black in Fashion Council has outlined a set of lofty goals once it launches next month, starting with asking companies to work with the council for three years and commit to the inclusion of Black people within their organizations.

The Black in Fashion Council will subsequently issue a three-month progress report and survey executives in order to evaluate the council’s four pillars (Human Resources, Talent Inclusion, Support and Corporate Spend). Those findings will lead to the eventual release of a company’s Quality Index Score Report.

Despite the heavy lifting to get the council up and running, Charles said she is optimistic and confident change for the better will come. “In recent weeks, I feel inspired,” Charles said. “Lindsey and I have been having amazing conversations with our peers and industry leaders, and I really think that we have a great chance of making incredible change.”

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For Peoples Wagner, the effort to get the Black in Fashion Council off the ground has already been worth it.

“My eyes are always on the prize, and the prize is inclusivity in a real way in this industry,” she said. “It’s a lot of things at one time, but we’re doing really important work and I’m happy with the strides that we’re making.”

Below, Charles and Peoples Wagner discuss the goals of the council and the difference between “accountability culture” and “cancel culture.”

What is the Black in Fashion Council? 

Sandrine Charles: “The counsel of the collaborative collective of industry professionals. Essentially we are looking to create systematic change to ensure long-term change among various categories in our industry. We’re trying to encourage people in the industry to rise to the occasion. While we noticed that a lot of other times people are being called out, we actually want to be partners in change. With strategy, realistic timelines and commitment, we are looking to align with brands and companies moving forward.”

What are the goals of the council?

Lindsay Peoples Wagner: “We split it up into different areas based on everyone’s expertise, their platform, influence and network of where they’re at in the industry and how they could be best used as a resource to everyone else. The biggest thing that I’ve been telling everyone is that I always think of myself as trying to be a ladder and pull up other Black people behind me. What we’re trying to do in this is make that collective experience a reality for everyone, so that if you were a new designer and you’re like, ‘I really need help with funding, where do I go? Who do I talk to?’ You would be able to have resources and contacts and actual help. And we’re trying to make sure that brands are actually being held accountable and making progress forward. All of the executive board members are people who are gonna be liaising with these brands, industry stakeholders and companies, who say, ‘We’ve worked with you before, we love fashion, here’s the specific changes that need to happen.’ In the past, there’ve been too many blanket statements of ‘We need inclusivity and we need progression,’ but there are so many specific, nuanced changes that need to happen if you’re an editor versus being a stylist versus being an influencer.”

How, if at all, have recent events accelerated the launch?

SC: “I don’t think that recent events have accelerated us launching this. Lindsay wrote an amazing piece for The Cut two years ago, and I was one of the people included in the final story, which were accounts from Black people of their experience in the fashion industry. This has been something that has been in fruition way before that story. Lindsay and I are very strategic people. We don’t want to just say things. We want to work on results. This was an opportunity for us to align with our peers, create a strategy and an advisory board, and come up with a plan that can work for every brand and company to promote and enhance their equality system internally — and externally. I think that it applies for how they work with their teams, what agencies and partners do they hire and where this moves forward.”

LPW: “It’s been something that we’ve been having conversations about, but that’s kind of the point of doing it now, because there’ve been so many siloed conversations about the progression of Black people in fashion. And what we want to do is [create] an open forum and have these conversations together. Let’s have these conversations not just with our friends but with other people in the industry we may not be as close with, so that we can move forward and [find] strength in numbers and a sense of unity.”

What is the difference between cancel culture and accountability culture?

LPW: “What we’ve experienced in fashion is already presenting the narratives of what it is like to be black in fashion and in calling out brands. A lot of the conversations that specifically Sandrine and I have had is, ‘Where’s the longevity in this? How do we move forward from just saying X, Y and Z brand, you didn’t do this, or you put out this bad campaign. How do we make sure that there’s long, sustainable change?’ That’s the idea for us building relationships with the Black in Fashion Council, with [companies signing] on to work with the council for three years, having direct connections with the board, being part of an equality corporate index to have a fair way of saying that you want to be held accountable. But it’s more so presented as a progress report. We’re not shaming you and saying we’re canceling and we’re not going to support this brand. Instead, it’s ‘We want to work with you and give you the tools and resources and have these conversations, where you don’t feel like you have to be on the defense.’ And then let’s assess where you are, assess where the industry is [and find] the areas where you’re doing really well and the areas where you have to improve. That encourages people to want to change and want to rise to the occasion instead of being shamed into it.”

What resources will the council provide to companies to help them initiate change?

LPW: “A lot of different things will be announced, but it’s too soon for us to tell the public. We are focused on making sure that there will be resources for people not only in the industry, but also within the council, for mentoring and coming together, so anyone from an assistant to an executive feels like they’re part of this movement. One of the things that we have talked about is building a directory allowing brands and companies and stakeholders to purchase, so if they’re looking for a new stylist or new people in the industry, they can hire for a certain project. That way there isn’t a block of ‘we don’t know who to hire’ anymore. We’re trying to narrow down the list of what [resources] make the most sense.”

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