Black History Month 2020: Your Diversity Is Your Superpower

Your time is now.

If you are a black designer, would-be fashion practitioner, entrepreneur or aspiring to any breakout role in this industry, the stage has never been more primed to welcome your talents and ambition.

Things are shifting.

An industry that once embraced your aesthetic, but not necessarily you, and readily heralded your ability to be a muse, but rarely the artist — is readying itself for change.

How did we get here?

Whether fashion’s traditional gatekeepers are finding their motivation out of fear and a bottom line increasingly impacted by the woke-as-ever black dollar or sincere acknowledgement of the need to do better, be better and make room for that which is better, this probably matters less than you might think.

Fashion and popular cultures’ most transformative leaders and trailblazers often did two critical things: They relentlessly kicked down unopened doors. and they walked deservedly through the ones that were already open.

In the past year, storied department stores like Macy’s and boldface fashion houses such as Gucci, Prada and Burberry have unveiled new and arguably more ambitious diversity and inclusion goals — complete with measurable KPIs. They’ve also charged key stakeholders — chief diversity officers like Macy’s Shawn Outler — with the duty of executing those objectives.

Designers like Pyer Moss founder Kerby Jean-Raymond, who declared during our December interview at the historic Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, “I’m not speaking to anyone besides us,” are finding marked success in art and messaging that are unapologetically black.

Since 2006, Liberian American designer Telfar Clemens has built his non-gendered fashion label with inclusivity as its centerpiece — and his GQ coronation as the King of New York Fashion Week along with his wildly successful “Bushwick Burkin” are proof of the hurdles that he’s cleared. Baton Rouge-born Christopher John Rogers last year won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s top prize.

Aurora James, Brother Vellies creative director and FN’s 2015 Vivian Infantino Emerging Talent winner, created her label with the singular purpose of preserving traditional African design practices and techniques while creating and sustaining artisanal jobs. Her designs have been worn by Beyoncé, Solange, Zendaya and Winnie Harlow.

The inimitable Virgil Abloh — who rose to fame as Kanye West’s creative director then the force behind his own Off-White — in 2018 became Louis Vuitton’s first African American menswear designer.

As we take stock of the footwear and fashion industries, is there work that remains on the diversity and inclusion front?

Absolutely.

Should we hire, promote and support more people of color across all areas of fashion?

No doubt about it.

Will fashion practitioners worry that if they lean too deeply into their blackness they’ll be judged or relegated to the “black” product or project beat?

Yes, that too.

But, I’d argue that at this moment, if you are a talented person of color in this industry, the edict and the proof are abundantly clear: You are unstoppable.

Your creativity, your hard-earned knowledge, skills and education, and your persistence have made you worthy of your calling.

And, your diversity — your heritage and unique perspective — is your inalienable superpower.

Join us over the next few weeks as we shine a spotlight on voices who have leaned into their authentic selves to drive change in our industry. You’ll get to know veterans like 12-year New Balance executive Portia Blunt: As director of apparel operations, she spearheaded the team that designed the brand’s first Black History Month capsule collection, launched in January. And rising stars like Bimma Williams, Nike’s global entertainment manager, who created and hosts the professional development podcast Claima Stories (the name stands for “claim a seat at the table”), which invites leaders across the industry to share advice on how minorities can advance their careers.

Also, this year, FN commissioned black New Jersey-based artist Briana Woodbury-Spencer to design the 2020 Black History Month Spotlight logo. Drawing on the theme Diversity as a Superpower, Woodbury-Spencer painted her interpretation of black unity and empowerment.

It’s time to celebrate: Happy Black History Month from FN.

Sheena Butler Young
Sheena Butler-Young, FN Deputy Editor.
CREDIT: FN Archives

Want More? 

Take a look at some of our Black History Month profiles from years past.

Black History Month Spotlight: Damion Presson Left a Six-Figure Salary for an Entry-Level Job at Reebok — Why He Has No Regrets

Black History Month Spotlight: Athletic-Industry Marketing Powerhouse Adrienne Lofton

Black History Month Spotlight: How Eric Wise Turned His Love of Kicks & Culture Into a Career at Adidas

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