7 Powerful Quotes From Black Designers & Leaders on Inclusion, Diversity & Access in Fashion

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the observation of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a day of service to honor the life and legacy of the civil rights icon.

In addition to creating a pivotal reminder to engage in volunteerism and philanthropy, today — less than two weeks away from Black History Month — should encourage all of us to reflect on how we may advance King’s mission for equality year-round.

As fashion as a whole takes up a new diversity and inclusion mandate, its leaders may find MLK Day an apt reminder of the need to rededicate themselves to the larger mission of fostering equity at all levels in their respective firms.

Here, from the pages of FN, seven powerful quotes from black designers and leaders on inclusion, diversity and creating access.

On creating access:

“If I’m [considered] a first in my [industry] and I’m not addressing the issues that made it so hard for me to get here in the first place, I’m essentially closing the door behind me. I’m not making it any easier for anyone to come up and be the next me or bigger than me. Which is my goal: To see a whole generation of artists and designers who speak and look and feel this way come in in droves.” Kerby Jean-Raymond, Pyer Moss founder, Reebok Studies creative director, (FN December 2019)

kerby jean-raymond pyer moss
Kerby Jean-Raymond at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, N.Y. Photographed for FN.
CREDIT: Andy Boyle

“I’m cool with [brands attempting to be inclusive], because it creates an invitation for us to hold them accountable, because they made a concentrated effort — in their minds — to do something I’m assuming they thought was good for [the black community]. That means now we can ask them what else they plan to do that they think is good for [our community] — and keep holding them accountable [to those objectives].” D’Wayne Edwards, founder of Pensole Footwear Design Academy (FN October 2019)

On recognizing and overcoming setbacks:

“Picture you’re on a team: We all walk in — in most cases — as the only black person in that room. [What if you told] your all-white counterparts, ‘I want to kick all of y’all out the room’ and [replace you] with black people? It’s [impossible]. I don’t work in corporate America, but it’s a challenge. We always have to make sure people are comfortable with us. We always got to make sure we don’t say the wrong thing, don’t be too aggressive, don’t make them too nervous — if you do that, you may get kicked out of the room. But you still have to try to open a door for others as much you possibly can, but it’s just tough.” James Whitner, owner of the Whitaker Group (Social Status, A Ma Maniere) (FN June 2018)

James Whitner social status
James Whitner, owner of the Whitaker Group.
CREDIT: George Chinsee

On finding real solutions:

“What generally precludes design talent from within black communities being revealed and subsequently embraced by the industry is the lack of financial resources to develop product, market and socially promote their designs. Competitions offering exposure and financial rewards to talented design teams have been effective. Access to industry conferences and events where design talent can network with seasoned professionals and influencers is beneficial. Incubators such as those used in the technology industry might also be effective if the focus can be placed on design talent specifically from underserved communities.” Kendall Reynolds, Founder, Kendall Miles (FN February 2018)

Kendall Reynolds
Kendall Reynolds
CREDIT: Courtesy image

“When we look at the industry overall — whether it’s at the collegiate level, industry level or leadership level — we’re not seeing the representation coming out of schools to actually keep up with the demand that’s necessary for [the industry] to actually be representative of consumers. This] means that, from a recruiting perspective, we have to switch from this idea of demand-side recruiting, or simply put, a role becomes available and a recruiter sources against it and we ultimately hire a person. [We now tap into] more of a supply-side recruiting, where we begin to look at where there are great diverse [candidates] in the marketplace and [then figure out] how can we find opportunities for them in the company.” Jarvis Sam, Sr., director of sourcing and diversity recruitment programs at Nike (FN August 2019)

On the value of diversity:

“It’s not about harping on the fact that [black executives] aren’t [at certain companies]; it’s what [their absence] means for the business. Not having diverse insights about a product, the consumer [and] the brand, [means] the brand suffers. The challenge for me is when I hear brands saying that they want to win and pummel their competition — the first thing is creating an inclusive environment so you’re understanding the highs and lows and ebbs and flows of all of your consumers.” Coltrane Curtis, founder and managing partner at Team Epiphany (FN June 2018)

Coltrane Curtis
Coltrane Curtis
CREDIT: Courtesy

“In order to move the needle, we have to break the needle: [Leaders] need to understand that diversity is not only a good thing to do but it is essential to the bottom line. When you can make a case for [inclusion] and leaders start to understand [the importance] of diversity, they’ll start to put some goals and metrics behind it. It won’t be fluff [and] it won’t be ‘I’ll just hire this head of diversity.’ There will be resources and time committed and [key performance indicators] that are affiliated with it. It’s not just going to be ‘a check the box.’” Darla DeGrace, founder and diversity, equity and inclusion strategist at DeGrace Group (FN August 2019)

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to mark the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the observance expected to begin in 1986. In 1994, Congress designated the holiday a national day of service, steered by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

 Want More?

Black History Month Op-Ed: Recognizing Unsung Heroes & Paying it Forward

Black History Month Op-Ed: From Blackface to Nooses in Fashion, Why Enough Is Enough

21 Powerful Quotes About Diversity, Overcoming Stereotypes & Breaking Into Fashion

Access exclusive content