After weeks of intense pain and upheaval across America in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a white police officer, FN spoke to 13 influential black leaders open up about the power of protest, how they’re navigating a defining moment in history and why change is critical right now.
Below, in their own words, four of fashion’s leaders on the way forward for the footwear and fashion industries.
Aurora James, designer of Brother Vellies and founder of the 15 Percent Pledge
“Black people spend trillions of dollars in this country every year, but yet represent an insignificant fraction of how these companies allocate their purchasing power. I am asking these huge corporations to rethink their business strategy, as well as rethink business relationships in order to fairly represent the black community on their shelves. The support from these major retailers will help these brands grow when they are seeking outside investment or when they are walking into a bank. What we are asking is not that tough, and we are here to help these retailers attain that 15% with clear and attainable goals. First, they need to take stock of where they are and complete an audit of their business. Then they need to accept where they are at, own it and figure out how they got there. Last, they need to commit — commit to achieving a minimum of 15%, set a deadline to achieve this and put a system in play where they can be held accountable. It could take a few years, but we are here to help lay out that plan and strategy. And we have some of the most brilliant black minds on board to help make it happen.”
Heron Preston, designer
“Fashion and art’s inherent ability as a tool to capture what is happening in culture and quickly redefine ‘value’ means that our industry could help to drive the change we want to see forward. What we need to do is rise to the challenge and approach every aspect of our business with awareness. In design, we need more meaningful concepts. In our work environment, we need more diversity and inclusivity. In our marketing, we need more consideration about what messages we are promoting and who we are enlisting to promote those messages. In our giving back programs, we need to be more selective and involved. And we need consistency in all of this. Let’s not make this a performative marketing exercise. Let’s really do the work. Then we will see and feel change.”
Kesha McLeod, stylist and author
“In the beginning, I was feeling sad and anxiety-filled, but at the same time, I am using this time to reflect and be inspired by my people and do what I can do to pave the way for black women like me in my field. There is always beauty in pain. What I think companies should start doing is shining a light on their black contributors and creators within their organizations. I’ve watched and experienced friends and colleagues in the shoe industry and fashion industry doing so well within those companies and never get the acknowledgment for it. We know it; we see it, but let our efforts be equal. We are not asking for special treatment. We work hard, and our accolades should be equal to our white counterparts. Also, start to work with black talent, athletes and entertainers. And be more involved within the community and support various charities. Please don’t turn a blind eye to what’s going on with the world. I’m not saying our movement is more important than any other, nor am I comparing. It should be held in the same regard.”
Ade Samuel, stylist and shoe designer
“I’m feeling hopeful. I love seeing how the world is finally starting to pay attention and listen to black people who have been trying to educate them on the injustices and inequality that existed in our atmosphere for years. I love seeing white people on the frontline experiencing firsthand the reason why we chant ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Defund the Police.’ Personally, I am building. Exploring new ways to display my art in fashion while remaining authentic as a black woman. Professionally, I’m aligning with bigger initiatives to push the agenda for change within fashion.”
Seleen Saleh, photographer
“Many brands — and the fashion industry as a whole — have benefited from the inspiration of cultures across the globe, and especially black culture. I would like to see the narrative shift to a perspective from black creatives and have the stories told by them visually or otherwise. We all see the world from a very unique perspective, and shifting the perspective I believe would yield beautiful results. I would also like to see media globally hold space for more photographers of color, especially women.”