CFDA Study Highlights the Fashion Industry’s Progress on Diversity + the Hard Work Ahead

For the fashion industry, 2020 was a wake up call.

The space — which has long lacked diversity — faced more backlash last year as insiders banded together to call out inequality amid a national reckoning around race in America. As a result, many companies took a look within, launching initiatives to reckon with the past, according to a new joint study by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and PVH Corp.

In a survey of more than 1,000 industry employees, 60% of employees revealed that their companies have “undertaken internal or external DEI actions, with four in five believing that the response is authentic.” Additionally, 70% of survey participants believe that their companies “value the differences that people bring to the workplace.”

However, according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America and PVH Corp., there is more work to be done. The report also consists of data from fashion companies and their employees — as well as interviews from current fashion editors and a focus group of Black students, who desire a career in fashion. Through the interviews, one standout concern among Black respondents is that today’s movement is more of an industry trend than a long-term focus.

“Black is cool now, but what if in a few years racial equity is not at the top of the [fashion company’s] concerns? Will they tell me I can go now? I’m concerned about getting [into an entry-level fashion job], staying a few years, and then realizing that I’m very passionate about something I cannot do,” one Black student said.

Awareness & Access

There is a lack of information about fashion opportunities in underrepresented communities, the study states. “It’s hard for people of color to reach for opportunities they don’t even know about,” said a non-profit leader who works in fashion.

Further data shows that “almost half of respondents (48%) report receiving a referral to obtain their job, which disproportionately benefits white employees (57%), compared to Black employees, where less than a quarter (23%) were referred.” Essentially, companies, fashion schools, and associations have to do a better job at recruiting in underrepresented areas and making job opportunity information more readily available.

Additionally, a fair hiring process free from unconscious biases is crucial. A Latinx fashion executive shared: “There’s a pre-judgement that if you don’t grow up with rich things, you don’t know what luxury means.”

LGBTQ+ employees also report challenges when it comes to having access to the fashion industry.

Promotion & Advocacy

The study also explores a need to examine how and why there are not many people of color in leadership positions at certain fashion companies.

According to the study, employees of color feel their race/ethnicity has had a “negative impact” on receiving raises and promotions or that new opportunities are rarely given to BIPOC compared to their White colleagues. Employers of color also report “lower mentorship, particularly receiving advice during challenging times, and lower rates of consistent advocacy.”

Additionally, when a person of color is promoted there is often a feeling that they are being brought on to meet a quota. “I do know I was in some of these roles because I am a Black female,” one respondent said.


People of color being insufficiently compensated is also a consistent theme. Many fashion career hopefuls may end up getting their dream job, but face another barrier when the job forces them to struggle financially.

Data shows that 37% of Black employees report having to supplement their income versus 23% of white employees. Some respondents even reported having to chose practicality over their passion.

“I felt like I had to choose between doing what I wanted and doing something practical that pays so that I can live and eat. I can’t move from [another city] to New York City on $15 an hour,” said a Black student.


Lastly, many employees of color don’t feel a sense of community or belonging at their workplace. Black employees, specifically, spoke of incidents of “non-inclusive behavior.” Two in three Black employees experienced microaggressions or suffer from feeling they can’t be their “full self” at work.

“You get these jobs and you feel like you can’t talk the way that you talk… it’s a huge challenge. I’m going into the creative industry where individualism is celebrated, but that element of yourself doesn’t necessarily work for me as a Black woman,” a Black student said.

To read the full report, go here.

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