Dear Fashion Industry, This Historic Inauguration Day Could Be the Start of Your Own Equality Revolution — Don’t Mess This Up

In 2021, thankfully, most forward-thinking diversity and inclusion strategists now recognize that effective D&I policy goes far beyond “box-checking.”

But on this historic inauguration day, as Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court justice, issued the vice presidential oath to Vice President Kamala Harris, a daughter of immigrants and the first Black and South Asian woman to occupy the office, if ever there was a time to be proud of box-checking, ladies and gentlemen, we have found it.

For the fashion industry, it marks an unparalleled moment to see the creations of young, Black and women designers on a national political stage: For instance, today Harris opted for a bright blue look courtesy of Christopher John Rogers, a Black-owned fashion brand. Last night, she wore a custom coat by Pyer Moss, a label founded by Kerby Jean-Raymond, the Black designer and activist who made headlines for embracing the Black Lives Matter movement on the runway well before it became trendy to do so.

kamala harris, jill biden, joe biden, 2021 inauguration
Vice President Kamala Harris with husband Doug Emhoff and President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, before their swearing in. The VP has often favored wearing shades of purple to honor Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president, in 1972.

Meanwhile, first lady Jill Biden today chose an all-blue ensemble that layered a coordinating shimmering tweed coat over a matching dress dreamed up by young, independent, female designer Alexandra O’Neill of New York-based label Markarian.

joe biden, jill biden, church, catholic, mass, inauguration day, dc, service
President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle during Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

Pick your diversity. It’s probably here.

Almost every facet of uniqueness, individuality — and, yes, oppression — is being represented today.

As millions of Americans struggle with the various pressures borne of the coronavirus pandemic — which has disproportionately hurt women, essential workers, educators and people of color — Harris enters the White House with a blended family and Jill Biden brings a decades long career as a teacher.

In the words of the 46th President of the United States of America: “Don’t tell me things can’t change.”

For fashion purveyors, today marks a new day to respond to a heightened challenge and mandate: How can we make meaningful progress on diversity and inclusion?

How can we tap into fashion’s platform and influence to move the needle?

Fashion should be on the frontlines of driving the policies that protect and uplift its most fervent muses, creatives and supporters: Black people, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants and women.

It has not.

When it comes to legislation, fashion’s impact can be far reaching. Just today, President Biden signed an executive order that immediately protects Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

The legislation, which gets the ball rolling on immigration reform, will help the 700,000 plus DACA beneficiaries, thousands of whom work in the retail industry as frontline workers amid the COVID-19 health crisis.

Has fashion stepped up enough to fight for immigrants? What other legislation can the industry get behind?

Just two years ago, Jean-Raymond at his September 2019 New York Fashion Week show, against the backdrop of Black church, a sermon and a performance by a gospel choir, paid homage to Black women. Last night, the Vice President of the United States wore his designs.

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

This is historic: But if fashion does the work, someday very soon, this could be just normal.

How do we get there?

There is no blueprint. And inclusion is not a destination to which we can necessarily arrive.

But history has taught us that there are steps that chip away at injustice and move us toward long-lasting progress: We must do our part to hire, promote and help retain Black talent at all levels of fashion organizations; make space for Latinx designers; enlist women-owned PR firms for major red carpet events; advocate for policies that help immigrants; and welcome LGBTQ people into a full range of fashion jobs, including at sneaker brands.

We must dig our heels in and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We must all ask and answer tough questions about our own complicity in supporting a system that has for so long been oppressive to minorities.

Have we done enough to fix it?

The answer is “no.”

Check that box, too.

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