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How Brands and Retailers Are Tackling Diversity — Both Within and Beyond Their Organizations

Following a year marked by national unrest over racial inequity, a number of retailers, fashion groups and footwear brands are taking a new approach to celebrating Black History Month.

Beyond product launches and collaborations with Black talent, companies like Gap, Neiman Marcus and Walmart are upping the ante on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives by donating millions of dollars in product and funds to nonprofits, addressing representation within their own organizations and committing to allocate shelf space for Black-owned brands, among other moves.

The renewed attention on racial equality comes at a time of heightened crises — not the least of which includes the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on minorities and people of color, as well as the social justice movement that followed the fatal police shootings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020.

As the country observes the start of Black History Month, here’s how retail players are bringing more attention to the many contributions — fashion and otherwise — of the Black community.

Bombas

This month, Bombas launched its first edition of the Black Hive collection, a series of eight gender-neutral sock styles designed and modeled by the Black Hive, a collective of Black-identifying Bombas employees. The group consists of staff members from an array of departments, including members who are creators, designers and engineers as well as those who work in customer support, marketing, merchandising and PR.

Retailing for $12, the collection is available on Bombas.com. Continuing on with the brand’s One Purchased = One Donated efforts, Bombas is donating $100,000 to four organizations selected by The Black Hive. Organizations include A Second U Foundation, Sister’s CircleNational Bail Fund Network and The Marsha P. Johnson Institute. The launch is anticipated to be the first of many collections to come from Bombas’ Black Hive, with the goal of creating products designed to evoke Black excellence.

Capri Holdings

In its third-quarter earnings release, Capri Holdings Ltd. announced that it has established The Capri Holdings Foundation for the Advancement of Diversity in Fashion. The luxury group — parent to Michael Kors, Versace and Jimmy Choo — shared that it has donated $20 million to the organization to foster and support programs designed to promote equality in the fashion industry, with a focus on underrepresented communities.

“While the world is experiencing many difficulties, our values as an organization are more important than ever,” chairman and CEO John Idol said in a statement. “We aspire for fashion to be open to all and are doing our part to create a more inclusive industry.”

CFDA

The Council of Fashion Designers of America is set to launch IMPACT, an initiative aimed at helping create opportunities for historically underrepresented and unsupported communities in fashion. The organization announced that IMPACT, which was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, would allow it to identify, connect, support and nurture Black and Brown creatives and professionals, as well as serve as a blueprint for other industries to follow. The CFDA will debut IMPACT with a talent directory powered by job platform Creatively on Feb. 26. Through the program, it will be able to connect its 450-plus members, companies, institutions, university partners and industry professionals to full- or part-time jobs, freelance opportunities and paid internships.

“This work is essential to the future of American fashion, which must be diverse, equitable and inclusive,” CFDA president CaSandra Diggs said in a statement. “The CFDA is proud to take the lead in this important effort for the industry and beyond. We launch IMPACT with a specific focus on widening talent pipelines and advancing career development for Black and Brown creatives and professionals. In the future, we will further the initiative to also address other inequities within the fashion system.”

DTLR

As part of its “Mission 1865” pledge, DTLR Villa LLC is celebrating Black History Month with multiple nationwide community outreach programs throughout February. This year, its campaign includes raising awareness for allocating funds to support local Black-owned businesses in cities like Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Miami and Richmond, Va. Additionally, it will host a social media contest to highlight the works of dozens of Black creatives, including painters, musicians and photographers. To enter for their chance to win supplies like paint sets or photography classes, artists are invited to post their work on social media with the tag @daretoliveright and the hashtag #Mission1865.

According to the company, the “Mission 1865” campaign is inspired by the year that the 13th Amendment was passed and ratified by Congress to abolish slavery. It aims to provide opportunities and experiences for communities to learn about and celebrate African American history and culture.

Forever 21

Forever 21 launched its first omnichannel campaign and partnership collection for Black History Month. It marks the first, large-scale cultural campaign for the company as its new CEO Daniel Kulle — who is the former president of H&M — makes a public-facing push on his commitment to diversity. Forever 21 said the collection was pioneered by Black leaders throughout all aspects of the company and is in partnership with Black creatives Ashley Walker, Henry Jones and Stormy Nesbit who will receive proceeds of the sales. Items in the collection retail from $12.99-$32.99.

The campaign also focuses on uplifting BIPOC creatives and their communities through virtual pop-ups focused on leveraging Forever 21’s channels to amplify BIPOC designers and merchants. The company is also making donations as well as entering into a long-term mentoring partnership with Los Angeles community partners Sole Folks & Tec Leimert, which are BIPOC-focused non-profits.

Gap

Gap Inc. has joined the 15 Percent Pledge, a nonprofit that holds retailers accountable on their commitment to dedicate 15% of shelf space to Black-owned labels. The company — parent to the namesake chain as well as Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta — shared that it would launch internships, externships, apprenticeships and trainings that provide more opportunities for Black talent. It added that it would donate $200,000 to the organization to support its mission.

“Driving lasting change takes time and maniacal focus, and we’re invested for the long term,” head of equality and belonging Kisha Modica said in a statement. “As we strive to enable a culture of inclusion and belonging for all, we are excited to partner with the 15 Percent Pledge to accelerate our commitment to increase access and opportunity for Black and Latinx communities.”

Macy’s

In support of Black Girls CODE and the United Negro College Fund, Macy’s Inc. is introducing a charitable campaign in stores and online, as well as highlighting Black creatives and Black-owned brands. Throughout the month, customers can round up their purchases to the nearest dollar amount and donate the change to benefit those nonprofits. What’s more, the company — also a member of the 15 Percent Pledge — is launching 11 new Black-owned beauty brands, plus welcoming 16 Black-owned labels to its Story at Macy’s pop-up shop. It is also installing Black history-themed window displays at its major locations and continuing its vendor development program promoting gender and racial diversity.

“As we honor Black culture and Black brilliance, we are intensifying our commitment to the growth and advancement of Black-owned businesses, creators, changemakers and young talent — who are all woven into the fabric of the Black experience,” chief diversity officer Shawn Outler said in a statement. “We are supporting current and future history-makers who will create a more rich and inclusive community for our colleagues and customers.”

Neiman Marcus

Neiman Marcus Group has kicked off its “Celebrating Black History by Supporting Black Futures” campaign, focused on fostering the next generation of Black leaders. The multi-pronged strategy is composed of several new and ongoing initiatives, including philanthropic support for organizations like the Boys & Girls Club of America, internal learning opportunities and marketing programs that spotlight Black talent. Customers who visit the retailer’s website can shop Black- and minority-owned brands, which have been curated in a special section, Spotlight on Diversity. In addition, the company announced that it has donated $1 million over a three-year period to nonprofits that support Black communities across the United States.

“Neiman Marcus Group is investing in a strong foundation of educational support, mentoring and leadership skills, which are all crucial to the success of our communities,” VP of ESG and chief communications officer Amber Seikaly said in a statement. “We have a commitment to serving communities across the U.S., and we’re thrilled to continue supporting organizations that build brighter futures.”

New Balance

New Balance has announced a range of philanthropic brand action initiatives aimed at supporting underserved communities. Under its umbrella program, “My Story Matters,” the apparel and shoe brand pledged to support the Black Talent in Design and Fashion Fund, which provides funds to Black students looking to enter the fashion or footwear industry. It plans to fund 15 scholarships worth $500, and a number of New Balance associates will join BTDF’s mentoring directory to help improve access to the design world for younger BIPOC professionals. What’s more, brand ambassador Kawhi Leonard will be donating more than 12,000 pairs of his signature shoe, the Kawhi 1, to nonprofit Soles4Souls. The contribution represents an estimated retail value of more than $1.9 million worth of product.

“Whether it’s through our associates or our brand ambassadors, these commitments to the Black community are a part of our DNA and continue to expand our values-led initiatives,” said senior product manager for lifestyle apparel Chavon Cham. “‘My Story Matters’ is more than just our signature program for Black History Month; it’s about elevating the voices and experiences of those too often overlooked this year, this month and beyond.”

Nordstrom

This month, Nordstrom Inc. is introducing partnerships with 12 Black-founded beauty labels, launching the Black-owned GOODEE brand for its home category and introducing a new collection of intimates in a range of skin tones and sizes. For February and March, its New York City flagship will unveil its latest Center Stage pop-up, which showcases a variety of Black-run labels across shoes, clothing, beauty and accessories. Plus, for its latest New Concepts @ Nordstrom initiative, it will debut “Concept 012: Black_Space” — a national retail platform for designers, creatives and thought leaders that represent Black culture.

“We’re committed to improving the diversity of the vendors we partner with across all parts of our business,” chief merchandising officer Teri Bariquit said in a statement. “We’re making strong progress to find and support diverse brands, and we are very excited to introduce them to our customers. Most importantly, these brands and the products they offer help us meet the diverse needs of our customers, while continuing to create the inspiration and discovery they expect to find when shopping at Nordstrom.”

Oboz

Outdoor brand Oboz announced a partnership on Feb. 16 with Black Folks Camp Too, an organization dedicated to introducing and educating Black folks — as well as other uninitiated campers and hikers — on the joys of getting outdoors. With the partnership, Oboz said it will advise on the footwear portions of its Digital Education Initiative, which features content covering basic tips for enjoying the outdoors as well as deeper commentary. (Oboz will offer insights on why it’s important to have the proper footwear and foot health while on the trail.) In return, Black Folks Camp Too will advise the brand with its justice, equity, diversity and inclusion efforts.

“Two of our core tenets as the True to the Trail brand are being ‘True to our People’ and ‘True to our Community,'” Oboz director of brand and consumer experience Rich Hohne said in a statement. “By working with the team at Black Folks Camp Too, we are expanding our community beyond Bozeman, Montana and our historical customer, which is an imperative step in the diversity, equity and inclusion work we are doing.”

Black Folks Camp Too founder Earl Hunter Jr. added, “We have created an amazing collaboration with Oboz where we are sharing each others’ expertise – their footwear knowledge and our guidance on how to improve diversity in the outdoors. Black Folks Camp Too’s ultimate mission is to remove fear, add knowledge and invite ‘more’ Black folks to camp, and enjoy the outdoor lifestyle with any and everyone. At the center of our logo is the Unity Blaze and we are thrilled to have Oboz join us around the campfire where we ‘treat everyone, everywhere equally.’”

Pacsun

Pacsun has launched Circulate Market — a new concept that brings together a collection from six Black-owned brands, curated by longstanding brand partner Circulate and its owner, Corey Populus. The assortment includes exclusive designs from the marketplace, as well as Blondie Beach Records, Bricks & Wood, Carrots, Reserved and Supervsn Studios. One multi-brand, collaboratively designed T-shirt is available to purchase at Pacsun stores, with 100% of sales proceeds to be donated to local causes chosen by the participating brands. (According to Pacsun, more than $75 million of its sales come from Black-owned labels.)

“Each one of these brands has inspired me in different ways. Even though we are all in the same space, each of them brings something different to the table through the messaging of their brand.  They are also all of my friends, and we have all come up together so it’s truly a dream come true,” Populus said in a statement. “Also, the experience working with Pacsun has been nothing short of amazing. They have been a huge part in the growth of the brand and continue to put amazing opportunities and projects on the table. They are really supportive, and I’m happy they are a part of our journey.”

PVH

PVH Corp. and the Council of Fashion Designers of America recently unveiled their “State of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Fashion” report — a definitive work of research that suggests the next steps for the industry to become more representative and equitable in its workforce, talent pipeline and consumer base. Together, the Calvin Klein parent and fashion trade organization — which began the collaboration in 2018 — identified six key areas of opportunity: access, advocacy, awareness, belonging, compensation and promotion.

“The inclusion and diversity challenges in the fashion industry are real. This important research not only confirms that; the learnings from it will also help guide the work towards positive and lasting change,” PVH CEO Stefan Larsson said in a statement. “We have work to do at PVH; together with our larger industry, we have a collective responsibility to lean in and drive real impact. This is as important as any business strategy and speaks more broadly to who we are as human beings and the impact we can have on society.”

In addition, the corporation’s Tommy Hilfiger brand announced that its People’s Place Program, which was launched in July, has entered into key partnerships with The Fashion and Race Database and Harlem Fashion Row to create more access and opportunities for BIPOC talent in the fashion industry.

Tapestry

Tapestry Inc. has announced its participation in the Black in Fashion Council Active Allyship Pledge through which it plans to work with BIFC executive board members over the course of the next three years to advance Black talent in the fashion and beauty industries. “We have committed to expanding diversity in our Tapestry and brand leadership teams,” said CEO Joanne Crevoiserat. “Working with the council will help us to build upon the progress that we have made in achieving these goals.”

Plus, in celebration of Black History Month, the Coach and Stuart Weitzman parent will host a special edition of its discussion series called “Unscripted,” featuring BIFC co-founders Sandrine Charles and Lindsay Peoples-Wagner. Its Black Alliance employee resource group has also launched a new partnership with seven HBCUs to host talent and sourcing fairs starting this month.

VF

Building on its Council to Advance Racial Equity, VF Corp. has introduced new programs, community partners and public policy initiatives to address opportunity gaps faced by Black and brown Americans. It unveiled plans to achieve 25% BIPOC representation within its “director and above population” by 2030 in partnership with footwear design academy Pensole. It will also apply the Mansfield Rule requirements — a benchmark that helps boost diverse talent acquisition — as well as resolve pay equity by 2024, establish a supplier diversity program and commit 10% of its annual U.S. grant funding to support community initiatives that advance VF’s racial equity strategy.

What’s more, the Vans and Timberland parent has partnered with nonprofit Management Leadership for Tomorrow as it launches the Black Equity at Work certification program. In a statement, chairman, president and CEO Steve Rendle said, “Given the profound inequities that negatively impact the lives and livelihood of Black and brown Americans, the actions we are taking through our CARE initiative, combined with our strategic partnerships at the corporate and brand levels, are critical steps to elevating and accelerating our work to promote racial equity. We are committed to the actions we’ve outlined and will hold ourselves accountable for making meaningful progress and leading by example.”

Walmart

Back in June, Walmart Inc. and its philanthropic arm pledged to contribute $100 million over five years through a Center for Racial Equity to help address racial disparities in the U.S. Today, the big-box chain and the Walmart Foundation announced that they have collectively distributed the first $14.3 million of that commitment in grants to 16 nonprofits. Among those organizations are the Student Freedom Initiative, which provides alternative financing for historically Black college and university juniors and seniors majoring in STEM; the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change; the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, which connects public and private resources with underinvested communities; and the Association of Black Foundation Executives.

“Walmart has made a commitment to advancing racial equity, finding areas where we as a company can best contribute our resources and expertise to change society’s systems that perpetuate racism and discrimination,” senior director of the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity Kirstie Sims said in a statement. “We are excited to announce our initial investment to these deserving nonprofits that help advance racial equity through their organizations every day.”

With contributions from Madeleine Crenshaw. 

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