In honor of Black History Month, Harlem’s Fashion Row (HFR) hosted its 4th Annual Fashion Summit on Tuesday which featured thoughtful panel discussions and keynote speakers from executives across the fashion industry.
Following a year where many brands committed to breaking down systemic barriers, HFR held the summit to check in on the progress and programs that fashion companies have implemented.
During the event, speakers from LVMH, Capri Holdings, Prada, Savage x Fenty, and more shared their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and how they are maintaining and advancing commitments to diverse talent. Here are some key takeaways from the event.
For Corey Smith, head of diversity and inclusion at LVMH North America, representation starts at the leadership level. One of the major initiatives Smith has accomplished at LVMH is setting the goal to have 30% of senior positions in North America filled by people of color over the next five years.
Smith also mentioned Sephora’s commitment to the 15 Percent Pledge, which commits the beauty retailer to dedicating 15% of its shelf space to Black-owned businesses. He then gave a special shoutout to newly acquired Tiffany’s, which tapped its first two Black brand ambassadors with the rollout of the “About Love” campaign starring Jay-Z and Beyoncé. The Tiffany’s activation also saw the jewelry retailer donate $2 million in scholarship funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
“I know longer want to hear ‘I don’t see myself in these ads or on social media,’” Smith added. “We want to create a world where you do see yourself and likely feel connected to our brands in an authentic way that doesn’t come off as performative.”
Daniel Purefoy, SVP of global operations and head of diversity and inclusion at Capri Holdings, spoke about the exciting foundation the firm started in Feb. 2021. Through the “Capri Holdings Foundation for the Advancement of Diversity in Fashion,” the company has pledged $20 million to further its mission of supporting DE&I throughout the fashion industry. The Foundation works with colleges and high schools to create opportunities in fashion for underrepresented communities through the development of on-campus recruitment, mentorship and scholarship programs.
This Foundation is dedicated to increasing these students’ exposure to the fashion industry and giving them the ability to have meaningful careers in fashion without having any monetary hurtles to overcome just to be able to enjoy fashion,” said Purefoy.
Malika Savell, who was appointed chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Prada North America in 2020, told HFR about the Italian brand’s partnership with Theaster Gates, artist and founder of Rebuild Foundation. Theaster, who serves as co-chair on Prada Group’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, has partnered with the luxury group to create the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab, a three-year program to recruit and award talented designers of color, create opportunities to amplify their work, and invest in their development.
“We continue to invest in the next generation of leaders to promote diverse representation and perspectives at Prada Group and beyond,” said Savell. “This partnership will be instrumental in developing a nucleus of design talent on the South Side of Chicago and will include public programs and activations in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles.”
Premium Goods Houston
As one of the only Black female-owned sneaker stores in the United States, Jennifer Ford’s story is a little different. She started out in the industry working at Lord & Taylor in NYC before meeting Clarence Nathan, the owner of Premium Goods sneaker store in Brooklyn. “This was in 2002,” said Ford. “So any sneakerhead knows about that time, if you lived in Brooklyn, you had to go to Manhattan to get your sneakers. But Clarence was able to bring the boutique atmosphere to Brooklyn.”
His success inspired Ford to bring the concept to her home city of Houston, where she’s been in business for nearly 18 years. She attributes her success to the community she’s built around the store, both living and working in the same neighborhood as the store, and creating a welcoming environment that consumers feel comfortable in. “We’re trusted in the community with our clients and our customers. It’s like an extension of the family and I think over time that we built this community together.”
Ford also credits Nike and Jordan for being great brand partners. “Nike and Jordan genuinely want to know what they can do to help keep small businesses like ours.” She says, in exchange, Premium Goods acts as the brand’s ear to the streets. “We share who the trend makers are and who is keeping the brand alive. So, it’s a give and take, you know?”
Asked why it’s critical to continue to support BIPOC businesses, Ford noted that she can confidently say that 100% of BIPOC business owners have not had the privilege of generational wealth. “Every purchase you make at a Black, female, or minority-owned business affects us directly and makes a better life for us and a more inclusive world for the future.”
Savage x Fenty
Christiane Pendarvis, co-president and chief merchandising and design officer at Savage x Fenty, said it’s “mission critical” right now to ensure that Black professionals know and feel that they have equal opportunities within the company. This starts with the company’s hiring practices. “We make sure on the interview panel that there’s at least one person of color that’s going to interview the candidates, regardless of whether it’s in the same function or not, because we want to make sure that our candidates see representation within the organization as well,” Pendarvis said.
She also mentioned a program the company implemented in the wake of the death of George Floyd in 2020. “We want to understand unconscious bias and move it to a state of conscious inclusion,” said Pendarvis. “We encourage courageous conversations in our organization where employees share what it feels like to live in their own skin. We want to know the unique things that people you work with every day may not understand about your background, your lived experience because of your race ethnicity, your sexual orientation, etc.? And I think humanizing those stories creates a higher level of understanding between people.”