Fashion brands, designers, and stylists use their social media channels as a tool to educate their fans and inspire them. They donate generous sums of money, sharing educational resources, and matching donations to social justice organizations. Despite years of institutional injustice, cultural exploitation, and offensive artistic decision-making, many Black people saw the fashion industry’s social media messages straight through in recent weeks. George Floyd’s assassination and the different demonstrations it has sparked and dominated headlines since 26 May. Thousands have taken to the world’s streets to denounce police brutality and anti-blackness. In contrast, thousands more have posted massively online in support of Black Lives Matter (BLM), calling for an end to systemic racism.
Accusations of hypocrisy have dogged marks since the protests began. It was Instagram’s response from French luxury brand Celine — a black square with a caption read, “Celine stands against all types of injustice, inequality, and racism. The world of tomorrow does not survive without equality for all Black Lives Matter.
It isn’t the first time the apparel industry has struggled to cope with race issues. Cultural appropriation, high profile racial blunders, and the lack of diversity on the runway are frequent discussion points, contributing to a new influx of hires for diversity and inclusion. After walking the runway and campaigning for some of the world’s most renowned luxury brands and appearing on Vogue ‘s April 2020 cover, a successful model said, she sees her “full career” as part of the industry’s recent, if still limited, efforts to increase model diversity in magazines and on the runway after years of critique.
Indeed, aligning one’s brand with common causes now more than ever will make for a good strategy. According to the fashion report 2020, nearly two-thirds of consumers identify as “belief-driven buyers” choosing, switching, avoiding, or boycotting a brand based on their position on societal issues. “Because of this, the report predicted that more companies would” increase diversity and inclusion as a priority. Traditionally, it’s been helpful for brands to sit on the fence but, nowadays, if you sit on the wall, you risk getting splinters on the feet. You end up not knowing the pendulum of history and where it is swinging, and where you need to be when the pendulum passes over you.
Yet by aligning with a cause, companies are opening themselves to greater public scrutiny and criticism, which can be troublesome if their promises contradict their practices. A learning curve is expected for brands that, traditionally, have not had to think critically about race and social justice — or tackle prejudice problems within their teams — For the first time, some people are being challenged to speak openly about race. These companies have been around long enough. It’s not the first time that Black people talk about the fashion industry; it’s not the first revolution. Actual change doesn’t come easily. People have to do the job: feel upset, have these talks, accept that the system isn’t right.