Performance for profit: activism in fashion

Margarita Ivanova examines fashion industry activism, from social media allyship to limited release collections and discussing just how far there still is to go

Margarita Ivanova
23rd June 2020
@susan_alexandra on Instagram
For years, brands such as H&M, Marc Jacobs and Nike have been painting their companies rainbow and releasing colourful collections in celebration of Pride Month. This year, many have also tuned in to capitalise on the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Fashion and beauty brands alike are yet to realise that altering a brand logo to resemble a Pride flag is not an immediate sign of allyship, nor is posting a black square with #BlackLivesMatter a clear indication of anti-racist agenda. Still, companies are quick to put on their rainbow-coloured glasses and activism gear in order to build a facade of solidarity. After all, in the age of social media, it is what’s on the outside that counts, right? Not anymore.

Let's take a look at the statistics. In 2019, a US fashion industry report stated that only 56% of its respondents claim to have completed professional diversity training. The BOF Fashion Employee Survey of the same year also revealed that 52% of the surveyed fashion employees believe that the leadership teams of their current employers are not racially diverse. Meanwhile, black designers in the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), currently make up only 4% of its entire membership. And, even though more than 40% of runway castings were models of colour during New York Fashion Week’s 2019 Spring season - a significant step-up from the 20.9% in Spring 2015 - it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a lack of black representation at higher levels within the fashion industry. 

In fact, Sharon Chuter, the founder, CEO and creative director of UOMA Beauty, as well as the initiator of the Pull Up For Change movement, has recently called for brands to disclose the number of their black employees working at corporate and executive levels. The idea came to her after #BlackOutTuesday, when she noticed numerous brands posting black squares which - despite being followed up by donations -  appeared as rather empty expressions of support towards the Black community. 


L’Oréal, following its post “Speaking Out Is Worth It”, has been personally called out by Munroe Bergdorf, a black transgender model and activist, who had been dropped by the company in 2017 for “speaking out about racism and white supremacy.” Bergdorf was outraged to see the company take advantage of the Black Lives Matter movement, claiming that it simply “saw a window of PR Opportunity”, and that its stance against racism is not genuine.

However, L’Oréal has since pulled up numbers of its black employees (with 9% in manufacturing, 7% in corporate, and 8% in executive positions) in response to #PullUpOrShutUp, and issued an apology to Bergdorf, with a promise to donate to Mermaids, a transgender youth charity, and UK Black Pride, another LGBTQ+ organisation. The model and activist have also accepted a position on L’Oréal’s newly-formed Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board, which aims to demonstrate the brand’s commitment to making a real change within its own company. 

There is, however, still a long way to go, and not every fashion and beauty brand that owns up to its mistakes will go to the lengths necessary to truly support the LGBTQ+ community and the Black Lives Matter movement. For some, black lives do matter, but money matters more. And pride? Every year, it is transformed into a mere synonym for profit.

All images on Instagram

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