How The Fashion Industry Needs To Step the F*ck Up | Read Time 8 mins


This time, being 'fashionably late' is not an excuse. 

"I've Failed." 

On 7th June, Yael Aflalo - CEO and founder of Reformation* - posted a black box, white font and six slides, addressing the brand's 1.6 million Instagram followers. The post was a statement about herself and the brand's reputation for "not leveraging our platform, our voice, and our content to combat the racism and injustice that pervades our country." 

"We are so sad to see the comments and allegations of racism on social media and take them incredibly seriously. Reformation does not support or tolerate racism or discrimination." 

It's right to note here that this statement was only made after former employees - most notably Elle Santiago - spoke up about the direct and in-direct forms of racism they had encountered whilst working for the brand. Aflalo - whose fashion empire is estimated to be worth over one hundred million dollars - is reported to have previously turned down Black models, claiming "we're not ready for that yet" and denied opportunities to worthy employees, like Santiago, by favouring White women who frequently possessed "the same or less qualifications.

The response to the Instagram post was rightly hostile. Angry followers took to the comments, with the general consensus calling out the brands in-authentic statement;

"People are always sorry when they're publicly shamed." 

"An apology to keep the sales coming? No thanks..." 

This is an all too familiar incident of a renowned fashion brand being held up to a spotlight more revealing than any ever seen at their catwalk shows. And rightly so. The industry has been allowed to hide behind its glitz and glamour for too long... but there is nothing glamorous about racism and inequality. 

By now I hope our collective disgust over the devastating murder of George Floyd, at the force and inhumanity of White male police officer Derek Chauvin, has turned into conversations, actions and education that will drive forward a real change. "Tell your friends to pull up" - a phrase used by Rihanna in her acceptance speech at the NAACP awards back in February of this year, highlighting how racism is a shared issue. "This is their problem too" - i.e, it has never been enough to just say words without action, especially for White people. The Black Lives Matter movement is turning the microscope on the intricacies of White privilege and unconscious racism, and in turn, is magnifying the unjust, insular and marginalising world of the fashion industry. 

To say that the fashion industry is influential is like saying water is wet. It is a multi-trillion dollar ideology that people live their lives through every day, every season, no matter what our opinion or interest levels may be. You will come into contact with it at every stage of your life (unless you're a nudist) and very few industries hold such a privilege as this. This is why, in line with the current - and very much ongoing - battle for the lives of the Black community, it is absolutely humiliating that such an influential industry has been allowed to turn a blind eye to basic human rights for so long. Fashion brands cover themselves in clouds of luxurious sheer organza; transparent, yes, but only so much, in an effort to ignorantly protect themselves from their own ugliness. This is also an industry that knowingly associates itself with modern slavery*, exploiting the youngest and poorest of societies in developing countries*. 

Since I began writing this article, there have been countless cases, incidents and stories of racism and inequality that are being unearthed from various sectors throughout the industry. From personal accounts made by Black female Influencers, all the way up to the god tier of the VOGUE house; there's rumours of internal emails being sent from Anna Wintour, apologising for race-related 'mistakes'. However, this apology failed to acknowledge the constant bullying and exhausting racism Black VOGUE employees encountered on a daily basis - see Shelby Ivey Christie's Twitter thread which recounts a White male executive dressing up in a chicken suit and gold chains, rapping to the entire business, with HR present... no, I'm not joking. Let's also not forget the lazy mis-identification of Noor Tagouri in VOGUE's February 2019 issue, which was allowed to go to press with the Journalist being mistaken for the Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari. Sure, Tagouri was offered a feature that would be published the following month, but was restricted to what she could say in an effort to make the elite magazine look like it "didn't have a problem." If you're failing to see this as a massive error, imagine the uproar and confusion that would have been created if, say, Emma Stone was mistaken for Emma Watson. 

The most alarming fact is that if it wasn't for social media, those sitting on the edge of the fashion realm would be none-the-wiser. Brands would continue to earn money, and maintain their 'cool-girl' reputation as they have done for decades, hiding the injustice that lurks beneath them. I question every single brand who has not called themselves out, and has instead tried to hide their guilt behind a performative statement of 'solidarity' (note those who are still keeping 'on-brand' in their tone and style - a key to spot those who are virtue signalling.) An example of such actions can be seen through the hollow Instagram statement released by L'Oreal Paris on 1st June that read "speaking out is worth it" - a play on their famous slogan "because you're worth it". Performative? Yes. Insensitive and thoughtless? Double fucking yes, considering they dropped model and activist Munroe Bergdorf from a campaign back in 2017, purely because she spoke out against white supremacy and racism*. 

"Fuck you. Fuck your 'solidarity'. Where was my support when I spoke out? Where was my apology? I'm disgusted and writing this in floods of tears and shaking. This is gaslighting"

The all-seeing eye of the educated consumer is what brands who have been failing to step up now must fear. There is no room to be vague anymore. We as the consumer must push for truth. Brands must state and document their actions, even if this means admitting to previous mistakes; 

"This is the time when brands need to look at their internal policies and marketing strategies and figure out ways to amplify the voices of people of colour. In particular, the lack of diversity in the influencer space has been a problem since day one. This [should] force every individual and business to have uncomfortable conversations about racism and injustice in this country.
— Alicia Chew, fashion influencer"*

White Influencers need to understand that posting a black square, and sharing a few items designed by Black creatives, saying "OMG LOOVEEE THIS I need it in my wardrobe asap xxx" ain't enough. Let's not make being actively anti-racist a trend, or something fashionable. Let's make it a fundamental part of an industry - and indeed a society - that champions Black people in the very same way it does so easily for White people. 

While I am not directly involved in the fashion industry right now, I very much intend to be at some point in my career, as is the case for a lot of other people my age, and so I consider it essential to discuss the ways in which the industry has fucked up, and how it must do better. Brands would be nothing without the consumer, so how can we as the consumer keep our foot on the pedal and continue to fight for justice? 

Call Out Brands 
- This doesn't mean hounding their comment section (although bringing an issue into the public eye has worked wonders for disgruntled customers in the past.) Try and contact them via their customer service email, or a HR department if you can find the right contacts. DM them and start a discussion. If what they're preaching doesn't seem to add up, ask to see their official diversity statement, and ask how they're actively working to improve and evolve.  

Decline Invitations 
- If you're lucky enough to be invited to events, launch parties and presentations within the industry, do not show support to brands that fail to show diversity. If you arrive and find you're in a sea of White people, leave, or ask the host why this is and start a conversation. 

Recognise Tokensim
- All it takes is a scroll. Go on a brand's Instagram and/or website and ask yourself, what does it look like? If you're seeing one Black woman for every twenty White women, that's tokenism babes. They need to do better. 

Anything in it for them?
- Are brands using political and social movements to gain profit? Say, through a charity t-shirt - yes, I'm looking at you InTheStyle. Before you add-to-bag, research how much of the profit actually goes towards the cause, and how much - if any - is pocketed by the brand. 

Check their supply chain 
- Actively striving for change and equality is not limited to race. Ask yourself how you feel when a company speaking out on racism is still using supply chains that exploits the rights of workers in developing countries? 

Do they credit their source? 
- How many times have you heard the term 'tribal' or 'exotic' used to define a trend? Brands will often claim to invent new patterns and colourways without giving credit to their inspiration, which a lot of the time stems directly from Black culture. Is the brand transparent with where their inspiration originated, or are they trying to keep all the glory? 

I'd like to end on a quote; 

I am incredibly privileged to sit here and write a second-hand account of racism in the fashion industry. I am incredibly privileged to call out brands who have upset and abused others, and not get upset about feeling mistreated myself. The industry is more accessible and welcoming to me, just because I'm. fucking. White. This is unacceptable. 

This blog is a tiny tiny platform on a world-wide stage, but the fashion industry is that world-wide stage, and it needs to be called out on its bullshit. 

*Yael Aflalo has since stepped down from her CEO position, and has now been replaced by Hali BorenStein. 

Resources cited: 

*1 - Bravo Lauren, How To Break Up With Fast Fashion p 51
*2 - Bravo Lauren, How To Break Up With Fast Fashion p 45
(I'll link here the following statement made by Burgdorf after speaking with the newly appointed president of L'Oreal Paris, Delphine Viguier) 
*4 - A statement made by Alicia Chew - Fashion Influencer - for Business of Fashion (see link to article immediately below) 

Additional resources: 
- To My White Fashion Fam - Mary Pierce 
- The Purity Spiral - BBC Radio 4 
- Influencer Pay Gap - @influencerpaygap 

The graphic for this article has been created via the following sources: 
- Black Lives Matter logo, sourced from 
- @influencerpaygap (cited above) 
- @dietprada (here and here
- @venetialamanna (cited above) 
- flowers taken from Pinterest 
- background my own
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  1. Fantastic Emmie. So bloody educational. It's really made me think twice about the ethics of where i'm getting my clothes from. Thank you!xx

    1. Thank you Georgia, glad you enjoyed it! xx

  2. Another great piece Emmie highlighting the fashion industry must do better and each one of us has the power to influence this x

    1. Thank you x

      Absolutely! We as the consumer have the power, and we must use it to ensure the industry improves and evolves x