This week, a new collective calling for better, long-term representation and advancement opportunities for Black professionals in the fashion and beauty industries launched.
Founded by Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner and public relations specialist Sandrine Charles, the Black in Fashion Council "[envisions] a world in which Black people in fashion and beauty spaces can be open and honest, guaranteed equal rights, and be celebrated for our voices," according to its website.
"We initially started talking about three weeks ago — obviously, the climate was shifting. We were seeing a lot more call-outs [of experiences] in our industry. We were dealing with a global racial pandemic, as Beyoncé says," Charles tells Fashionista, on a call. "There were just a lot of things going on, and in the midst of it, Lindsay and I connected on, how can we be solution-oriented in this moment for Black people in our industry?"
It's been almost two years since Peoples Wagner's piece on being Black in fashion published on The Cut, Charles notes. In light of everything that was happening, they wanted to gather a group of their peers to align on a way to move forward. And that became the Black in Fashion Council, which, together, was able to "ideate on the steps to success that we're looking for and create a toolkit for brands and companies when partnering with us, to confirm their dedication to improving equality and opportunities for Black people in the workplace."
"Again, this is an accountability, long-term strategy," Charles continues. "We definitely felt that we needed to put a plan in action in order to get the results we were looking for."
Peoples Wagner says the Black in Fashion Council's goal is "to move past calling people out."
"It has to be this two-way street, of having actual conversations with people who have had these experiences in the industry and have ideas on ways to create positive and productive change," she explains.
That's why the Black in Fashion Council assembled an executive board of "people who are influential in the industry and are making really respectable, credible moves — obviously working at different places and having different experiences — and are able to use their influence and their platform and their network to make change," according to Peoples Wagner.
Members include GQ's Nikki Ogunnaike and Bustle Digital Group's Tiffany Reid for media; Gucci's Antoine Phillips and Prada's Candace Stewart for corporate brand, Fe Noel and Hanifa's Anifa Mvuemba for emerging brand, Brandice Daniel and Victor Glemaud for retail, Cosmopolitan's Julee Wilson and Uoma Beauty's Sharon Chuter for beauty, Jason Rembert and Gabriella Karefa Johnson for styling, Shiona Turini and Tamu McPherson for talent and Kimberly Jenkins and Shelby Ivey Christie for education and mentorship, Next Management's Kyle Hagler for model representation, Humberto Petit for creative representation and Vanity Fair's Nicole Chapoteau for board fundraising, among others.
"We have been saying to everyone: There's strength in numbers, there's strength in unity. We all have our different initiatives and different ideas, but come together to create an overall strategy, it makes more sense," Peoples Wagner adds.
The first step has been to share a deck created by the Black in Fashion Council with select companies within the fashion industry. It includes not only the list of its executive board members, but also its four-part strategy and some "top tangible changes" that they can make now to align themselves with the collective. They've been telling brands: "We want to work with you not only in the next six months, but over the next three years and longer, to sustain these changes within companies and, universally, as a standard," says Charles. In July, the Black in Fashion Council will unveil its full website, which will make the information on the deck public.
In the near future, the Black in Fashion Council will also create an equality index score to help measure and track internal policies and practices around inclusivity within companies, in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign (which already publishes a corporate equality index, with major companies like Kering).
"That idea really came from the fact that we have to get past calling out or saying that someone is good or bad — there's grey area in everything," explains Peoples Wagner. "The thinking behind it was: We needed to figure out something fair, that gives people more of a progress report. When you were back in school, when you got a progress report, it wasn't the end of the world. It was like, 'Okay, I still have a chance to do better.' That's what I think the sentiment that we're trying to get the industry on is, because too often people have been shamed into it and don't know how to go about making sustainable change... The equality index score will be public, and it will be something for them to use and say, 'These are areas where we really improved and worked on with the Black in Fashion Council, and here are other areas that we need to work on.'"
Right now, those interested in working with the Black in Fashion Council can reach out not just to its founders, but also to its executive board members, to align themselves with its goals and initiatives. There's a sign-up form on its website, to receive e-mails about joining the group as well as updates on their work.
The initial response to the Black in Fashion Council has been "super encouraging," says Peoples Wagner. We've already had so many luxury brands, so many stakeholders in the industry reach out to us saying, 'We're interested, we want to get on board, we want to figure out a way that we can do this.' I think the way that we're going about it and the way that we're presenting this, people can tell that it's about making productive change, so that we don't have to continue having these conversations in the industry."