by MIKE CHAIKEN
The death of George Floyd has initiated a nation-wide discussion on race relations.
The fashion industry has been engaged in its own soul-searching as to whether it has done enough to encourage diversity. Additionally, as the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum across the country after Floyd’s death, consumers of fashion have stepped forward urging their fellow shoppers to support black-owned businesses.
Four Minneapolis officers were charged in connection with Floyd’s death on Memorial Day. The incident was captured on video by bystanders, who begged police to stop hurting the man. Floyd’s death sparked international protests and drew new attention to the treatment of blacks in the U.S. by police and the criminal justice system.
“(The video of Floyd’s death) was heartbreaking to watch,” said Connecticut fashion designer Troy Anthony, who is black and grew up in Minneapolis.
“I’ve seen police brutality and experienced racial profiling and it impacts you,” said Anthony. “You lose trust in the police and the system and it seems (the system is stacked) against you.”
The fashion industry, in response to Floyd’s death, emphasized its commitment to diversity.
Tom Ford, chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and Steven Kolb, its president and CEO, posted on the CFDA’s website, “We urge each and every member of the CFDA to take stock of their corporate structure to ensure that they have a racially balanced workforce and we challenge the retail sector of the fashion industry to ensure that their roster of brands and their product assortment is representative of the Black talent within the industry.”
Many other brands and merchants have issued similar statements.
Karlene Lindsay-Worrell, another black Connecticut fashion designer, said the fashion industry has a role in rectifying systemic racism.
“The fashion world can play a pivotal role in pushing BLM by being an outlet for self-expression,” said Lindsay-Worrell, who also is CEO of Connecticut’s Diamond Fashion Week. “Fashion is art. It can reflect personal experiences as well as display strength and beauty.”
“Fashion is automatically apart of the BLM movement,” said Anthony. “People want to wear and support designers who stand for diversity and think outside the box and don’t conform to the rules.”
Although the discussion to support black businesses is fresh following Floyd’s death, Tyron Harris of Connecticut’s Traveling Gentlemen’s Boutique, black-owned businesses are not a new concept in America.
“Black businesses, originated in the days of slavery before 1865,” explained Harris, who is black. “Emancipation and civil rights permitted businessmen to operate inside the American legal structure starting in the Reconstruction Era — 1863–77 — and afterwards.”
Black businesses thrived as the black community faced great social adversity in America, explained Harris.
“The most rapid growth (for black businesses) came in the early 20th century, as the increasingly rigid Jim Crow system of segregation moved urban blacks into a community large enough to support a business establishment,” explained Harris. “The National Negro Business League—which Booker T. Washington, college president, promoted—opened over 600 chapters.”
Although the loudest voices urging the support for black businesses have come from whites on social media, Harris noted the black community also has to support black businesses.
“Most black businesses don’t get the same level of high-end buzz, and as a result, black consumers continue to flock to European fashion brands and mainstream commercial brands because we see our favorite black musicians or athletes rocking them,” said Harris.
Harris pointed out, “Black business owners and their products are not at every single store around every block. In fact, you might have to make an inconvenient trek in order to support certain culinary or artistic endeavors.”
“Regardless of the extra effort made, know that the work they do to keep their business alive is even harder,” said Harris. “(B)lack-owned businesses face tough back-end obstacles to simply staying afloat.”
Although the fashion industry has been pushing for more diversity, the designers said there is still work to be done.
“Talk of diversity in fashion usually focuses on the outward-facing stuff,” said Harris. “We see a minority on a cover or a runway and think we made it, but we must go deeper within the word ‘diversity.”
“We must remember that without inclusion, diversity is ineffective,” said Harris. “Even in organizations with the best intentions, diversity and inclusion leadership development is often solo instead of being integrated in other leadership skill-training.”
“More needs to done,” said Anthony of the industry’s move to more diversity. “It’s hard for a minority designer to break into the fashion industry and get his looks and style out there.”
Although the discussion of the moment focuses on members of the black community, Harris said, “Diversity isn’t just about race. It encompasses differences in abilities, age, gender, and sexual orientation.”
Although voices in support of black businesses have been prominent on social media, Lindsay-Worrell said this isn’t enough.
However, Anthony said he sees social media posts as a “start in the right direction,” especially for fashion designers as himself. “We should be judged by the quality of our work and not the color of our skin.”
Lindsay-Worrell is doubtful the vigor support of black businesses will last once the headlines stop. “The hype of buying black owned (products) will fade away eventually,” said Worrell.
However, said Anthony. “I think it’s up to us to not allow it to fade by taking this opportunity to help our communities and forge change.”