On the surface, the fashion industry is increasingly hiring more diverse and inclusive models and other industry savvies. This means more covers, more campaigns or shows – however the outcome of Business of Fashion’s BoF 500 proves that from within, the industry remains controlled by some caliber of old-fashioned systems. The event is hosted to bring together and described by BoF as, “a community of people shaping the global fashion industry that grows stronger over time. Each year since 2013, we have been sourcing and discovering new names to add to our community of people shaping the global fashion industry based on nominations from existing BoF 500 members.”
One of this year’s selected members was the designer behind Pyer Moss, Kerby Jean-Raymond. While attending the event, the designer took to Instagram to share his disappointment with the oblivion and appropriation served by the supposed leaders of the industry which resulted in his declination of ‘membership’. Jean-Raymond wrote an essay on his reasoning, highlighting, “Homage without empathy and representation is appropriation. Instead, explore your own culture, religion and origins. By replicating ours and excluding us — you prove to us that you see us as a trend. Like, we gonna die black, are you?”
Shinning a light on this issue has imposed many interesting questions. Is the industry really tackling any issues associated with diversity or inclusion at all? Is Kerby Jean-Raymond’s essay the perfect reflection of who the industry really allows in… and why?
In the same essay, he states, “Was the intent all along to milk people like me for insight into our community, repackage it and resell it back to larger corporations with no intent of making real change?”
For decades now, fashion’s ‘audience’ has become the center of the industry. Building a branded image is heavily dependent on how that brand is received by the public. This is not new to fashion – considering it is an industry based on appearance and clothing at the end of the day – however, the social awareness of the audience has shifted.
We are now more aware of the realities of the industry. That being the traditions and systematic implications that work behind the scenes to ensure that insiders are handpicked by connected similarities when it comes to individual backgrounds. Most of the industry that operates like a business (especially the publications) are dependent on personal relationships. This is what makes the industry so divided on so many different levels.
There has not been nearly as much research on how many people who work behind the scenes or within as there are statistics of how diverse the commercial runways or covers have become. Though it is still progression, it feels cheated. When you consistently choose from the same pool, it is easier to always choose people of the same ethnic or cultural backgrounds.
For inclusion to really work it must be seen every second of every day in every part of the system. It cannot be summed up or solved in one event or campaign. We should be tired of having to apologize and take steps backward when we should just know better.
Jean-Raymond’s essay states the following:
Business Of Fashion 500 is now 499.
I want to address my statements on Instagram last night.
We all got that talk when we were younger… the one that was like “if your instinct is telling you not to leave the house, just stay in…”
I went against it.
Last night, against my better judgment I went to the BoF 500 gala. If you don’t know, BoF (The Business of Fashion) is a fashion industry publication that is known for breaking news on movements in the fashion industry. It’s founder and EIC is Imran Amed. BoF puts out this list annually called the BoF 500 celebrating the people they deem to be the most influential in fashion. In addition, BoF is known for its Voices conference in London too. Both things have become prestigious in their own right.
To give context —
Last year, I was invited to speak at and attend BoF Voices. I was told they wanted to hear my story of the formation of PM and how I’ve navigated the industry. As an outsider for so long, I was proud to be invited and get to share my story. I saw it to be like a fashion version of TED. I was also excited that I’d be in a solo conversation with Bethann Hardison. I had stopped doing group panels.
My reason is that so many of these group panels just lump us all in, ‘Black in Fashion’ or ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ when the reality is my family is vastly different, making strides in every category — sustainability, politics, VC… But instead they make us speak all together in the commonality of our blackness and force us to disagree on stages in public, facilitate infighting and then we have to do the emotional labor to make the ops comfortable.
So I agreed to do this solo panel and they booked the flight, then at the very very last minute, like while I’m on the flight, they told my team that it was now a group panel. (Their plan all along.) Now it was to be moderated by Tim Blanks (who I respect); the panel would include Bethann Hardison, Patrick Robinson (Trailblazer, former creative director of Gap and Armani Exchange) and my friend LaQuan Smith. Because of my immense respect for Patrick and LaQuan as designers who like me are black, I did it, begrudgingly. But in reality all three of us have our own unique narratives and histories that warranted our own separate solo stages. The same solo stages that all the other white designers have received, for years.
The shit was lowkey degrading fam — but I let the audience know my 4th eye was open. (Go watch the video)… but later that night they held this “Salon” conversation that was heated and problematic. I won’t say shit else about that. Maybe my friends who were there can break it down better one day but a few of us left the campus that next day and dipped back to London, ending the trip 2 days early. We were indeed insulted then.
A few months after that hellish “Salon” and panel. Imran reaches out to me and asked to get on a call and talk. He said he was sorry and that he understood why we were all upset and left and that the miscommunication was Bethann’s fault.
He said he’d seen the work I’d been doing with Pyer Moss and in the community and I’d been selected to be on one of the 3 covers of the BoF 500 magazine. Big “oh shit” moment for me. 🥰, me, cover. So this now began a series of phone calls between him and I and meetings in Paris. I brought Jide with me to one of them.
In all these calls and talks he’s picking my brain for names to include on this cover with me and a list of “diverse” people for the 500; I threw out everyone from Kaep, Lena, Clarence Avon, Aurora, Valencia Clay, Nadia Lopez, Antoine Phillips, Precious Blood Ministries, Compton Cowboys, Andre Walker, Christopher John Rogers, Telfar, Heron, Cushnie, Bode, Jerry, Lil Kim, Cardi, Ebonee, Jessie Williams, Hov, Meek, Innocence Project, Richard Phillips, Jason Rembert, Ade, Kollin, Thelma Golden, Noor, Lizzo, Tracee, Jen Rubio, Chromat… you know, all of us.
In the spirit of transparency, I told him about Creative Director roles I’d been being offered, new projects I’m working on outside of PM and about my Reebok appointment a few months before it happened. I figured this is a cover story slated for September, so we can talk openly.
After our last meeting, he looked satisfied with the information he’d received and I left feeling chill but weird. Traffic was nuts getting to his spot from the Marais by the way and during our meeting there was a blackout at the spot he told us at which to meet. I should’ve known that was one of my ancestors trying to get me to shut the fuck up and not to talk to this man. 3rd eye was still waking up, 4th eye was closed. I looked at Jide and I expressed something was off.
Then he hits me with this text like really soon after that meeting saying “we are going to go a different route with the cover”…
I hit Nate like, bro, I felt it. I knew I was being played for info.
Fast forward to now —
They put me somewhere on the 500 list, and invited me to last nights Gala. I did not want to go at all after how he handled that. But I spoke to Eric and he was like let’s just go be mixxy. I grab a suit out the showroom, buy some shoes (!!!) and we head over there.
I came in around 10pm and Aurora’s face is like “did you see” and I hadn’t “seen” anything because I was an hour late. But as we’re talking, like literally on cue, here they come again, a black choir.
Man, I was being good up until that point too. I even texted Nate, and said “I’m doing great, don’t worry”. I shook all the hands, I said all the nice things, played the game and then bam — it all goes awry!
I was at 60% “had it” with this whole shit at that point then Imran gets on the mic and says something along the lines of “I want to just shout out a few people who inspired us to focus our issue on Diversity and inclusion” and calls out a list of names, maybe 20 names, including Olivier Rousteing and Pierpaolo Picolli as leaders in “Diversity and Inclusion.” I was excluded.
To have your brain picked for months, be told that your talk at the “Salon” and work. inspired this whole thing, and then be excluded in favor of big brands who cut the check is insulting. Pay attention to the brands on the covers.
So that brought it up to 80% “had it.”
Then the choir comes back on stage. This man, Imran, turns into Kirk Franklin and starts dancing on the stage with them and shit. To a room full of white people. So now we at 90%. What inspires people to do this? What motivates someone to feel that they have the right to do a Kirk Franklin dance on the stage? Because ultimately that level of entitlement is the core issue. People feeling like they can buy or own whatever they want … if that thing pertains to blackness. We are always up for sale.
So now we’re here. In short, fuck that list and fuck that publication. I take no ownership of choirs, Christianity or curating safe spaces for black people. That’s a “We” thing.
Homage without empathy and representation is appropriation. Instead, explore your own culture, religion and origins. By replicating ours and excluding us — you prove to us that you see us as a trend. Like, we gonna die black, are you?
Was the intent all along to milk people like me for insight into our community, repackage it and resell it back to larger corporations with no intent of making real change? Was the choir the change?
I’m offended that you gaslighted me, used us, then monetized it and then excluded us in the most disrespectful way to patronize companies that need “racist offsets.” And I’m offended that you all made those beautiful black and brown people feel really terrible to the point where some of my friends said “this is helpless”, “this shit will never change” and others left in tears. I was fine until they weren’t fine. So I hit 100%.
I’m all for people trying — even when it’s not perfect. I appreciate the brands that are starting committees, reaching out into ignored communities, diversifying their influencer base and doing their best to be inclusive in their hiring processes. I don’t believe in ‘canceling’ people in general because it’s like putting a band-aid on a shotgun wound. I also tend to believe most people are good. I also know we need allies. Resourced allies.
But I’m not with the explicit exploitation of our plight, culture and struggles for the benefit of your bottom line.
I made a promise to someone who passed. 3 years ago that I was going to stay an open book after she was gone. Even when I fuck up royally and that I’d do my best to send the ladder back down. I intend to keep that promise. For a lot of people, we are the only peek they get behind the curtain of an industry they want to be a part of.
I have let a lot of shit slide because I do think a lot of problems can be resolved without public provocation. I typically prefer not to be blacklisted. I hate being the only one that talks up. I also enjoy peace.
But — me getting checks is not going to stop me from checking you.
I think your brand is exploitative, you proved that it’s fueled by corporate interest and shitty business practices. I understand that you have to make money, we all are selling something, but dawg, not your soul. And not ours.
And to the photographers I gave the middle finger to when we all stormed out, I apologize. I’m sure you deserved it but that was still in poor taste and I’m better than that.
Image sourced from BusinessofFashion.com