Fashion leaders are committed to tackling racism in their businesses. To see if anything is improving, the New York Times reporters felt they needed concrete data on the current state of representation of blacks in the industry.
Reporters asked well-known brands, stores, and publications to provide information about the number of black employees and executives in their ranks – including those who design, manufacture, and sell products; Walk runways; appear in advertising campaigns and magazine covers; and sit on company boards. However, of the 64 companies contacted, only four fully answered a short series of questions.
In a recent article, a team of reporters published the companies’ responses, as well as personal comments from black stylists, editors, and publicists. Below is an edited conversation with these journalists: Vanessa Friedman, Salamishah Tillet, Elizabeth Paton, Jessica Testa, and Evan Nicole Brown.
What was the biggest challenge in telling this story?
VANESSA FRIEDMAN The absolute lack of consistency. You are dealing with global organizations speaking to a wide variety of markets and opening up a whole range of different types of cultures. They are headquartered in different countries with different demographics, different histories, different issues with racism and different laws. We had a series of very simple questions, less than 10, that felt like the most basic and obvious things that anyone could answer. But only four out of 64 companies answered completely.
When did you realize that the inability to answer the questions was history?
FRIEDMAN You write what you find, and we felt it was important to get that across, if you have this mess in basic information until you can get a clearer picture of it, you really can’t know when it’s progressing .
Why couldn’t the companies answer these questions?
ELIZABETH PATON Each company had their own reservations and problems and reasons. I think to some extent it had to do with culture. For example, the perception of the Italian brands we tried was different from that of the Americans. I mean, legal reasons were part of it, but American companies in particular provided more information than European companies. I actually think America is in a slightly different place right now in their talk about race.
JESSICA TESTA It was almost surprising how reluctant some of the magazines were to participate because their numbers were the ones that would actually reflect them well. I feel like we’re getting opposition from all sides, but one thing we heard was, “I’ll be interested in going next time.”
How was the response to the story?
PATON Most brands understand the work we are doing, even if they found the questions very uncomfortable. Some brands were disappointed that their efforts were no longer recognized, even if they hadn’t given us full answers. I haven’t heard a brand tell us we made a mistake trying to carry out this project. They realize that they need this test to change.
They also interviewed people about their experience in the industry. What did you take away from it?
EVAN NICOLE BROWN It was important to me to find the crossbreeds, but also the differences that the black pros felt in this area. Sometimes in the past people have been asked to speak up about things and there has been a fear that might work against them or their concern would be misunderstood, but I think this project did a really good job of making people feel comfortable , to speak . I think this platform was appreciated and there didn’t seem to be any fear just to share these really honest experiences which definitely helped the piece and helped confirm the dates or lack thereof.
Which questions are you really interested in?
SALAMISHAH TILLET How do you further diversify the leadership at the top for me? And then what are the structures and what assumptions are made in those rooms that prevent this leadership from becoming ever more diverse? Because we want to continue to change all aspects of the industry and all levers in the industry, but if the top remains monolithic, then it is really those who determine how the other aspects of the industry change alongside it.
BROWN I was really interested in the tension where classicism is popping up in this conversation in terms of representation. Even if representation in the fashion industry on the racing front improves, much remains to be done on the socio-economic front. Through this coverage, I became more aware of the communities being reached and what the ideal consumer is for so many of these places that we are discussing.
What should the readers take away?
FRIEDMAN I think we’ve learned a lot about where the sticking points are and the importance of getting a clear picture of what’s going on. You can’t go forward until you know where you are. And it’s just time for all of us to know where we are in this industry.