How to Truly Drive Diversity in the Fashion Industry

It was the first week in June when my heart broke into a million pieces. George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests have led to conversations which were eye-opening and long overdue. These discussions focused on what we could do to uplift underrepresented communities, especially those in the Black community. The question arose in dialogues all around the country: How can we diversify our governments and our leaders to represent all of us? 

Diversity and inclusion have become token words, just like sustainability has been in the fashion industry. We all know those companies that are celebrated for having a wide range of models in their ads and all over social media, but in reality, their company of 50+ employees has little diversity on the inside. I know because I work with fashion brands as a talent agent and I attend (pre-covid) panels, fashion shows, and C suite level events regularly. Often, I am the only person of color in the room.

Drive Diversity in the Fashion Industry
Valerie Emanuel on the set of “How to Become a Sustainable Fashion Pro”

It becomes exhausting being the only black and latino person in the room. I am always the one talking about diversity and why it’s important, and I feel like I should not have to explain what seems like common knowledge everywhere I show up.

I want to see others be given the opportunities that I have been given so the we can stand side by side each other in these decision making rooms.

The woman who mentored me during my first internship believed in the importance of hiring minorities in the art world. It was not 100% why she chose me, but as the daughter of a Chinese immigrant, she knew what it was like to be the only one and she wanted to open doors for more POC like someone did for her. Opportunities were made available to me, and I have been able to help hundreds of people as a result. She taught me how to use my power to open doors for others.

How do companies become so homogenous anyways? Well, if the only groups you hire from are the groups of people that you have gone to school with, family members of past or current employees, and ivy league or private colleges, then you are going to get the same type of people over and over. It becomes a systemic problem when we go within our own communities and intentionally leave others out.

If brands want their companies to be able to reach more people, innovate for the future, market better, and truly be inclusive we need to have the perspectives of a diverse team. Diverse in race, socioeconomic standing, education, and ethnicities.

The reason we need to ask fashion brands to check themselves right now is because if we want to be truly anti-racist and if we want to make the world a more just place, then we need to work harder to attract more diverse talent into the industry to help build generational wealth and opportunity for those who were left out of main steam conversations for decades. Some people, whose ideas have been taken, have little to no opportunity to benefit without financial resources.

Drive Diversity in the Fashion Industry
Fashion models walking a runway

How to Drive Diversity when Hiring

 A lot of arguments I have heard go like this: “I really want to hire a more diverse team but I just can’t find the right talent!” Inviting diversity into your life can take the extra effort, but here are some small ways that you can drive positive change in your workplace, making all the difference.

1) Use local resources. Reach out to community colleges with Black or Latino Student Unions and ask members to advertise your position or internship within their network. 

2) Be open-minded. Requirements for specific educational backgrounds can be flexible to create a more well-rounded team that doesn’t all come from the same socioeconomic background.

3) Stay generous and kind. Fund job training programs and chances for internships. The majority of jobs usually don’t happen in rural and lower income communities, so we should be willing to engage community centers and job placement centers in these areas.

Valerie Emanuel at a Remake #WearYourValues event

No one is asking that teams that are predominantly white need to be replaced by people of color. What’s important is that the next time you need to hire a contractor, filmmaker, or freelance designer, consider using someone out of your usual network. Consider giving someone new a chance. Having a diverse team fills gaps in your business. It has been proven time and time again that a diverse team gives you a competitive advantage! By having varying opinions you can know what different consumer groups really think, what really speaks to your customers individually, and what speaks to us as a whole. 

I encourage fashion brands to reach out to one another to see where they lack and where they can pick up the slack. I also think the love that larger brands and influencers are giving to Black-owned brands right now is an amazing way to show support, economically and emotionally. We are all in this together, and we can all help uplift one another if we step outside of our comfort zones.

Demand Brands Do Better — Ask for Deep Change

Images: Unsplash, Katie Nuñez