Is Fashion Racist?

Let’s talk about the cool kids who just wrapped up the drip parade otherwise known as New York Fashion Week. Listen, I Loooooove the world of beautiful things, #proudblkbougie! But like many thinking humans, I also cringe at the underbelly of fashion’s $2.4 trillion global empire. 

Like how fashion is easily among the most regressive when it comes to equity.

What do I mean? Well. Take this fun IG, posted by Naomi Campbell a mere 5 years ago:

Credit: Yahoo Canada Style

Or how about the low expectations and outright casual racism black editors like Brit Vogue’s Edward Enninful and UK Elle’s Kenya endure. Kenya recently told The Times about a pre-Elle editorial meeting where she suggested a black musician for the cover. Someone senior replied:

“But we had a black woman last month. It would be too weird to have two in a row.” 

And far below the ranks of Kenya and Edward, who are wildly successful and enjoy significant class privilege, can we please talk about how fashion treats the black and brown bodies who make everything on your back?

Worldwide, approximately 74 million people work in textile; 80% are women of color. 

And at an average pay rate of $23/week, most of those women make too little to afford even the fast fashion they are employed to sew. 

Understanding all this as someone who loves fashion and beauty matters. Which is why I really loved listening to Eileen Fisher talk about her company’s evolution. Even though the brand doesn’t quite reflect my aesthetic, I admire what she’s built and legit love borrowing a good idea.

A few helpful things I heard from Eileen Fisher’s chat with Michele Martin:

  1. Buy what you use: I’m lousy at this. But I like a good challenge. And want to edit my wardrobe down, esp as cool weather approaches. Simple question that always helps me while shopping: what are 3 other pieces I already own that I can rock this with?
  1. Question Capitalism: Eileen said something I wish politicians would write in gold: employee-owned companies should be the law. Every company should have to share profits and equity with the folks sweating it out. As a consumer, I’m excited by brands like Blue Tin Production, Swahili Coast Design and Kitsbow.
  1. Thrift over Fast Fashion: No rocket science here. Most of my wardrobe is thrifted. Don’t like spending a fortune to look cute? Same! All while doing better for planet. Check!  

And while we’re talking about feeling ourselves, Yes please to more curves. To all the skin shades. And queer bodies that grow beards and know how to rock a tutu!

I love what Edward Enninful has done reimagining British Vogue over the last 5 years (that staff snap posted by Naomi Campbell would look sharply different today) But I think that’s only a starting point. He’s still coloring within the lines of Conde Nast. What I’m most excited about is how we go beyond the parameters of what’s stylish as set by a handful of western big wigs in the “fashion capitals” of NYC, Paris and London. 

What’s poppin in Jozzie? And Bogota? How about Lagos, Shanghai and Oaxaca? 

And how to make a $2.4 trillion economy work for the hands that make it. To me, the future of fashion is seeing sustainable livelihoods extend to these cities and the wildly skilled artisans, designers and seamstresses who create what we call fashion.

OK, Siri. Let’s go get Le Leeeewwwwk for today. 

p.s. On state of $2.4 trillion fashion industry, here