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White Men Continue to Hold Key Industry Roles

Why Is Fashion Mostly Male and White — Something HUES BOA is fighting to change

 

Fashion is a giant global industry, but it has long been dominated by white men, especially in prime positions like designers and CEOs. Of the 1.53 trillion dollars spent globally on apparel and footwear, only about 10% of fashion brands are owned by people of color. And even though the population the fashion industry serves is more diverse and global than ever, the positions of power at fashion brands are held by one gender and one color. What gives?

This article examines a few reasons white men still hold so much power in fashion. As a Black-owned brand, HUES BOA wants to turn the focus to things That can help the fashion industry better reflect the diversity that it serves. We believe the more diverse the fashion industry is, the more creative and beautiful the outcome will be.

Talk About Imbalanced: Fashion Leadership Is One Color

When it comes to leadership roles at fashion and apparel companies, white men outnumber women and people of color by a long shot. White men hold 53% of the C-suite positions and 72% of the board of directors. People of color only fill 16% of C-suite roles and 15% of the board seats.

Then, think about creative directors’ positions—one of the roles that hold the most influence over a brand or label. Many people point to Pharrell Williams, a Black man who has undoubtedly made his mark as the successful creative director at a global top fashion house. But everyone may not realize that he is only one of two men of color to hold the position out of all the top 30 luxury brands in the Vogue Business Index. And only 8 of 33 of those roles are held by women; just one of those is a woman of color.

These numbers tell us what we already know: the fashion industry has a lot of work to do to represent all the consumers who wear the clothes and buy their products more fairly.

Fashion: White Men Make The Rules 

To understand how the industry ended up where it is today, it’s essential to know where fashion as an industry got its start. In medieval and Renaissance Europe, fashion was all about who had clout in the royal and noble courts, and that was men. Kings and nobles (white men) set the trends, and everyone else followed.

Fast forward to the Renaissance and early modern period, when the fashion game started getting organized, men founded and led all the big-name fashion labels in France and England. These were the OGs of the industry, and they made the rules.

Then, the Industrial Revolution made fashion tailoring a real profession. Even then, men primarily knew the craft since women were at home. Men were the master tailors and oversaw making clothes in factories and workshops.

White Men Set The Trends

As fashion started appearing in society in the 19th and 20th centuries, fashion journalism also became gigantic to push out trends. At that time, most of the journalists for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue were men, so they dictated style and taste for the readers. And as the industry matured, the fashion designers and crafters remained full of European men. These traditional couture houses, like Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, became the most prominent names. Everyone knew them and looked up to these men like royalty.

Even though over 300 years have passed since the early start of fashion as a business, the industry never really broke out of the mold set back in the 19th-century European couture houses. Though advancements have been made in every area around fashion, like production, distribution, publication, and design, the industry still has the basic framework it did all those years ago.

Who Belongs in Fashion? 

The history of the industry powerfully shapes perceptions of who belongs in fashion. It has made it harder for women and people of color to feel that the doors of major fashion houses are open to them. And even for those who make it in, when you’re the only one who looks like you in a room, the pressure is on. It’s isolating. Minorities and women who make it to the “inside” don’t necessarily want to stay long-term and often choose to develop their fashion line or switch industries.

The Career Path: Insider Networking and Connections 

Getting a job in the fashion industry today still requires breaking into an elite circle. Even positions like unpaid internships are highly competitive at the major fashion labels. Many insiders report you must “know someone” to be considered for an entry-level role. And let’s face it: if holding an unpaid internship or knowing someone higher up is the only way to gain experience, that eliminates most people from the pool early on. Most young people embarking on a new career cannot afford to work for free. This significantly eliminates those from a disadvantaged background and, all too often, racially and ethnically diverse candidates.

Since fashion labels traditionally promote from within, it becomes harder to break into the ranks without holding an internship or working in one of the lowest-paying roles. This method of identifying candidates for more advanced roles by those who have had internships or have “connections” only perpetuates the cycle. The industry has become an insider’s network for those with connections to white men at the top. That doesn’t leave much room for new talent from diverse backgrounds and places.

Unconscious Bias In Fashion Industry Roles

 

There is also the subtle – or not-so-subtle– matter of unconscious bias in the fashion industry. Even those who claim to be open-minded hold a bias about what type of person they think will be a competent leader heading up a fashion company. And more often than not, they picture a white guy at the head. It’s as if the “ideal” leader has been stuck on repeat, especially in big corporate fashion scenes.

Diversity: How the Fashion Industry Can Better Reflect Consumers 

There’s a growing recognition of the need for change, from runways to boardrooms. The public and the media have acknowledged that the industry must reflect the diverse consumer array worldwide.

Here are five key strategies that HUES BOA recommends and embraces internally. These are aimed at fostering a more equitable and inclusive fashion industry landscape. Each of these ideas offers a pathway toward creating an industry that embraces and uplifts all genders, all races, and all voices.If you’re a fashion brand or a player in the industry, take note!

HUES BOA offers these Strategies For A More Inclusive Industry

  • Diversity training – If you lead a fashion brand, teach employees about unconscious bias and how to interrupt it. This can happen informally through conversations.
    But don’t count on informal discussion only. Bring in speakers skilled in diversity training and hold ongoing sessions with employees to openly discuss unconscious bias. Ask for feedback from all employees to gauge progress in this area.
  • Recruitment programs – Actively recruit diverse candidates for open positions. Head to career fairs at HBCUs to recruit young talent. Connect with these universities’ career advisers to ensure minority students get looped into the (paid) intern and early career track.
  • Mentorship initiatives Support up-and-coming diverse designers and business leaders. If you are an industry leader, make mentorship part of your job and encourage your C-suite peers to do the same.
  • Support minority brands as a customer Notice a cool minority-owned brand? (Hello, HUES BOA!) Become a customer, rep the wear, and share it on social media. Grassroots efforts matter greatly to small, minority, and women-owned fashion brands.
  • Culture change Foster an inclusive culture where all voices are welcomed and heard. Think about your circle of influence and start there, as small as it is. Make a point to amplify voices in your circle who aren’t heard as much; Ask questions of your under-represented colleagues and friends and become a listener.
  • Celebrate diversity – Promote and celebrate the achievements of underrepresented groups in fashion. Do you know a fashion designer who should be recognized? Please give them a shout-out and promote them in the media.
 

Conclusion

To wrap it all up, today, the fashion world is changing, but white men still dominate, especially in leadership and head design roles.  The fashion industry has made claims that it wants to level the playing field and provide opportunities for women and people of color.  Keeping the fashion industry white and male can not produce the creativity and breadth that fashion customers crave.

And what can the industry do? Fashion brands, large and small, can make it a pivotal strategy to talk about diversity and hold unconscious bias training. They can serve as mentors to diverse younger fashion industry hopefuls. Also, set a goal to diversify recruitment and tie financial incentives to it. For the rest of us, we all can foster a culture change, buy from minority-owned fashion brands, and support marginalized groups.

A more diverse fashion industry makes room for more untapped talent. This will birth more significant innovations in fashion, fresh looks, and unique trends. As the fashion industry becomes more equitable, it serves as a beacon for other industries, urging them to break free from their conventional molds and embrace the transformative power of diversity!

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