In wake of the worldwide protests for racial justice and equality, the governing body for American fashion announced it was taking steps to combat systemic racism within the industry. The Council of Fashion Designers of America released a set of initiatives that aimed to increase diversity across all sectors through inclusion training, mentorship/internship programs, and an in-house employment program that will identify Black creatives and pair them with companies.
"The Black community is experiencing anger and frustration on top of the effects of the global pandemic that has hit communities of color the hardest," read the letter, signed by CFDA Chairman Tom Ford and CFDA President/CEO Steven Kolb. "This is a deeply disturbing moment that speaks to us all. Our world is in deep pain. Our industry is in pain and it is not enough to simply say that we stand in solidarity with those who are discriminated against. We must do something."
However, Black creatives within the fashion industry say these initiatives aren't enough.
Last Thursday, about 250 Black professionals sent a petition to the CFDA demanding more action in the fight against systemic racism. The letter was titled "The Kelly Initiative," named after legendary Black designer Patrick Kelly, who became the first American member of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter in 1988.
In its over 2 years of refusing to consider and implement key equity realization programs aimed at leveling the playing field for the community of Black fashion professionals, the CFDA has allowed exploitative cultures of prejudice, tokenism, and employment discrimination to thrive, unbridled by the sort of watchdog intervention expected of an industry umbrella organization. Now, hasty attempts at doing that work—initiatives released on June 4th, so insufficiently conceived that they lacked a very name—evidence that the CFDA is falling far short of the broader culture’s rapidly solidifying zero-tolerance policy for Anti-Blackness.
The letter proposes a four-point initiative, which requests all CFDA-affiliated companies, brands, and organizations to provide data on the racial makeup of their staff; provide manager bias-mitigation training; and have CFDA members sign a pledge to create more career opportunities for Black professionals.
The letter also requests a video conference with the CFDA on Juneteenth (June 19) to discuss the proposal.
"There is no time to waste much work to be done," the letter concludes. "We assert that engaging dedicated Black fashion professionals in its architecting will ensure its enduring impact for Black talent pursuing newly equitable access to bright professional futures."
The Kelly Initiatve included signatures from designer Martine Rose, photographer Casper Kofi, designer/TV personality Santino Rice, TV personality Bevy Smith, and fashion publicist Kevin McIntosh Jr.