How can we move past “the year of the black square”?
That’s the question Nicole Chapoteau, ’s fashion director, posed to the panelists who had gathered for Wednesday’s virtual panel “Defining Diversity in Fashion: Where Do We Go From Here.” Reflecting on the reckoning on racial equality that took place in 2020, the panel—held by the Fifth Avenue Association— gathered major voices in the fashion industry to, as Fifth Avenue Association president Jerome Barth put it, examine “what is happening in the industry, and what comes next.”
The panelists included CaSandra Diggs, President of CFDA; Corey Smith, vice-president of diversity and inclusion at LVMH; and Carmen Arocho-Blanco, senior director of equity, inclusion, and diversity for Tapestry. In the conversation guided by Chapoteau, they discussed the importance of holding the industry to a higher standard, keeping the momentum going, and bringing change and resources to the industry when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The first step is breaking down what diversity, inclusion, and equity means. Smith defines them as they relate to business: diversity as people with a variety and mix of skills from different backgrounds; inclusion as leveraging those diverse skills to enhance business; and equity as the tools helping those at different starting points to arrive at equality. As Smith pointed out, “People interpret difference as a bad thing, but you need it to drive business forward—that’s what breeds innovation.”
The panelists also address how their companies are making actionable changes towards inclusivity of BIPOC, by removing barriers to entry as well as ensuring leadership opportunities. LVMH is implementing an initiative over the next five years to increase BIPOC leadership to 30%, CFDA has their Designer Hub incubative program and is working on a talent directory, and Tapestry has programs like Lead, which takes untapped potential from retail positions, where a lot of BIPOC representation lies, and puts them into leadership roles.
Change will not happen overnight, the panelists agreed, but it will be part of a continuous long-term approach to shift the current state of inequity. The fashion industry must continue to be held accountable and commit to taking steps towards positive and lasting change.
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