“When I spoke out about Prada’s blackface line one year ago, I feared that racism in fashion was a just bitter pill we collectively had to swallow,” said Chinyere Ezie, a civil rights attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, on Wednesday. “Now I know that speaking truth to power can lead to meaningful change.”
It was Ezie who, after seeing blackface-like figures prominently displayed in Prada’s flagship store in New York City’s Soho neighborhood, brought the Italian luxury label’s highly offensive (and now-defunct) “Pradamalia” line to international attention in Dec. 2018. In a Facebook post that quickly went viral, Ezie expressed her outrage with the brand’s glib use of large-lipped, caricature-like monkeys that highly resembled racist imagery. As she then noted, the images echoed many she’d recently seen in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“History cannot continue to repeat itself. Black America deserves better. And we demand better,” she wrote.
Ezie’s outcry was part of a watershed moment in the fashion industry, in which luxury fashion houses like Prada, Gucci, Burberry, Chanel, and more have been forced to confront not only the tropes they have peddled in the name of “fashion,” but the lack of diversity within their ranks. Prada, which quickly pulled the “Pradamalia” line from its shelves, created a “diversity council” following its blackface gaffe. Furthermore, after a complaint filed by Ezie with the New York City Human Rights Commission, today she announced she and the brand have reached an agreement that will further address its missteps. According to a release, the agreement’s terms require:
• Creation of a first-ever scholarship and paid internship program at Prada for racial minorities and other under-represented groups interested in pursuing careers in fashion and design;
• Racial equity training and training on equal employment opportunity laws for Prada employees, including executives in New York City and Milan on a reoccurring basis for six years;
• A commitment to recruit and retain underrepresented employees, including racial minorities, to positions across the company;
• Appointment of a permanent diversity officer, whose duties include strengthening Prada’s policies on discrimination, retaliation, and racial equity, and ensuring Prada’s business activities and hiring are conducted in a racially equitable manner; and
• Mandatory enforcement and reporting to the NYC Human Rights Commission for a period of two years.
Granted, it’s a reactive measure; one that in many ways mimics recent moves made by Gucci, which responded to its own blackface scandal with the creation of new roles, initiatives and a “Changemakers” advisory council that just last month issued a series of grants to organizations in underserved communities. But as the luxury fashion market shows no signs of slowing down, even remedial efforts are better late than never. However long overdue, Ezie is right: change is possible—hopefully, efforts like hers will the face of fashion for future generations.