Representation matters. We hear it, and we know it to be true; we also know it to be good for business. But if the racial reckoning of this past year has proven anything—beyond a need for the long-overdue overhaul of any number of American institutions and industries—it’s that even the most well-meaning of those institutions and industries are often clueless as to what representation means or how to achieve it. Whether neglecting to identify and install Black and brown talent at every level of their infrastructure (not just the visible roles, but the decision-making ones, too), or to create opportunities for development, advancement and retention, corporations have been failing en masse at diversity and inclusion for decades. No big surprise that they’re floundering to improve their margins now.
For the fashion world, a front-facing industry that has long mined Black and brown culture for inspiration, the exclusion of their talents from partaking in the industry’s over-trillion-dollar revenue stream is especially egregious and insulting. Our catwalks have become more diverse in recent years, but our C-suites, design studios and every space between have remained significantly less so—which is why a new initiative announced by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) was designed to make an impact.
On Monday, the CFDA announced the launch of IMPACT, “a new, multifaceted initiative to create opportunities for historically underrepresented and unsupported communities in fashion,” according to a press release from the organization, which explained the initiative’s mission thusly:
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to take action and create sustainable change against the social and economic marginalization of Black people, IMPACT addresses the decades-long system of exclusion of Black talent in the industry with hopes to create a blueprint for other industries to follow.
The initiative’s name is adopted from CFDA’s mission “to strengthen the impact of American fashion designers in the global economy.” IMPACT will identify, connect, support, and nurture Black and brown creatives and professionals in fashion, furthering CFDA’s mission to advance American fashion by including diverse talent in every facet of the industry’s ecosystem.
To first address the pipeline issue that proven a consistent barrier to entry for qualified Black and brown talent into the fashion industry, on Friday, Feb. 26, the CFDA is launching IMPACT with a talent directory powered by Creatively, the job platform for creatives. Per the release, “CFDA IMPACT will connect its 450-plus members, fashion adjacent companies, fashion institutions and nonprofit and university partners, and a network of industry professionals across disciplines and levels to full/part-time jobs, freelance opportunities, and paid internships.”
“Creatively is committed to nurturing a community that truly reflects the diversity across the full spectrum of the creative world, and we know that Black and brown creatives in particular are often underserved,” said Creatively CEO Gregory Gittrich. “We’re fortunate to be partnering with the CFDA on this important initiative, with the goal of creating more opportunities for Black and brown creatives and professionals at top brands.”
The initiative was informed by the results of the latest in a series of studies on equity conducted by the CFDA, which along with the PVH Corporation (formerly Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation), published the State of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Fashion study and report on Feb. 1. Of its many findings, one prompted an immediate call to action: “Black employees at the individual level report feeling less prepared for their first job search.”
“Through a range of initiatives including open access, group mentoring, industry programming, and community building, IMPACT will support and nurture Black and brown creatives and professionals,” the release continued, promising to take “an individual, company, and industry approach” to increasing representation throughout the American fashion industry. “CFDA will build a coalition of members and fashion adjacent companies that are equally committed to providing economic and social opportunities to Black and brown creatives and professionals,” it continued.
“This work is essential to the future of American fashion, which must be diverse, equitable, and inclusive,” said CaSandra Diggs, president of the CFDA. “The CFDA is proud to take the lead in this important effort for the industry and beyond. We launch IMPACT with a specific focus on widening talent pipelines and advancing career development for Black and brown creatives and professionals. In the future, we will further the initiative to also address other inequities within the fashion system. I would like to thank Creatively for its collaboration on the talent directory, as well as CFDA’s Black Advisory Board for the guidance on this critical work.”
IMPACT’s Black Advisory Board includes groundbreaking Black creatives like Harper’s Bazaar Editor-in-Chief Samira Nasr, Netflix Chief Marketing Officer Bozoma Saint John, U.S. Head of E-Commerce & Digital, Tod’s Group Stacie Henderson and CFDA member Martin Cooper, all of whom are now lending their talents to make the industry more accessible to other talents, “providing support in bolstering CFDA’s commitment to addressing the lack of racial diversity of the industry.”
Helping to lead the effort is veteran designer Tracy Reese, who both helms the sustainable Detroit-based brand Hope For Flowers and serves as executive board vice chairwoman.
“I am so proud to be a part of CFDA at this pivotal moment in our industry’s evolution!” said Reese in a statement. “CFDA, the IMPACT team and generous partners are dedicated to rolling out programming that is thoughtful, nuanced and targeted to achieve measurable, sustainable and positive change in fashion. We hope this groundbreaking work will set the trend for other industries.”