Honestly? If we never saw another balaclava again, we’d be good.
As “Blackface-gate” has raged on throughout the fashion industry, several luxury labels—Gucci, Prada and Burberry, among them—have been forced to realize elite status doesn’t exempt them from difficult conversations and accountability on issues of race, diversity and cultural sensitivity.
In response, diversity and inclusion initiatives have been popping up faster than new it-bags. As reported by Harper’s Bazaar, Burberry has introduced new diversity initiatives amongst its staff, while Prada went big on its bid to do the right thing by appointing artist and activist Theaster Gates and award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay to co-chair its new Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council.
But Gucci has perhaps been the most visible and vocal in its ongoing response to the backlash created by its blackface-resembling balaclava sweater (said to have been inspired by late performance artist Leigh Bowery). At the forefront of the conversation has been collaborator and couturier Dapper Dan, who has taken the lead on taking his parent company to task for what many felt was egregious insensitivity. Immediately following the incident, Dan addressed the issue directly with Gucci President and CEO Marco Bizzari, compelling a meeting between the two and several other black influencers in the weeks to follow, as calls to boycott the brand continued.
On Sunday, Dan, who has been consistently vocal about the endemic issues in the industry, posted an update on Gucci’s progress via his Instagram, saying, in part:
I have seen real action towards the problems we discussed, and I want to share them with you.
What we are announcing tomorrow is game-changing for the industry-at-large. After meeting with some of the industry’s leading black minds and others in fashion, business and culture, we’ve helped Gucci come up with programs that will positively impact the Black community and fashion as a whole.
Black designers and fashion professionals will be given new opportunities through these new initiatives ... Through our work together, Gucci is in a position to steer the overall industry toward becoming a better, more inclusive one.
On Monday, Gucci made good on Dan’s promise, announcing a global program as a follow-up to new diversity and inclusion initiatives launched by the label last month. Those initiatives include the hiring of a Global Director for Diversity and Inclusion, Regional Directors for Diversity and Inclusion, a diversity awareness initiative for Gucci’s 18,000 employees, a multicultural design scholarship program in 10 cities around the world, and the hiring of five global designers to fill positions in the Rome headquarters.
Called Gucci Changemakers, their new program seeks to “support industry change and to foster unity through community action,” according to a statement. While new, the program was reportedly initially launched pre-backlash in 2018 as an internal initiative. Now front-facing, it includes a $5 million multi-year Changemakers Fund, which will invest in community-based programs in cities across North America. Additionally, a $1.5 million scholarship program specifically focusing on North American talent has been created, as well as a global employee volunteering component which “empowers all 18,000 Gucci employees worldwide to dedicate up to 4 paid days off for volunteering activities in their local communities.”
“I believe in dialogue, building bridges and taking quick action,” said Bizzarri. “This is why we started working immediately on the long-term infrastructure at Gucci to address our shortcomings. And now through our Changemakers program, we will invest important resources to unify and strengthen our communities across North America, with a focus on programs that will impact youth and the African-American community.”
“I believe in the promise of the next generation, and through our scholarship fund we will also create more opportunities for talented young people of diverse backgrounds to gain access to careers in the fashion industry,” Bizzarri added.
Perhaps most importantly, Gucci is forming an external Changemakers Council to “ensure transparency, accountability and long-term impact.” The council will both select nonprofit partner organizations in cities that initially include Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington D.C., as well as select eligible students to receive $20,000 grants toward completing higher education, presumably in fashion or related industries.
While still in formation, Gucci’s Changemakers include many familiar names, both within the fashion industry and activism at large. Their current council includes:
- Bethann Hardison, Fashion Activist
- Brittany Packnett, Activist, Educator and Writer
- Cleo Wade, Poet and Activist
- Dapper Dan, Harlem Couturier
- DeRay McKesson, Activist
- Eric Avila, Professor of History and Chicano Studies, UCLA
- Ivy McGregor, CEO, The IVY Inc.
- Kimberly Blackwell, Business Leader, CEO, PMM
- Michaela Angela Davis, Activist and Writer
- Robert Carter, Chair of Gucci Internal D&I Committee, Gucci Project Manager Dapper Dan Atelier
- Susan Chokachi, Gucci, President and CEO, North America
- Yaseen Eldik, Lawyer and Writer
- Yasmeen Hassan, Executive Director of Equality Now
- Yvette Noel-Schure, Co-Founder & Exec. VP Schure Media Group
- Will.i.am, Entertainer, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
“As a partner, I am proud to work with Gucci and other community leaders to help guide programs that will create meaningful impact for the Black community and fashion as a whole,” wrote Dapper Dan. “It is imperative that we have a seat at the table to say how we should be represented and reimagined. Through our work together, Gucci is in a position to lead the overall industry toward becoming a better more inclusive one.”
Time will tell—but in an industry that prides itself on setting trends, we hope this one catches on.
The Glow Up tip: For more information about the Gucci Changemakers scholarship program, inquiries can be submitted at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.