Is Fashion Changing?

Tracking an industry where Black representation has been rare.

Video compiled by The New York Times; via Fendi, Coach, Miu Miu, Burberry, and Condé NastCredit…

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Against the backdrop of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, and amid a flurry of racist incidents in the fashion industry, the fashion world vowed it would change.

Has it? And how would anyone know?

In an effort to find out, we looked for concrete numbers about who gets to make fashion, sell fashion and represent fashion.

We asked a set of companies identical questions about the percentage of Black people on their executive team, on their boards and among overall employees — as well as in their ad campaigns and on their runways, shelves and magazine covers. We also asked about their measurable targets for change.

We chose those companies by starting with the fashion show schedule in New York, London, Milan and Paris, the most watched collections of the year. We looked at brands that are part of that runway system and that have more than $50 million in annual revenue, or have Instagram followings of more than one million.

We focused on 64 brands best known for their women’s wear whose products set trends, whose designers have become celebrities and whose imagery sometimes depends heavily on Black culture.

To that we added 15 major department stores and online sellers in those same cities; the ones that act as fashion destinations and serve as conduits between brands and consumers, and whose stamps of approval can change a business.

And we picked the glossy women’s magazines that often serve as the avatars of that system: Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and InStyle.

Here’s what came next.

There Was No Consistent Response

When we first contacted the companies, most wanted to have preliminary conversations — without being quoted — to explain the complicated nature of their individual situations before providing (or not providing) answers.

The hurdles they mentioned included the financial repercussions of the pandemic and the lack of diversity in their geographic regions. They brought up their success in gender representation. They suggested that we should be looking at diversity overall, not just Black representation. They asked about The Times’s own diversity numbers. They said European anti-discrimination laws meant they did not have the relevant information.

When the responses finally came, many questions were left unanswered, and the range of transparency was striking:

Four of the 64 fashion brands — Tory Burch, Coach, Kate Spade and Christian Siriano — tried to fully answer each question.

Several more (16 companies) answered at least half of our questions, including Thom Browne, Oscar de la Renta, Burberry, Brunello Cucinelli, Proenza Schouler, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.

Nine European companies provided no answers, saying that they were legally unable to participate. In France, a controversial 1978 law regarding “data files, processing and individual liberties” prohibits the collection and processing of personal data that reveals, directly or indirectly, the racial and ethnic origins, or religion, of any persons. In Italy, brands cited EU Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR), under which employers can gather and analyze some information about employees for equality monitoring purposes, but prohibits companies from processing data on race, ethnicity, political opinions, religious beliefs, trade union membership or sexual orientation without explicit consent. Despite these laws, other companies based in the same countries partly answered the questions.

Eight companies declined to participate at all. One never replied. Ten brands declined to answer questions but sent statements declaring their commitment to equity, such as “diversity is an asset to be nurtured; inclusiveness is a moral and professional duty” (Armani) and “ending racism has been at the heart of our brand communication since its inception” (Moschino). The rest responded with partial information, usually with information that was already publicly available, like designer ethnicity. Several offered information on their general diversity initiatives and human resources programs instead.

Of the 15 retailers, nine declined entirely, two never responded, and four offered a partial response.

As for media, InStyle answered our questions, but other magazines said either that they couldn’t release employee information or responded with links to their public diversity, equity and inclusion reports.

In discussing their efforts to address the question of representation and inclusion, companies often used similar words, phrases and general sentiments, even if their headquarters are in different countries and are of different size — such as “more work to do” (LVMH and Chanel) or “more that needs to be done” (Tom Ford) or referring to diversity and inclusion as “embedded” in their “culture” (PVH) or “DNA” (Capri).

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