PARIS — Fashion personalities addressed one of the moment’s hottest topics, diversity, in a panel talk broadcast on the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode’s Haute Couture Online platform Tuesday morning.
“The fashion industry is part of our society and culture, defines beauty standards and influences us, subconsciously or not. This is why this industry is targeted by Black Lives Matter activists,” said presenter Camille Charrière by way of introduction. “On the runways and in leadership positions at fashion companies, we primarily see white people.”
“Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, the fashion industry has been completely overwhelmed,” said moderator Jenke Ahmed-Tailly, a creative director, stylist and FHCM ambassador for emerging brands.
During the 25-minute discussion, Xuly Bët designer Lamine Badian Kouyaté, communications strategist Svet Chassol, photographer Inès Manaï, and Paul Lavel, founder of black-owned communications firm Radical PR, discussed how diversity could be better integrated and represented in the fashion world, all agreeing they were optimistic about the future, given growing awareness in recent weeks.
The Black Lives Matter movement has meant that the industry is entering a new phase, the panel agreed. “Diversity is a question of survival,” said Kouyaté. “If we continue in the same way, it will be a desertification […] We need to move beyond conservatism.”
Topics broached included the importance of better integrating minorities in the industry’s biggest companies — beyond “figurehead” positions — improving access to education and better representing minorities, diversity and pluralism in fashion media to help people relate to the industry. “It’s not enough to have one black person representing all black people,” said Chassol.
“For a long time, when you looked at fashion, it was a sanitized version of reality,” Kouyaté continued.
Whereas in the past, Chassol said, minorities were largely forced to take on the discourse and codes of the establishment in order to be heard — implying access to educational opportunities that have often been denied — platforms like social media are allowing activism to take on a variety of forms and voices.
Regarding the fashion press, the participants highlighted the example of Vogue Arabia. “Vogue Arabia was a complete failure. They only used Western photographers and all the same models. They had this streamlined idea of beauty, were always using the same brands, and didn’t support emerging Arab creators,” said Manaï.
“There are so many talented people who don’t have a creative space,” agreed Kouyaté.
Chassol pointed out that as well as being a societal issue, better integrating diversity would ultimately represent a significant economic opportunity for the industry. “Economically, because that is the crux of this matter, brands and big companies have to realize that by taking action, there will be an economic shift,” he said. “They’ve been shooting themselves in the foot for years, by casting […] different social, ethnic groups aside, who aren’t part of this economic discussion. When they include new people, they’ll also gain new tools and new possibilities thanks to those new tools.”