In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in May, businesses around the world, including the fashion industry, responded with statements about Black Lives Matter. They assessed how they treated people of color in their success, and the soul searching was often frank.
In June, Levi Strauss & Co., one of California’s leading apparel companies, posted a blog on its Off the Cuff web page noting that it considered itself a diverse company committed to change but that it had not done enough. While women make up 57 percent of Levi’s workforce and about 60 percent of the company’s employees are of color, the majority of the denim giant’s management offices and boardrooms are made up of people who are white.
To spark a change, Levi’s resolved to develop a new executive position to recruit people of color to the executive level and develop a more equitable company culture. In November, it made good on its promise by naming Elizabeth A. Morrison chief diversity inclusion and belonging officer.
In June, Reformation, a Los Angeles leader and innovator in sustainability, made a dramatic announcement on its Instagram profile. Founder Yael Aflalo posted two words: “I failed.” Aflalo explained that she had been criticized by a former employee for ignoring people of color. After facing mounting criticism, Aflalo stepped down from her leadership position and resolved that her company would put together a diversity and inclusion board to change the company.
The mea culpas and pledges to do better are encouraging, said Kevan Hall, founder of the fashion house Kevan Hall Design and co-founder of Black Design Collective, an entrepreneurial, educational nonprofit for people of color.
“This has been the biggest focus on diversity that I have seen,” Hall said. “But it remains to be seen if big brands and fashion corporations are taking it seriously.” He hoped that there would be a benchmark system where diversity efforts of fashion companies could be measured. “People are sincere, but they have short memories. All of the progress, good thoughts and kind wishes could go away,” he said.