With the world finally awakening to the racial injustice that still exists today, nearly every aspect of public and private life has come under scrutiny. As the inherent racism of the fashion industry has been exposed, there have been concerns about which fashion brands we can continue to support with a guilt-free conscience.
It might seem a trivial issue, but shopping responsibly is one small step that can have a huge impact if it encourages corporations to be more socially conscious and environmentally ethical.
So where should we shop?
Put simply, reconciling support for the Black Lives Matter movement with our usual shopping habits is going to be a struggle. The fashion supply chain is reliant on outsourcing production to millions of non-white garment workers who are subjected to poor working conditions and wages, thereby allowing maximum profits. In corporate offices, the situation is hardly improved with Black employees now testifying to frequent cases of racial bias, discrimination and pay gaps.
It’s unrealistic to expect consumer behaviour to drastically change overnight, although both the recent health pandemic and racial protests have undoubtedly shaken the status quo. However, it’s important we take a closer look at who we’re giving money to and ensure they align with our own values.
Here’s a few helpful tips to get started!
Tip No.1 – Look for Pledges, Not Platitudes
Only a few brands have remained totally silent following the recent upsurge in racial protests (Balenciaga, Hermes and Max Mara, here’s looking at you!) with the majority at least paying lip-service via Instagrammed images and videos captioned with an official statement.
Some corporate pledges of change have been intentionally vague and unmeasurable, effectively preventing these companies from being held accountable in the future. Versace’s ‘Say No to Racism. Equality. Diversity. Inclusivity. Together we win’ graphic captioned simply ‘#BlackLivesMatter’ was one particularly non-specific example. Much like the proverbial ex-boyfriend, these labels lamenting ‘we must try harder' or ‘we should do more’ with no real goals or objectives are definitely ones to question for future purchases.
Tip No. 2 – Timing is Everything
It’s also worth considering how willing fashion brands were to vocalise support for anti-racism – something you’d think would be a no-brainer. Topshop, Reiss, New Look, French Connection, Chloe, Dolce & Gabanna and many others waited until #BlackOutTuesday, which occurred over a week after George Floyd’s death, to post a black square on Instagram as a supposed sign of allyship. The delayed response suggests this may have only been due to the snowballing public backlash aimed towards corporations for staying silent.
Some brands, like Farfetch and Mango, stipulated this was time for internal reflection. While this could be an honourable attempt to avoid jumping on the bandwagon, it does overlook that time is a privilege the Black community doesn’t have.
Tip No. 3 - Beware the (Performative) Power of Instagram
Social media can be a powerful tool for disseminating information, but it’s also a space for performative activism. Companies can easily adopt the image of a socially-progressive brand without necessarily upholding ‘woke’ principles in real life. The action required behind closed doors to address institutionalised racism is more complicated and time-consuming, but this work is often a truer reflection of brand values, rather than PR power.
This dissonance has become apparent in the recent scandals involving Celine, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Free People Farfetch and Reformation, all of whom have been called out by previous employees and customers alike for racial profiling and discrimination.
Where possible, try to do some research into the brands you shop with regularly, and see what you can find out about their business structures and policies. Since this isn’t the first time that racism has reared its ugly head, it’s a fair assumption that any business truly concerned with diversity and inclusivity would’ve implemented measures before it was ‘popular’ to do so.
Consider key questions like: "Is there any kind of regulatory body to oversee these changes?’", "How many Black employees are there in director roles and above?", "Does their social media include influencers who aren’t white?" and so on. A quick look at the corporate websites of Nike, New Look and Asos, for example, shows that each company's Board of Directors is wholly white. This is by no means a rarity.
Tip No.4 – Stay Informed
Now, more than ever, it’s so important to stay informed. This can include reading books, watching documentaries and listening to podcasts to find out about historic and contemporary manifestations of racism, as well as keeping up to date with current affairs. There’s a whole host of individuals and organisations - Aja Barber, Valerie Eguavoen, Hannah Stoudemire, Emma Dabiri as well as fashion watchdog DietPrada to name a few - who are dedicated to flagging up racism, holding companies accountable and educating their followers.
One ongoing social campaign to follow is #PayUp led by Remake. The initiative is pressuring companies who cancelled orders during lockdown to compensate their textile workers, 80% of whom are women of colour, who are now facing mass unemployment and poverty. Brands including Gap, Topshop and Primark have so far failed to do so, out of concern for how this will affect their bottom line. Any brand that’s serious about addressing racism must fix the inherent inequalities and exploitation that exist in their present supply chain. If you want to check which brands have and haven’t paid up, click here to access the Worker’s Rights Covid-19 Tracker.
Tip No.5 – Buy Black
Making a conscious effort to purchase directly from Black-owned businesses is perhaps one of the best ways to support the Black community. Systematic racism has historically limited Black enterprise and empowerment by denying fair opportunities for education, social mobility, investment and economic gain. By supporting businesses which are Black-owned, we can help address this inequality.
Here’s a list of Black-owned fashion and jewellery brands available in the UK:
1. Wales Bonner
4. Nubian Skin
5. Custom Wear
8. Omi Woods
Both Depop and Etsy offer a Black-owned section to help promote these businesses in support of #BlackLivesMatter - as always, it’s great to buy second-hand whenever possible!