The Black in Fashion Council Founders on Creating an 'Accountability Culture' in the Industry



"Our idea to speak to each other, extend the conversation to our peers and form a council has grown over the past couple of weeks in light of everything that has been going on, not only in our industry but in the current climate," Charles tells PEOPLE before adding that the council concept had been a few years in the making.

"This conversation has started years ago when Lindsay wrote the story for New York Magazine, " she adds. "This was a seed that was already planted. It was just the time to expand on it."

In 2018, Peoples Wagner wrote a piece on what it’s like to be a Black person working in fashion for The Cut’s fall Fashion Issue. The story featured more than 100 interviews with Black fashion professionals — one of them being Charles — voicing their personal experiences with discrimination in the industry, further proving the need for systemic change.

"I think we look back at it now and ask, how much change has there actually been and what productive change can we actually push the industry to see needs to happen," she tells PEOPLE.

Talking about the industry's "next phase of productive progression," Peoples Wagner adds: "We often say that fashion is such a progressive movement and so inclusive of all different kinds of people and ideas, but definitely when it comes to amplifying black voices, it really hasn't opened that door fully. How do we make sure that we're not having a conversation again in two years?"

During this racially-charged time in the United States, many fashion brands, designers and media companies

have been publicly called out for discrimination and systemic racism in the workplace. Most recently, Adam Rapoport stepped down as editor in chief of Conde Nast's Bon Appetit magazine following outrage over a resurfaced racially insensitive photograph, leading magazine staff members to speak out about unfair treatment at the brand.

Touching on the subject, Charles says, "There's a lot of things that are repeating themselves over history. Having a really nurturing, empowering, growing work experience is something we all aspire for — something that we all deserve, and that's really what we're pushing for here."

"No one's asking for anything that someone else doesn't have," she adds.

The council has also teamed up with several organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign, and plans to create an equality index survey — something that has never been done before — set to be released in June 2021. The survey will be a tool to track Black employment and growth.

"We're aligning with multiple people to figure out what the survey would look like. A lot of that is work that HRC has already done," Peoples Wagner explains. "They reach all major Fortune 500 companies. We are looking to them and a couple of other agencies to support this effort."

The council will also release a yearly public report that will track companies that have signed a three-year pledge in order to help improve the number of Black employees within their businesses.

And when it comes to "cancel culture" — which has been further perpetuated amid the current social unrest in the country — both fashion industry influencers say it's time to "hold people accountable" in order "to have long term change."

"I know that it's easier to cancel people and just kind of move on to the next, but that's going to essentially repeat itself whether with those people or someone else," Charles says. "We're more interested in creating change alongside these brands to make these internal changes so that we can nip this in the bud sooner than later — so that this conversation no longer has to happen."

Agreeing with Charles, Peoples Wagner adds: "What we're proposing with this is long term change. A lot of the moves that we've been making for this are really out of strategy and longevity. It's about building that foundation so that we can have a relationship with all these stakeholders, brand publications, retailers and everything in between. So we can have constant communication with them and a relationship that develops over time."

She adds: "We're looking forward to making a lot of changes that we've all dreamed about and talked about over the years. A really important part for us is moving it from that cancel culture to accountability culture."

The collective is made up of 400 fashion professionals (which is sure to expand with its official website launch) and features an almost 40-person executive board, boasting members like costume designer and former fashion editor Shiona Turini and GQ deputy fashion director Nikki Ogunnaike.

Together, the council will also work to create a digital directory of Black talent and collaborate with different fashion and media companies to help them diversify their staff.

"We're looking forward to having those conversations with people and being able to see actions made by the industry," Peoples Wagner says. "We want those who come up behind us to have different and better experiences and see themselves fully represented in a real way."

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