The Color of Fashion: Finally Changing the DNA of an Industry

by Michelle Washington on September 10, 2020 in Lifestyle, Fashion, Living Texas,
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As the Black Lives Matter protests have swept through cities around the world, fashion brands have tried to contribute to the conversation. 

Much of the diversity being granted did not come from a place of true belief in the idea of equality, but as the direct result of public pressure. The sign of the times in the United States has led our nation toward a movement, not a moment.

Yet, many fashion industry social media feeds have returned to normal, as if diversity and inclusion were a trend. People know what it feels like to not be seen, to be ignored; if you don’t see yourself…you don’t feel that you belong. 

Second-rate opportunities and casual micro-aggressions should never be the “norm” of the fashion industry. It’s time for accountability, long term advancement, long term progress, social change, and TRUE allyship.

Austin-based expert fashion stylist Michelle Washington recently moderated the timely panel, “The Color of Fashion.” Proceeds from the panel benefitted the Black Fashion World Scholarship Fund. Photo courtesy Michelle Washington

The Color of Fashion, a virtual panel discussion held on August 19th, 2020, originated from the need to demonstrate the value of diversity, inclusion and representation in the fashion industry. (Click here to see the recorded discussion.)

Change starts with awareness and acknowledgment and this was the most likely intent with fashion retailers and brands that engaged in the one-time social media “black box” post; sharing lengthy captions denouncing racism and discrimination. However, consumers have made it clear that posting an empty, performative gesture of a black box isn’t enough. There are questions beyond the box: Is the fashion industry truly answering the call to action against systemic racism?

The Color of Fashion addressed topics around how the fashion industry needs to authentically engage multicultural communities for better cultural competency. The event featured an all-star guest panel of fashion industry professionals, including celebrity fashion designer Sergio Hudson. A designer for Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Tracee Ellis Ross, Regina King, Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Hensen, The Kardashians and Queen Latifah, Hudson’s vision is to bring back the joy of dressing.

Color of Fashion panelist Sophia Batson is not only the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Orchid Magazine but also a professional diversity and inclusion consultant.
Courtesy photo

Joining Hudson on the panel was fashion designer Kenneth Nicholson, a 2020 CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) American Emerging Designer of the Year Nominee who has been featured in notable fashion press including Vogue, WWD and GQ Magazine. Rounding out the panelists was Sophia Batson, Orchid Magazine Founder and Editor-in-Chief who has worked with Elle Man Hungary, Elle Italia, Cosmo Hungary and Women’s Wear Daily. Batson is also a professional diversity and inclusion consultant.

I had the distinct honor of moderating the panel and kicked off by jumping straight in and asking, “What does it mean to be Black in the fashion industry?”

Panelist Kenneth Nicholson is a 2020 Council of Fashion Designers of America American Emerging Designer of the Year Nominee. Courtesy photo

That initial question led to substantially weighted discussions about opportunities, exposure and acknowledging privilege. Sergio Hudson added a stirring perspective, “You can’t enter a movement and do what you ‘think’ needs to be done, you need to do what needs to be done for the community.” The ongoing poignant discussion also raised topics such as corporate responsibility and how brands should be thinking about how their messaging lines up with their social responsibility; putting together a tangible plan that will inspire actionable change.

Celebrity fashion designer Sergio Hudson has been a designer for Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Tracee Ellis Ross, Regina King, Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Hensen, The Kardashians and Queen Latifah. Courtesy photo

The Color of Fashion also offered the opportunity for the audience to be a part of the solution as proceeds were donated to Black Fashion World. The BFW Scholarship Fund provides educational grants for African-Americans to pursue education and entrepreneurship in the fashion industry.

Unfortunately, diversity doesn’t guarantee inclusion, but starting the conversation is the first important step towards a more unified industry. Let’s keep the conversation going…

Cover photo courtesy Khaled Ghareeb on Unsplash

Michelle Washington is an Austin-based TV style expert, fashion stylist and GQ Insider. Washington’s media experience is approved by the Women’s Media Center.