When a Gucci sweater was widely criticized for evoking blackface symbolismand backlash spread across the social media sphere, the luxury fashion brand sought to put out the fire by announcing a four-step action plan to promote diversity and inclusion awareness within the company.
Now, in what appears to be a deeper effort to show it’s taking diversity and inclusion efforts seriously, Gucci named Renée Tirado as its first-ever global head of diversity, equity and inclusion. Tirado is the former chief diversity and inclusion officer for Major League Baseball.
Gucci’s latest development is by no means a unicorn act in the fashion world. Chanel hired a new head of diversity and inclusion in July, Prada selected director and producer Ava DuVernay as co-chair of its new diversity and inclusion advisory council in February and Burberry announced a new series of diversity and inclusivity initiatives that same month.
“[A chief diversity officer] is common in higher education, but given social media and consumer demands, it’s now placed more pressure on companies and corporations to do the same thing,” Ronald Milon, chief diversity officer at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told Forbes.
Companies with more ethnically diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to outperform competitors, according to a study conducted by management consultant firm McKisney & Company, and it looks like fashion brands are catching on.
I think there’s definitely more awareness, especially at the level of corporate brands [that are] giving attention to issues of diversity and inclusion,” said Jason Kass, associate dean at Parsons School of Design. But he adds that there’s “going to be a little bit of time before we can start to see what impact, if any, this has on the way brands communicate, who we’re seeing represented in their campaigns and their cultural awareness when it comes to how they are responding to and being inspired by aspects of design from cultures outside of their own.”
Kass and Milon were part of a one-day forum last October, coordinated by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and the American clothing company PVH Corp., to bring together industry leaders and higher education professionals for a discussion on the state of diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry.
In January of this year, the CFDA and PVH released a joint report based off the forum in which 41% of industry professionals surveyed rated their organization as having an average level of diversity. Sixty-two percent of the respondents gave their organization’s commitment to an inclusive workplace an average rating.
“If the fashion industry is going to lead in inclusion and diversity, additional and multi-faceted efforts will be required,” the report says. “These efforts should include individual-level programs such as inclusion training, as well as organizational-level efforts focused on an organization’s policies and practices, both internal and external. These statistics are simply not enough.”
While reports are a start, action and representation from women like DuVernay at Prada and Tirado at Gucci could mark a sea of change for fashion houses, leading to fewer faux-pas and more inclusive clothing—and messaging—for all.
I’m the assistant editor for ForbesWomen and Small Business, where I cover all things women and business. I’m originally from Long Island, N.Y., but I spent my undergrad years at Boston University, where I majored in Journalism and minored in Spanish, and I now live in Brooklyn. Beyond my primary passion for storytelling, I have a love for learning and writing about anything food- and drink-related, as well as cooking and eating. Prior to joining Forbes, I worked at Wine Spectator where I covered wine and food, and how they connect to pop culture. Read Less