As Fashion and Beauty Leaders Scramble on Race Issues, Black Insiders Organize to Demand an Industry Makeover

Law Roach attends the Fifth Annual InStyle Awards on October 21, 2019, in Los Angeles, Calif.
Law Roach attends the Fifth Annual InStyle Awards on October 21, 2019, in Los Angeles, Calif.
Photo: Emma McIntyre (Getty Images for InStyle)

“Image architect” Law Roach is one of the most successful talents working behind the scenes of the fashion and entertainment industries—crafting the memorable red carpet looks of stars like Zendaya and Celine Dion when he’s not throwing out biting one-liners as a judge on shows like America’s Next Top Model and HBO Max’s Legendary.

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Now, the award-winning stylist is spearheading the fight against racism and marginalization in the industries that have made him a star, joining forces with designer/stylist Jason Rembert (Aliétte NY) and celebrity hairstylist Lacy Redway (Tessa Thompson, Zazie Beetz and more) to form the Black Fashion & Beauty Collective (BFB Collective), a new nonprofit “committed to giving towards and directly influencing progression within the fashion and beauty industries, and the Black community,” according to its mission statement, which also reads:

Black culture has always provided inspiration for cutting edge fashion and beauty trends, and has ultimately contributed to our successes both individually and as a collective in our fields. The BFB Collective plans to create initiatives in collaboration with others in the industry, including designers, fashion houses, production companies, and even those who just hold a deep appreciation for the artistry within fashion and beauty. These initiatives will focus on creating education and career advancement opportunities for aspiring creatives, developing industry diversification standards for brands and corporations, providing resources to support members with their professional goals, and fostering community engagement and support. Charitable endeavors—in partnership with local organizations—will function as vehicles for serving and healing our community, while simultaneously paying homage to those within it who have consistently set the standard in the fashion and beauty industries.

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“It’s almost like creating a Black glam union,” stylist Jason Bolden (Styling Hollywood), who sits on the board of the new collective, told Business of Fashion (BoF). Further expressing the need for what he called a “safe space” for Black creatives, Bolden explained: “Our white counterparts have very different experiences from us, from how they get paid to how they have been treated, agents...their proximity to PR, management agencies—it’s a very different experience.”

As BoF notes, the new coalition is one of several new initiatives that have arisen within the fashion and beauty industries in response to America’s racial crisis in the past few weeks, as “the fashion industry is grappling with its embedded racism, debt to black culture and lack of diversity at the highest levels of leadership.”

CFDA Chairman Tom Ford and President and CEO Steven Kolb issued a statement in early June in response to the uprisings across the country, introducing new hiring initiatives at the esteemed industry organization “to create systemic change within our industry,” including an in-house employment program “specifically charged with placing Black talent in all sectors of the fashion business,” mentorship and internship programs, a Diversity and Inclusion training program, and financial contributions and fundraising on behalf of racial justice organizations.

“Having a clear voice and speaking out against racial injustice, bigotry and hatred is the first step, but this is not enough,” the letter read, in part. “This is a deeply disturbing moment that speaks to us all. Our world is in deep pain. Our industry is in pain and it is not enough to simply say that we stand in solidarity with those who are discriminated against. We must do something.”

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On E!’s CFDA Awards: Ultimate Fashion Moments special on Tuesday night, designer and new CFDA board member Carly Cushnie lauded the organization’s response, expressing that she was heartened to see the Council “really take action immediately.”

“There’s been a lot of statements made from a lot of companies, a lot of brands, a lot of organizations and it’s important to stand with the Black community at this time,” she said, adding, “But even more so, it’s really about taking action, taking steps, so I think what they’ve started to do in terms of creating an employment program specifically aimed at sourcing Black talent and placing Black talent through all sectors of the industry, I think is just really crucial.”

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Cushnie’s words echo those of supermodels Joan Smalls and industry icon Beverly Johnson, and designer Aurora James, all of whom recently issued challenges to the industry while revealing their own incidences of marginalization and discrimination. Each has asked the industry to put its money where its performative gestures are—James through the creation of the 15 Percent Pledge (recently garnering the commitment of Sephora), Smalls via the relaunch of Donate My Wage (and a commitment of 50 percent of her own salary for the remainder of the year), and Johnson in an op-ed for the Washington Post last week, in which she recalled being “reprimanded for requesting black photographers, makeup artists and hairstylists for photo shoots.”

Johnson also wrote (in part):

Managing racism is one of the things the fashion industry does do well. Year after year, companies inflict harm against black culture while actively gouging it for inspiration and taking all of the profit...When called out, these companies plead for forgiveness, waving promises and money around. Then it’s back to exclusion as usual, until the next brand “accidentally” repeats racial vulgarity. The racism management cycle then begins anew.

Black culture contributes enormously to the fashion industry. But black people are not compensated for it. Brands do not retain and promote the many talented black professionals already in the fashion, beauty and media workforce. Brands do not significantly invest in black designers. The fashion industry pirates blackness for profit while excluding black people and preventing them from monetizing their talents.

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Johnson proposes the “Beverly Johnson Rule” (modeled after the Rooney Rule in the NFL), which would require at least two black candidates “to be meaningfully interviewed for influential positions.” It’s the most basic form of equity and one that shouldn’t have to be requested, let alone required. But at a moment when America at large is once again being forced to reckon with its systemic and overt racism, it’s clear that white-led institutions can’t be trusted to simply “do the right thing” when it comes to diversity and inclusion—because these issues aren’t new; they’re just suddenly compulsory. And while it’s never been our responsibility to remedy them, at this moment, we find ourselves with the rare opportunity to be recognized as the experts on race that we have always been, as Bolden told BoF.

“It’s us being able to own our blackness and also let people know we’ve had enough and this is what it is going to look like going forward.”

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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