Faux-Diversity? Enough is ENOUGH. “Diversity & Inclusion.” We’ve heard these buzzwords time and time again. I know I can’t be the only person sick of the empty promises, and yesterday, Pyer Moss’ founder Kirby Jean-Raymond said enough was ENOUGH.
In a scathing self-published op-ed on Medium, the award-winning designer called out the Business of Fashion’s #BOF500 list and its accompanying gala. To be honest, he did more than call them out – he DRAGGED them. Jean-Raymond lobbed accusations of cultural appropriation, intellectual thievery and flat out foolishness against the publication and its founder and Editor-in-Chief, Imran Amred.
Then the choir comes back on stage. This man, Imran, turns into Kirk Franklin and starts dancing on the stage with them and shit. To a room full of white people.
The words were not tame, they weren’t politically correct, they’re sure not to win Jean-Raymond any fans at BoF. But they needed to be said.
Fashion has a SERIOUS Diversity Problem
As a plus size black woman, I cannot speak to other marginalized communities, but from where I’m standing? Fashion has a diversity problem. And they know it. Plus size and brown and black bodies are often relegated to a small subsection of fashion, even if the numbers show that PoC and plus size consumers have the spending power to command more attention.
Turns out, it’s not just the models walking the runways and featured in magazines. It’s the people making the decisions as well. Off the top of your head, how many PoC designers officially presented collections at the latest NYFW? 14 out of 80, or less than 18%. And for Black designers? Just five: Pyer Moss, Fenty x Savage, Zendaya x Tommy, LaQuan Smith and Telfar.
That’s on top of the fact that in 2018, the CFDA reported that only 3% of their members were Black (and there are literally no numbers for plus size members). But, don’t let those numbers fool you – just because Black designers, editors and models aren’t in the mix, doesn’t mean black CULTURE has been left behind. It’s quite the opposite actually, and Jean-Raymond had something to say on that point, too:
People feeling like they can buy or own whatever they want… if that thing pertains to blackness. We are always up for sale.
While Black people may not be reaping the rewards, you can believe that SOMEONE is making money off of us. Rather it’s through the obvious appropriation and repackaging of cultural hallmarks (I’m looking at you, Kardashians). Or the actual theft of our creativity, innovation and ideas (again, I am looking at you, Kardashians); Black excellence is everywhere, but we aren’t the ones selling it.
Cultural Appropriation is More Than Hair & Clothes
The most important and thought-provoking part of the op-ed wasn’t the black church choir, or the sudden springing of black fashion “group panel” on the Pyer Moss designer. It was a scenario that almost every black and PoC creative can relate to: the theft of our ideas and resources. Jean-Raymond writes:
To have your brain picked for months, be told that your talk at the “Salon” and work inspired this whole thing, and then be excluded in favor of big brands who cut the check is insulting. I’m offended that you gaslighted me, used us, then monetized it and then excluded us in the most disrespectful way to patronize companies that need “racist offsets.”
Jean-Raymond alleges that during months of chats with BoF’s Amred, he was pumped for information on the names of people in the industry and on his personal business, all under the guise of a coveted magazine cover.
Now, I wasn’t there for those conversations, but I can definitely relate. And I think many plus size PoC can relate as well. The plus size community, in its current form, wouldn’t exist with the plus size women of color who paved the way. However, so often, those women are left out of the conversation and receive very little recognition. To put it frankly: black plus size women created this community, but we’re NOT benefiting from it.
And we’re not the only ones; this isn’t just a plus size phenomenon. Or, as Jean-Raymond put it in his IG story, “fashion exploits more women of color than any other industry.”
Because the truth is, even our ideas and our very creativity are for sale; and we’re not the ones cashing the checks.
Where Does That Leave Us, Then?
Now, in all fairness and transparency, I have to wonder; if Jean-Raymond had indeed gotten his BoF cover, would this have been an issue (no pun intended)? If Imran HAD given the Reebok collaborator his just dues at the BoF500 gala, would we be having this conversation right now? I can’t call it. What I can say is that nothing he said was off-base or out of pocket. Most importantly, it’s a story we’ve all heard or experienced many times before.
In an industry that’s always looking for what’s new and next, the black delegation would kindly like fashion to move on from our culture and find something else. Or at the very least pay us what you owe us; in money and credit. It’s the least you can do for casting aside the very REAL consequences of being Black. Or, as Jean-Raymond so eloquently put it, “like, we gonna die black, are you?”
What do you think? Was Jean-Raymond right in his feelings? Or was he just IN his feelings? And if he was justified in his feelings, do you see any parallels between his grievances and the plus size community? Are WoC plus size women being robbed?
Sound off in the comments or head over to my Twitter and let me know your thoughts!