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An industry often under fire changes its tune at this year’s Fashion Awards

2020 was a uniquely challenging year full of uncertainty and reckoning. From health to equity, every industry had to share their values, speak out against injustice and remind the public that they heard – and cared – about their consumer. The luxury fashion industry, an industry who has been under fire for racist and biased practices for years, was no different. 

At the highly acclaimed 2020 Fashion Awards, leaders in the industry praised designers and brands not for their beautiful clothes – but for their contribution to communities, innovation during the pandemic and other conscious acts of solidarity rarely associated with the luxurious industry.  Carolien Rush, the British Fashion Committee’s chief executive reflects this shift by sharing with CNN that, 

“…if this year made something obvious, it is that there are people and brands who lead the way when it comes to change, and it felt the right moment to recognize and celebrate them. We need to spotlight positive change and creativity to help encourage and inspire our industry and beyond.”

Most of this year’s winners were emerging designers highlighted for their strides in DEI efforts and/or sustainable business practices. For example Kenneth Ize, Nigerian designer, employs artisans in his home country to contribute to his collection; the label Asai was praised for their pieces that were sold to raise funds for local organizations following the murder of George Floyd. 

Perhaps most outstanding was the accolades given to Emergency Designer Network, a volunteer-led collective borne out of the pandemic that joins makers and Nation Health Service (NHS) trusts around the U.K. to get 50,000 surgical gowns and 10,000 scrub sets to frontline health workers facing shortages. 

After years of criticism for racial insensitivity and outright biased practices, it seems that the top leaders in the industry are taking note: giving acknowledgement to up and comers who bring both style and solidarity on the runway. Hopefully, long gone are the days where Gucci releases a blackface sweater, H&M puts a Black child in a monkey sweater, or Vogue editor Anna Wintour poses LeBron James as King Kong for the cover. New faces in the industry, like The Cut editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner, are optimistic but cautious. Many brands seemingly came out to support Black Lives Matter via social media in June, during a time of unrest in the United States because of George Floyd’s murder, but she points out, “What are you doing in your home, in your corporate office, with your connections, with the power you have?”

With this year’s Fashion Award winners, it seems the industry leaders may finally be putting their money (and accolades) where their mouth is. Diversity and inclusion leads to efficient teams and higher profits. Fashion is no different. Two-thirds of consumers identify as “belief-driven buyers” who will switch, avoid and even boycott a brand based on their stance on societal issues, according to the 2020 State of Fashion Report. But beyond profit, Black models, designers and writers alike, agree that it will take putting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people in leadership to create a better system, doing more than conveniently taking advantage of a marketing opportunity. 

With all that 2020 brought us, it seems that may have been a shock to the system that this plagued industry needed to make bigger strides in the right direction. 

Works Cited

Alleyne, Allyssia. “Fashion Awards 2020: PPE-Makers and Diversity Campaigners Honored after a Rocky Year.” CNN, Cable News Network, 3 Dec. 2020, edition.cnn.com/style/article/fashion-awards-2020/index.html.

Alleyne, Allyssia. “The Fashion Industry Says It Stands against Racism. Critics Aren’t Buying It.” CNN, Cable News Network, 20 June 2020, edition.cnn.com/style/article/fashion-industry-black-lives-matter/index.html.