Olivier Rousteing became the creative director of Balmain when he was only 25 years old back in 2011 and had worked hard to get to the top of a mostly white industry.
In a panel with Vogue Business, he spoke about “being young and black were two strong new elements in France, above all for a French luxury brand born in 1945. I remember magazines and press questioning my age and my background and never mentioning the colour. But I could see the questions that I had in the beginning that for them it was: ‘let’s see if he is capable’. The question was not only about age and talent but as well about my colour.”
With the rise of black lives matter and fashion questioning if they had truly been diverse, the head diversity and inclusion at LVMH Hayden Majajas and Benoit Guinot, the co-founder of The Claw Models agency, have argued that making an active commitment to diversity being embedded across the entire fashion industry.
“In order to authentically respond to diversity, it has to become part of how we operate, as an industry and a company. It has to become systemic,” according to Majajas. A lot of the issues surrounding diversity could all start in recruitment, sounds simple enough. Especially for a huge corporation like LVMH, who use their resources to find diverse talent all over the world. According to Majajas “it’s not just LVMH that has the resources, everyone does. It takes the desire to do so and take some actions.” If we have a more diverse workforce in fashion that only solves half the problem; there needs to be a sense of belonging, inclusion, safety and psychological wellbeing in place for people of colour who work in fashion. “I would never advocate that diversity ever becomes the diversity police. We should never be standing at the atelier door saying yes and no to products. The intricate balance here is the difference between having a voice and actually being heard. I don’t think that missteps and problems in this industry are going to disappear anytime soon. We need to talk about this more.”
Model Rawdah Mohamed might have been the cover girl for Sephora but she didn’t always have it easy, once her family had escaped to Norway after surviving the Somali Civil War and then having to stand out as a black girl wearing a hijab in Norway, “magazines never had black models or anybody who ever looked like me so I felt pushed out and wanted it even more. I thought if I went through the war and survived it, I can definitely survive in fashion.
Even Olivier Rousteing had to fight for diversity on his own runways and campaigns when he first took over Balmain, “today we see more diversity, which is great, but we have to make sure that it is a reality that people want to see and not a trend. What I am doing is normal and nothing special, what is not normal is a lack of diversity. We know the brands that do that. The casting and vision is actually much more important that the fabrics of the clothes.”
So there is a way to make diversity in fashion more systemic, but how are you contributing to it?