I was recently invited to speak at a beauty panel where I was asked my opinion on how brands can be more inclusive. Specifically, the marketeers in the audience wanted to know my thoughts, and my fellow panel members’ thoughts, on how to market to different groups, whether it be cultures, minorities, or women of different ages. The statement I kept going back to was “just do it, but stop talking about it”. As in, stop creating campaigns with splashy headings about inclusivity, ‘diverse beauties” or “beauty at every age”. Just feature models of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. Stop announcing it, making it a thing, a trend, all to show us how inclusive you are. Stop giving groups permission to finally be acceptable. It looks obviously opportunistic, and mostly pisses people off.
This statement was also ultimately the one I returned to once more after reading the various postings surrounding the Kirby Jean-Raymond vs Business of Fashion media storm. In short, Pyer Moss designer posted an Instagram and subsequent Medium story publicly condemning the Business of Fashion for the (according to him) seemingly disingenuous way in which it addressed diversity and inclusion, and announcing his self-removal from the esteemed BoF 500 roster. "BoF 499, I'm off the list," Raymond wrote from Paris after the BoF 500 Gala in Paris Monday night, an annual event to celebrate these members.
BoF Founder and Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed responded in a post titled “Why I’m Listening to Kerby Jean-Raymond”, writing that “As Kerby points out, the fashion industry has often treated inclusivity as a trend, putting diverse faces in our ad campaigns, on our runways, on our magazine covers and, yes, at our parties because it’s cool and of the moment. But I can assure you that this topic is not a trend for BoF.” He also reflects on his own sense of being an outsider while growing up in Canada as the son of Ismaili Muslim immigrants.
Having written for BoF, who have been one of the few entities to give a platform to my unorthodox opinions, and having gotten to know the team (which is diverse) I believe their heart, in regards to promoting inclusion, is in the right place. And so the reason to weigh in at all, is because there is one statement that was key in Jean-Raymond’s post that extends beyond whatever happened with him and BoF, and is gravely important for our direction as an industry: “Was the intent all along to milk people like me for insight into our community, repackage it and resell it back to larger corporations with no intent of making real change?”
Because this is what companies and corporations – often innocently – end up doing. The repackaging and reselling. The real change is the inclusion itself. That’s it. Not the advertisement of it. Inclusion – whether of different races, ages, abilities – should be a given.
I hear you arguing: “but it’s not a given, that’s why we’re talking about it”. Perhaps, but the danger of arguing that people of all colors should be included, or that women are strong, or that we’re beautiful at every age, making "female founders" sound like a crazy phenomenon, inherently gives power to the opposite viewpoint.
We used a picture of Hubert de Givenchy with a black model in the late 70s, because it best illustrates the point. Vogue wasn’t likely running diversity issues back then, and the brand didn’t have an Instagram. Mr de Givenchy simply included. Be like Hubert.