How the Black In Fashion Council is holding brands accountable

A woman wearing a grey suit against a grey background.

DUMBO House member Sandrine Charles discusses launching the council with Lindsay Peoples Wagner, and shares their plan for sustained change in the fashion and beauty industries

By Corinna Burford    Above image courtesy of Sandrine Charles   Tuesday 1 September, 2020   Long read

In 2018, Lindsay Peoples Wagner – the cover star of our March issue – wrote a groundbreaking article for The Cut called ‘Everywhere and Nowhere: What it’s really like to be black and work in fashion’. The piece exposed the trials of more than 100 different Black professionals in the fashion and beauty industries – including the public relations specialist Sandrine Charles. Two years later, Charles and Peoples Wagner, who’s now a few years into her role as Editor-in-Chief of Teen Vogue, felt like not much had changed. 

Then, this June, the murder of George Floyd – along with the countless cases that had seen no justice – incited a global movement demanding justice and protection of Black lives. Charles and Peoples Wagner decided it was time to take action.

In response, they joined forces with more than 50 colleagues to form the Black in Fashion Council, an organisation that works with brands to secure and promote the advancement of Black people in fashion and beauty. Using an index system developed with the Human Rights Campaign to gauge progress, it launched officially on 3 August with 38 brands, including Condé Nast and Glossier, and is set to announce another group of partners this month. 

Here, Charles chats to us about starting the initiative, and how she and Peoples Wagner plan to make sustained improvements for the next generation of Black professionals in the fashion industry.

How did you and Lindsay Peoples Wagner decide to start the Black in Fashion Council? 

‘It transpired after all of the events during quarantine, when Lindsay and I were having candid conversations that came from being friends. It just felt like there was still a lot that hadn’t changed. We were lucky enough to gather some of our peers to have a discussion regarding how they felt. And then after that initial call, which was with about 50 to 80 of our industry friends, the Black In Fashion Council came about.’ 
A woman wearing a suit against a red background.

'We want to work alongside our allies, these brands and companies, to create a diverse base that directly reflects what the world looks like'

Above image: Black in Fashion Council co-founder Lindsay Peoples Wagner (Mamadi Doumbouya)

Did any of your experiences in PR and communications inspire parts of the initiative?

‘For me, it was always the very apparent lack of diversity that I saw when I was coming up in the industry. Being the only Black person in a department or at a company was just what we knew to expect. I think that being more cognizant of diversity and inclusion, and really trying to give people the skill sets and opportunities to grow within these companies, is essential.’ 

In terms of the Black In Fashion Council’s goals, both you and Peoples Wagner have discussed wanting to move away from the idea of ‘cancel culture’ and towards what you’ve described as a ‘culture of accountability’.

‘I think for both of us, we’re not into cancel culture. It doesn’t work. People get “cancelled” temporarily, and then all of a sudden you’re back to loving whatever brand or person. If you work through accountability, there’s a little bit more structure. And it allows you to put an emphasis on change versus an emphasis on calling somebody out – making them feel inferior temporarily, and then accepting them back again.’

How did you guys go about recruiting your first group of partners?

‘After the announcement hit and other publications covered us, we started having a lot of conversations with brands who reached out to us. For us, it was important that everyone was in this conversation. So, we even contacted those brands that hadn’t reached out to us, because we wanted everyone to feel comfortable and also stress that this had to work. And it would only work if we were all on the same page.’ 

What are some of those new ways that you’re trying to help these businesses change?

‘We envision a workforce where Black people are represented and amplified on every level. A lot of times, Black people come into the workforce on a junior level and you don’t see them growing at the company. We want to work alongside our allies, these brands and companies, to create a diverse base that directly reflects what the world looks like. 

‘It begins with a pledge – a commitment to work with us over the next three years and participate in this equality index score that is being created with the Human Rights Campaign. It will be the benchmark for corporate policies, practices and other issues that are pertinent to Black employees at fashion and beauty companies. The index will serve as a yearly public report to hold fashion and beauty brands accountable for the work they’ve done and to work directly with them on the areas that they need to improve.

‘How we do this is we have an executive board with about 40 industry stakeholders and different categories that we are focusing on. Of course, Lindsay is on the media side, and I’m in corporate brands, along with Antoine Phillips from Gucci, Candace Stewart from Prada and Laron Howard from Burberry. We know that the only way we can make this all work is if we are armouring ourselves with the right talent to work with these brands and give them direction.’ 
A woman reclining on a red chair with a small dog.

If there are companies or even individuals who want to work with you guys, what do they need to do to get involved?

‘We encourage and need all brands to sign the pledge. And then once we get the signed pledge together, we start planning what we are going to do – not only in an overarching sense, but what their individual needs are, what areas they need help with, and how we can assign board members to help guide them through this process.

‘We’re seeing that diversity and inclusion people are always hired when there’s a crisis. We want to figure out a way to create a universal standard that ensures this is something we can have in place forever, so we can alleviate these moments in time where it is a rush to fix things.’

That makes total sense. We’ve all seen brands rushing to show how good they are, or what they are doing to help, but that only matters if it’s sustained. 

‘Yes, and it should also always feel authentic. We understand that not every company is created the same and that the brand ethos might change from time to time. But what is consistent is what our world looks like. And so, if our world looks one way, why are we not working in environments that reflect the same?’ 

Interested in becoming a member?