Spurred on by the Black Lives Matter movement, the non-profit organisation talk diversity in the industry and educating brands.
If there is one thing 2020 has shown us, it’s that many business and industries have a long way to go in diversifying their workforce and understanding cultures. From creating opportunities and meaningful changes to the landscape, many businesses have taken steps to create change, but one company is taking it further. Enter the Fashion Minority Alliance. Launched in September by Barbara Kennedy-Brown and Cheryl Koneth, the non-profit organisation felt spurred on by the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year and the criticism of the fashion industry. With various brands falling victim to cancel culture, two duo saw this an opportunity to teach brands in fashion on their failings and create a community for minorities on how to venture into the industry.
“We had seen a lot of ‘called out’ and ‘cancelled’ from social media users,” Barbara said. “Along with almost knee-jerk responses from brands to participate in marketing that specifically targeted this. Both of these elements made us think about the actual bones of the industry and how these are far more important than marketing initiatives that are there to target consumers but don’t go any deeper.”
Launching various workshops and mentoring schemes, we caught up with Barbara, talking the creation of the FMA, getting involved, and where they see the fashion industry in five years.
Check out the interview below…
Hello Barbara! How is lockdown 2.0 treating you?
Lockdown 2.0 has been interesting. It is a real shame that we are back here, but I think we all learned a lot from the first time and proved that as a global community we are resilient. It has highlighted that there are other ways to do things and to challenge the norm, which always excites me. There have been lots of exciting conversations that have continued during the second lockdown and we are working hard to keep the momentum for Fashion Minority Alliance going, alongside other exciting projects that we are working on.
Tell us about how you first started Fashion Minority Alliance with Cheryl Konteh?
We launched in September and, along with all of the founding members, we have long had a common objective of creating opportunities within the fashion industry for minority individuals through our businesses. I run a fashion PR agency and, as you know, Cheryl is a globally renowned celebrity stylist. We have both experienced the industry in many ways, as have all of the founding members involved in Fashion Minority Alliance, and it felt the right time for us to form an Alliance of like minded people and groups wanting to make meaningful changes to the landscape. Our founding members work across the fashion and beauty landscape at brands from Farfetch, to Kurt Geiger, to Asos, to the Telegraph Media Group, to independently owned brands such as 79Lux, Emefa Cole, Charlotte Mensah, plus we have built alliances with businesses such as the Fashion Minority Report, Dawn Mason’s Seat At The Table, ChloéDigital and across the EMEA with organisations such as Creative Jam Session in The Netherlands, DInaba in South Africa, and Room4All in France to name a few and Caroline Rush, at the British Fashion Council, has also been extremely supportive.
How did you land on the name?
There is a lot of importance in a name and we all wanted it to be something that had positive connotations and was inclusive. The Fashion Minority Alliance is really about community and people working together to share information, support one another and provide a pathway for both businesses and people coming into the industry. When we talked about a name there were so many that could have represented us as a collective, we wanted the Fashion Minority Alliance to benefit all minorities and also engage with those leaders in the industry that could maintain our work with a view to longevity and purpose.
Was there any single event that spurred you into creating this extremely important non-profit, or more a culmination of everything that’s happened in the past year?
This has always been something that I and the founding members wanted to do. None of us started off in the industry on anyone’s coattails and we all worked really hard to get here, having learned a lot along the way and every last one of our founding members has experienced racism and seen a lack of diversity at all levels. So FMA for us is really more of a response to many years of working in fashion and media. We felt spurred on by Black Lives Matter and criticism of the fashion industry which ensued. We had seen a lot of ‘called out’ and ‘cancelled’ from social media users, along with almost knee-jerk responses from brands to participate in marketing that specifically targeted this. Both of these elements made us think about the actual bones of the industry and how these are far more important than marketing initiatives that are there to target consumers, but don’t go any deeper.
Could you talk us through your workshops and mentoring schemes – who’s involved and how does it all work?
We have a brilliant founding committee rich with experience, POV and diversity and our education and mentoring schemes have been devised by, and are run by, Sian Keane, who works at FarFetch, and Joey Parker, at InVolvePeople. Our mentoring programmes operate on all the different strands of inclusion and intersectionality; for example we work with businesses to mentor them in inclusivity and we focus on practical actions to help them not only with the make up of their organisation but also messaging, allyship and advocacy which also includes reverse mentoring for senior management within the business and their supply chains which is everything from their PR and advertising agency to their lawyers and caterers for events! We also provide opportunities for those in need of mentoring which runs the gamut from those entering into the industry, where we align individuals with sustainable work experience, to interns that are paid a living wage, through to providing either internal or external mentors for mid-level Black and minority management in order that they have targeted advice and pathways to remain within that business. The workshops are all bespoke and bring together the most relevant people to assist in areas of D&I. We have been working with brands to assess their needs and then put together meaningful strategies to improve the business in terms of intersectional inclusion, which ultimately leads to a more profitable business.
There’s also a keen push for educational partnerships and scholarships – why do you think this is so integral to the work you’re doing?
Ultimately the industry has a lack of diversity at all levels and we have spoken to so many educators at leading institutions that highlighted the problems within their intake. Fashion relies on connections, experience, education and if there is a lack of diversity within this it culminates in the workplace being reflective of this. One of the pillars of our Education Committee is outreach to schools and parents. There is a lack of awareness into careers in fashion, and how these can be rewarding. When you look at a fashion degree, it is hugely expensive from fees to creating collections, portfolios of work which immediately limits who can undertake one. Following that there is the issue of experience, again this does not always offer a fair playing field so those people that gather the experience come from the same socio-economic backgrounds. We have to look at the circle and change it at the entry level to achieve the longterm goal of a truly inclusive industry and that starts with the involvement of secondary schools and parents.
Next fashion week has gone digital – is this good or bad for you, and how does it affect what FMA is doing in industry right now?
Life has gone digital! In terms of what we are doing this has not made a difference as really the shows are industry-focused, with the digital age having long been open to a far wider consumer audience. The industry has long been evolving, fashion was once all about a select set of buyers and editors but in the past few years it has moved to being direct to consumer, social media marketing, live streaming shows and apps that sell you product etc. The audience has grown, including the demographic, which is a great thing and means you can be anyone and participate at consumer level. It is behind the scenes that really needs to evolve. We have become good at Teams and Zoom and the old fashioned call, which has been useful!
How can people get involved with the cause?
Via our website! There are so many ways to get involved and we relish the opportunity to start conversations at all levels. As an Alliance, we really want to create something that helps the industry blossom be that with other organisations similar to ours, businesses, brands, industry gatekeepers we’re here to create equity. Getting involved is as simple as sending an email, to reaching out on Instagram. We want to build a like-minded, engaged community with positive goals.
What should those at the top and bottom of the fashion industry be doing to help you?
Be open to conversations and motivated to getting involved. We have been amazed by the response to what we are doing and we need people to participate, join our community and make meaningful steps. We are not here to criticise brands and businesses then walk away, we want to create longterm change within an industry that we know has so many brilliant players and can really grow into being a truly inclusive, vibrant space. We are working with some really exciting brands and creatives that will be pivotal in creating a more diverse marketplace. We want to share our knowledge and engagement with audiences such as this with Wonderland is invaluable.
Where do you hope FMA will be in say, 5 years?
I hope that we will be going strong, with lots of amazing initiatives achieved and an engaged community. We would love to have partners in the industry helping us pave the way for this. We would love to see the intake in the industry to be more diverse and will be working towards supporting this.
And in 10?
10 years is almost a generation…so a fully inclusive and diverse industry!