First off, for context, I'll quote directly from a piece written by my business partner Brittanny Taylor for The Branding Edit blog, entitled "When Brands Have The Responsibility to Do Better".
"There has been a lot of press this week surrounding clothing brands and their lack of diversity to flat out racist imagery. One of the stories is of online store Revolve. They often send a group of influencers on trips so they can blog and share content from their adventures. They are currently in Thailand with a group of influencers, the majority are white, some are Asian, and they are all straight-sized. As of me writing this post, in the last 120 images, Revolve has posted on their Instagram account, only two of the photos feature a black woman. TWO. Black and brown faces are increasingly forgotten in marketing for clothing companies. But, H&M has a little black boy on their European website! Oh wait, he’s wearing a sweatshirt that says “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle”… I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain the long, horrible history of comparing black people to animals and especially monkeys."
We have the tendency to hold world leaders, celebrities and media outlets accountable for what they say and do, but brands, designers and retailers - we get kind of hesitant. Maybe even complacent. Sometimes reactionary because there was a racial/sexist controversy around their products at some point, and we made the decision not to invest in them anymore, then a year later, we give them the benefit of the doubt (they must have learned from their last offense) and send them our hard-earned, budgeted dollars on their merry way (once again) because we gotta have that dress.
My family has purchased and worn items from H&M - we have given them our hard-earned, budgeted dollars for clothing we liked. As a personal shopper, I have purchased items from H&M for clients who are professionals/business owners with very limited funds to spare on their wardrobe. My style is also different than most of my clients. I love to wear vintage and to look for luxury, second-hand items; and occasionally will purchase pieces made by emerging/up-and-coming designers and retail brands. However, not everyone likes vintage or second-hand clothing. Not everyone likes fast fashion either but H&M and other retail companies alike present a relief in terms of shopping trends on a budget.
I am sure most women I work with would love to be able to invest in high quality, stylish and consciously made clothing but not every designer/brand caters to the variety of body types and the variety of style preferences. And most certainly, not everyone caters to the woman who may be living paycheck to paycheck or working on squirreling away to pay off student loans or start a business or whatever it is that will bring her one step closer to living a more fulfilled life. Not everyone can afford to invest in consciously made products. And please know that I am only speaking from both personal and working experiences.
So as a West-African immigrant mother of a beautiful brown boy AND a personal stylist, when links to the H&M ad popped up in a group text and on my social media feed, I felt once again frustrated by the ways of our current world. Then one day later, the Revolve controversy followed.
The lack of diversity, representation and inclusivity of voices & bodies has been an ongoing conversation in my DMs, in group text, at coffee meetings. This is nothing new from our side. Our side meaning - the creators of color, bloggers of color, stylists of color, writers of color, models of color, entrepreneurs of color...women of color. period.
And because of that, from time to time now, I do an Instagram following filter. I go through the feeds of brands and designers I follow, and if all I see is them feature and promote mostly one particular body type (size 2) and one particular skin color (white) - I happily hit the Unfollow button and unsubscribe from their newsletters. I cannot relate to that ONE-way of looking at the world, at WOMEN in particular. Exactly why I stopped following Revolve about two years ago. If there is one thing I can control from my phone is what I want to consume from my social media feeds.
As a stylist, my work is to primarily encourage women to love themselves more, love their bodies more, dress for who they are and where they are going, to feel ready to take risks and see their personal style as strength and their way to self-expression. I, myself, love to follow brands that empower women and girls to do the same; brands that celebrate and promote ALL WOMEN. ALL BODIES. FROM ALL CULTURES. ALL RELIGIONS. ALL SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS. WITH ALL VARIOUS STORIES and BACKGROUNDS.
This is 2018! If not now, when? And maybe you're reading this and you're thinking, "that's always been the fashion industry, Olivia. It's not going to change overnight." And believe me, I am aware of it. Affecting social change takes a while. But I no longer want to sit by the sidelines wishing how things could be different for us women of color.
To the H&M and Revolve executives of the world, please do me an outrageous (insert eye roll here) favor, aim to be leaders in CHANGE and challenge the status quo within instead. And perhaps try hiring people that don't look like you, speak like you, walk like you once in a while.
From the time being, thanks for helping me reclaim my time, along with my hard-earned budgeted dollars AND the hard-earned budgeted dollars of my clients.