Racism in the Fashion Industry: How to be Part of the Change
Posted on 12 June 2020
To honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless other lives taken unjustly, we here at Huaywasi decided to suspend our online store for a week in solidarity with Black Americans, the Black Lives Matter movement, and protesters across the nation.
We kindly asked those on Instagram that were interested in supporting our brand to instead consider donating to highlighted organizations to help fight systemic racism and end police brutality. However, we recognize this is still not enough. Every brand, in every industry, has a valuable role to play in this ongoing fight, no matter how big or small they are. We want to do our best to advocate for this necessary change by sharing resources, organizations, and ways that you can personally make a difference.
We are continuing to educate ourselves as well as support and donate to causes we believe in. We are going to focus our platform on other informational and supplemental sources where you can learn more as an ally and/or donate to organizations leading the movement towards a United States without racism, oppression, and hate.
This change first starts with education, and while we certainly aren’t experts, we do want to share information on the areas where we are the most knowledgeable and experienced. As a small non-profit brand (any proceeds we make are circulated back into our NGO’s Light and Leadership’s Women’s Empowerment Program), our area of expertise is the fashion industry and our goal is to do our part in righting the wrongs in this harmful industry by creating ethical job opportunities for local artisans in the city of Huaycán, Peru.
Huaywasi was formed on the basis of helping women in a marginalized community create more opportunity for themselves and their families. We always put our people first, and we feel like now more than ever, it’s our duty to continue to stand behind those who have been oppressed and treated unfairly for far too long.
Consumers are now not only beginning to question the industry’s standards, but are also demanding change by simply boycotting companies with unethical practices. That being said, it is extremely important to note the fashion industry’s deep rooted relationship with racism so we can best address ways to move forward.
As Bárbara Poerner stated perfectly in her Fashion Revolution blog, “Black lives matter. And black lives were used for cotton production in the United States during slavery times.” While women and children worked extensively in cotton spinning mills in places like the United Kingdom, many people in Africa were kidnapped and enslaved on cotton plantations in the United States and elsewhere.
Today this natural fiber is one of the most used textiles and is produced globally, but its history stems from racism and injustice. As one of the first textiles to be manufactured, this material sets the unfortunate tone for how race plays its role in the textile industry.
Millions of black people were enslaved to produce cotton and in the years that followed, “those same southern U.S. states had racisim legislated through racial segregation” stated Poerner. This segregation and unfair treatment is still happening today through legislation, voter suppression, and many other forms of institutionalized and systemic injustices that occur throughout the country.
Source: Trisha Downing
Make no mistake, the fashion industry is racially oppressive. We can see the horrendous effects of marginalization and discrimination today and we cannot remain silent. This reveals how the textile and clothing production systems of fashion are supported by the very exploitative and pervasive systems of racism. Poerner notes that “the cotton of the slavery period was the product of the slavery system, it was the product of the deaths of black people”.
This system continues to reveal itself to us when we see continuous murders and unfair treatment of black people around the world. As unfortunate as it is, we need to recognize these acts of violence run through the entire fashion industry, where many people, mainly women, are subjected to conditions of modern slavery and continous racism.
We as a brand and as individuals need to affirm the commitment to a revolution in fashion and accept the need to build an anti-racist industry for the present. According to Dominique Drakeford, who is a social and cultural sustainability writer, “as a continuous work in progress, a brand must value black and brown relationships that adds agency to localised communities in order to be truly sustainable.” This is something that we are certainly working to improve and build on here at Huaywasi. You can follow Dominique on Instagram @dominiquedrakeford to learn more about race in fashion & Ecological Equity.
We understand that this information can be overwhelming and uncomfortable (as it should be), but it is important and necessary for us and all non-POC to look deep inside ourselves to be part of the change. To start, we wanted to highlight a few important ways that individuals can take part in the Black Lives Matter movement, and even more specifically, a racially balanced fashion revolution.
Although we are based in Peru, our non-profit has a US headquarters in Chicago, and we feel very connected to the Chicagoland community. We have listed two Chicago non-profits as well as a national non-profit that our team has chosen to support:
- Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression - Founded in Chicago but now recognized nationally to organize action against unjust treatment of individuals because of race or political beliefs.
2. Project NIA - Founded in Chicago but now based in NYC, this grassroots organization works to end the arrest, detention, and incarceration of children and young adults by promoting restorative and transformative justice practices.
3. Campaign Zero - An online platform and organization that utilizes research-based policy solutions to end police brutality in America.
We understand that not everyone has the financial capability to donate money to organizations, but there are still countless other ways you can participate in the movement. Signing petitions is a really simple but highly meaningful way of using your voice to benefit the greater good.
We have listed 10 petitions that you can sign easily, and for free, just by clicking the links.
- Black Lives Matter - #DefundThe Police
- Hands Up Act
- NAACP - We Are Done Dying
- National Action Against Police Brutality
- Stand with Breonna Taylor
- Justice for Ahmaud Arbery
- Demand Racial Data on Coronavirus
- Stop Police Brutality Nationwide
As an ethical fashion organization, we would like to also highlight non-profits that are committed to making a difference and helping POC in the garment and retail industries.
- Fashion For All Foundation - Believes every talented and qualified person should have access to all roles in the fashion industry no matter their background, race, size, or physical ability. Their mission is to promote equality and diversity in the fashion industry through education and empowerment.
- Anti-Slavery - The oldest human rights organization in the world that works to end slavery around the world by collaborating with local organizations to work to secure the freedom of those affected by slavery. They have developed a strong reputation in advancing the political agenda on slavery through cutting-edge research, advocacy, and campaigns, including in the fashion industry.
3. Fifteen Percent Pledge - Join their mission as they call on major retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to black-owned businesses. Signing this petition is your opportunity to collectively put $14.5 billion into black communities.
Source: 15 Percent Pledge
There are so many more valuable resources out there right now but we would like to conclude this post with black-owned conscious fashion brands that are striving to make a difference in the world of fashion. As a consumer you can vote with your wallet and support brands that uphold ethical and equitable beliefs.
- House of Aama - A culturally inspired lifestyle brand rooted in the ethos of the African continent and diaspora. Run by a mother-daughter-duo, their designs are reflective of the PostBellum Southern US and are meant to convey a strong sense of self worth built on the retention of strong cultural traditions.
- Nia Thomas NY - Capitalizing on the opportunity of representing what a vegan and eco-conscious woman of color could create and positively share with the world, Nia Thomas created a brand that plays around the concept of proudly wearing your heritage on your sleeve.
Source: Learn more about Nia Thomas NY
- Lé Citrine - A unique women’s streetwear brand run by Leslynn Centeio, where every item is handmade and customers have the option of sharing their measurements for customizable sizing. The brand has two goals: practicing sustainable fashion by repurposing materials and making YOU feel sexy, comfortable, and confident in your own body.
We know that there are so many other amazing brands and resources to share but we hope this gives you a place to start to learn about the current injustices occurring, especially in the fashion industry, and most importantly, take action.
Take action by voting in local elections for anti-racist candidates; take action with your purchasing power, support black owned business and ethical businesses that support black and brown workers; take action by showing up, sign petitions, protest with your neighbor. Take action.