Because racism isn’t always overt. It operates in the structures of which society has been set and sinks deep into biases you hold in order to tint the way in which you see the world. And anti-racism isn’t merely the sedentary state of not partaking in racist behaviours. It is the active dismantling of confines for the white supremacist world in which we exist in; confines which are rife and rigid within fast fashion.
The fashion industry has long stood on the backs of people of colour through the guise of racial capitalism and cultural appropriation. Cheap, semi-disposable clothes being produced and transported season after season, using supply chains through the very same world trade routes used at the height of European colonial exploitation, all in the name of newness.
While that’s happening, Black and nbpoc are being steadily marginalized and exploited in the office; sometimes long after attempts of assimilation through presenting a sanitized version of ourselves to colleagues as a means of perseverance in order to progress. Over the past few weeks we have seen these same brands seemingly demonstrate an understanding that Black Lives Matter through the application of an Instagram post and bolded statement, but fashion participating in the optics of performative activism is nothing new and not revolutionary. In 2017, Topshop enjoyed a lengthy season of success following the co-option of feminist empowerment slogans on summer t-shirts; a year later I left my five year buying role after months of overt and undisguised bullying, daily micro-aggressions and gaslighting by my female superiors.
In order to enact meaningful change for an equitable and fair industry, we need transparency and action. We need to know what brands are doing to ensure their organisational structures are safe for Black and brown people to exist in. Black squares do not count. What actions are they taking to dismantle white supremacy? Have they committed to something more than lip service? If so, how can it be measured going forward? And so, what exactly have the brands that we surround ourselves in said in the wake of discovering racism? You can find all of their responses and the commitments they have made in the resource I have linked below. Challenge the commitments they haven’t made and interrogate them to find out why. Use these responses to inform the decisions you make in your everyday life. Because anti-racism is not a day, or a week or a news cycle; it is the active participation in speaking out against oppression, even when it is no longer convenient. Will you be giving your money to organizations that align with your principles and take action, or are you funding those that are not and so consciously participating in further exacerbating the inequalities in our society?
Whatever you decide, make sure you hold these brands accountable. Email them. Follow up on the actions they have said they will take. Comment on their posts. Ask them to do more. And do not give them your money until they do.
For the full list see here: www.bit.ly/isyourfavouritefashionbrand-antiracist
Written by Zara Sehr Ashraf
Zara Sehr Ashraf is the Fashion Programme Curator for The Trampery, London.