Burberry is following Gucci and Prada’s steps by adopting concrete measures to improve inclusion and diversity within the company, following a recent outcry about a hoodie with string ties resembling a noose. “At Burberry, we have always sought to build a structure that is diverse, open and inclusive and one where all perspectives are valued. The distress we caused with one of our products last week has shown us that we are not where we need or want to be”, said the British label on its Instagram yesterday.
Burberry said it has consulted “employees, experts and communities” impacted by the company to develop a plan to “increase its consciousness and understanding of social issues”. Measures to be taken include the introduction of additional training for all employees; the establishment of employee councils focused on diversity and inclusion; the formation of an advisory board of external experts; setting up goals to build a more diverse workforce; expanding the company’s creative arts scholarship internationally and providing full-time employment for 50 graduates from the program in the next five years; extending its in-school arts program internationally; and, finally, supporting organizations promoting diversity and inclusion.
The brand had already apologized for the “noose” hoodie last week, and removed the item from its collection. CEO Marco Gobbetti said in a statement that the piece had been inspired by the collection’s marine theme, but the brand was sorry for overlooking other possible interpretations anyway. Some consumers associated the hoodie with suicide, while others were reminded of the lynching of African-americans in the post-civil war period.
Luxury brands counter image crisis by adopting new diversity policies
As more and more consumers form their opinion about companies based on their social and environmental impact, it doesn’t suffice anymore for brands to simply apologize and pull the product from stores when image crises like Gucci’s “blackface” sweater, Prada’s “blackface” keychain and Burberry’s “noose” hoodie happen. Social media has given consumers a voice, a direct channel to communicate with companies. Even after brands apologize, they keep threatening to boycott it if it doesn’t do more than just talk. Actions speak louder than words.
As a result, Prada created a diversity and inclusion advisory council, inviting black artists and activists Theaster Gates and Ava DuVernay to join it. It also created internship opportunities to members of disenfranchised communities to close the fashion industry’s “inclusion gap”. Similarly, Gucci promised to hire directors for inclusion and diversity at both regional and global levels, in addition to setting up a multicultural design scholarship program and a global exchange program which will take five designers from around the world to join the label’s Rome design office.
A recent report by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) revealed the fashion industry still has a lot to do to improve not only the presence of minority groups in its workforce, especially in management positions, but also to make sure that all groups feel equally valued and heard in the workplace. Another study by McKinsey & Company found that women are far less likely to occupy top management positions in the fashion industry even though they form the majority of fashion graduates: only 5 percent of female surveyors in that study said they were ever promoted to a senior role without having to ask for it.
If you, or someone you know are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433 in North America or +44 (0) 116 123 in the UK.
Picture: Burberry Facebook, Gucci Facebook