The murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests have brought to light not only the injustices and discrimination perpetrated by law enforcement in America, but the racial biases that exist in every aspect of our lives. For us at Highsnobiety, one such area that is particularly important for us to address is anti-black bias in fashion, as telling people what to wear is something we, with great pride, do daily.
While the reasons for this bias in the industry run deep, from wealth disparities that begin at birth to flat-out bigoted thinking towards black aesthetic ideas and designers, the journey starts with “voting with your wallet” by purchasing products from black-owned labels — but it doesn’t stop there! Here, we’ve created a (admittedly non-exhaustive) list of 5 simple ways to truly address anti-black bias in your own wardrobe right now.
1. Honestly Assess Your Own Wardrobe
The thing about racism is you don’t need to be an active participant in it to contribute to its proliferation. All you have to do is not pay attention. So the first step is simple: Go into your closet and through your drawers, and take an honest stock of which clothes you’ve purchased that were designed or created by black people. What percentage of your wardrobe falls into this category?
And when you do locate an item that you bought from a black-owned label, note what kind of product it is. Is it a T-shirt? A hoodie? Or is it a suit? Is it mostly accessories, or ready-to-wear? If you’re starting to see patterns, ask yourself why this might be the case. Is it just a coincidence that all of your favorite brands happen to helmed by white people, or is it the result of a system with deeply anti-black power structures? This isn’t about shaming yourself—it’s about actually taking a moment to pause and consider how you got to this place, which is always the first step in improving.
2. Buy Products From Black-Owned Independent Brands
One of the simplest and most effective ways to support black brands is to buy products directly from them, especially the independent labels that need the most support. Buy items from their own website (or storefront, when possible) as opposed to shopping at a third-party retailer. Truth is, brands make vastly more on each sale when you buy things directly from them versus a retailer (who act as a middle man and take home typically around 60% of the price of the garment). That said, shopping black-owned independent brands from retailers also has long-term benefits, such as showing a store that there is interest in a label’s products, which may encourage them to increase their order size next season.
3. Buy Products From Black-Designed Established Labels
The simple reality is this: Despite the fact that fashion at large has long been inspired by black culture, black designers who hold the title of “creative director” at either of the two major houses, LVMH and Kering, are few and far between. This is obviously a problem that they still need to reckon with, even as designers like Virgil Abloh and Rihanna, as well as all of their peers, have contributed immensely to these luxury house’s relevance in 2020.
That said, just because an independent brand is more established and has collaborated with major companies (i.e., Fear of God x Nike), doesn’t mean that they no longer need support. Much like with retailers (addressed above), corporations, by their very nature, typically only do things that make money. So, by buying products from labels like Louis Vuitton Homme, Heron Preston, Fear of God, Off-White, Martine Rose, and more, you’re once again telling the corporations that you like when they support black brands and that they should continue to do it. It’s important to remember there’s no such thing at over-supporting those who have been marginalized.
The inverse of this is also true and relates to point #1 (assessing your wardrobe). Are the labels you currently shop, particularly ones owned by fashion houses or major corporations, supporting the black community? Are they doing more beyond some hollow tweets or a black square post on Instagram? Have they done anything at all to help while they were profiting off of the black aesthetic? If the no’s are stacking up, then maybe it’s time to stop supporting those labels until they change their ways.
4. Seek Out New Versions of Your Favorite Pieces From Black Brands
Supporting black-owned brands isn’t about necessarily changing up your whole style. Of course, there are many black designers who offer unique perspectives on fashion, and whose designs may encourage you to step outside your comfort zone. But there are also black designers who make versions of the products you already love, whether it’s T-shirts (Union), denim (Fear of God), suiting (Casely-Hayford), shoes (Armando Cabral), or accessories (Ashya). Before simply going back to the same sources for these items, see if there’s a black-owned label that’s also doing them well. (Spoiler alert: There are.)
5. Understand the Implicit Bias of “Luxury” and “Quality”
When we think of “luxury,” often we first think of European fashion houses that were founded and today are mostly operated by white people. These brands have long, storied histories of making quality products, but their offerings have almost always been delivered from a white point of view. Truth is, there is no one aesthetic or sensibility that defines “luxury,” and it will take some un-learning to change our perception of the word. Furthermore, the term “streetwear” has often been used to describe any label that comes from a black designer, and why many, including Virgil Abloh, have spoken out against the descriptor in relation to their products.
We also see this issue in the Americana tradition that has spawned an endless amount of workwear-inspired, Made-in-USA labels who pride themselves on “quality” and “craftsmanship.” You know the brands: Ones that make triple-thickness leather shoes and board-stiff denim. Though likely not intentionally, somewhere along the way, in practice this idea of rugged, Made-in-USA products, particularly in menswear, came to be synonymous with whiteness. You see it in the vaguely patriotic symbolism many of these brands use, both on their products and in their marketing, and which allow them to charge a premium for their products.
Remember though: the black experience in America is the American experience, and quality products—not to mention ones that define the American story in fashion—can, and do, come from any point of view. Put another way: