Caroline Rush: An Opinion Piece

Jun 2020
09

It is four months since the last London Fashion Week (LFW), the global showcase of British design, and the world has changed immeasurably since then.

COVID-19 has put a huge number of fashion businesses and jobs at risk, but it has also forced us to adapt and innovate. Which is why this week, on Friday 12th June, we return with the first gender neutral, digital LFW.  It is open to everyone everywhere.  It will focus on storytelling and debate, and show behind the scenes how our brilliant designers are taking on the challenge of this great crisis.

Some may have little empathy for an industry that is too often unjustly thought of as frivolous.  Yet the fashion industry is a major part of the British economy, not just in the 890,000 people it employs, but in the £35 billion contribution to GDP each year and the part it plays in the UK’s global reputation for creativity and innovation, and it is a reflection of our society and culture.

Like every other industry, the pandemic has given us pause to reflect and recognise that we need to re-set, to do things differently. And so today, the British Fashion Council launches the Institute of Positive Fashion to collate resources from around the world to help fashion businesses to address the most pressing social, economic and environmental issues they face and unite businesses, government and academia to take action on challenges that needs addressing now.

Of these, the events in the US in the past week or so have shown that none is more urgent than the need to fight racial prejudice and discrimination. Where before, much of the dialogue in our industry was focused on tackling climate change, we must now also redouble our efforts to take on racism in all its forms and reflect why it has taken recent events to galvanise the industry into action.

This work must start with listening, and challenging one another to ensure that there is no conscious or unconscious prejudice in our industry.  Many believe it is already open and diverse, but on reflection what we really mean is that we think we are better than we were, better than other sectors.

Yet, by listening to BAME designers, colleagues, friends and family members, there is much more that we can do.  As one designer told me yesterday, “I have put up with uneducated, insensitive comments from individuals that believe them to be banter not racism – this shit has got to stop.”

The fashion industry is much more diverse than it was 11 years ago when I came into this role.  Today, the talent that comes through our support schemes is much more representative of the society that we live in. The models on our catwalks are much more diverse and represent our multi-cultural society.  But just like with climate action, we need to do more and we need to do it now.

So, what actions will the BFC be taking?
We will broaden the diversity of our Board of Directors.
We will audit all advisory boards and committees to ensure diversity is better represented.
We are already reviewing the BFC’s recruitment processes and policies to address why our workforce does not have more representation from the BAME community.
We will focus on forging necessary alliances to work towards a common goal.
We will listen to the BAME community in our industry to look at where we can improve, what the industry can do better and create programmes and guides to address this that we will share on the IPF and BFC websites so that we can held accountable.

Our commitment is that the IPF will be at the heart of our industry as an engine room for change.  We will challenge ourselves and our industry to be diverse, equal and fair.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken lives and destroyed livelihoods.  The images of the death of George Floyd have shaken us to the core.  Let’s ensure that there is some good that comes from this. Let’s re-set as an industry and be accountable to our planet and the people within it.