Inclusivity in the Business of Fashion

On the night of September 30, the Business of Fashion (BoF) gathered the most elite names in the fashion industry for a night of inclusivity and diversity. Set in Paris’s exquisite Hôtel de Ville, the publication’s 500 banquet discussed the importance of diversity and how it should be prioritized in fashion. However, some guests have called out BoF of doing exactly the opposite. 

In his Medium post titled ‘Business of Fashion 500 is now 499,’ Kerby Jean-Raymond, the designer behind the acclaimed fashion label Pyer Moss – initially one of the publications 500 influential people to celebrate that night – stated that he was disassociating himself from the publication and its editor-in-chief, Imran Amed. He called Amed out on “cultural appropriation and exploitation.” His comments were supported by various big-names in fashion, including designers Phillip Lim and Prabal Gunung, the model Joan Smalls, as well as former Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth. Most of his critiques that night were rooted in the black gospel choir that sang for BoF’s gala, and Amed, dancing on stage with them to a room full of white people. Welteroth said, “[The choir] were used out of context as a backdrop for a mostly white audience.” 

Jean-Raymond shared her sentiments and stated that black talent is often mistreated within the fashion industry as a trend. But this night was just the tip of the iceberg for Jean-Raymond. Before his arrival at BoF’s gala, Jean-Raymond allegedly claimed that Amed had “exploited” him for ideas of how to make the publication more inclusive by asking him for names of “diverse” individuals for their September cover series, promising Jean-Raymond his own cover as well. He continues to say that the founder “picked his brains” for other names of people to include on their 500 list. 

However, when the covers were released, Jean-Raymond’s portrait was nowhere in sight. Moreover, during the night of the gala, Amed failed to credit him for his ideas. In his article, he mentioned how black talent is often treated as a commodity that “are always up for sale.” Jean-Raymond’s participation with BoF goes back to last year, where he was one of the panellists at their London 2018 VOICES Conference. Despite initially being offered to be a solo presenter to speak on inclusion in the fashion industry, he received last-minute news that he was to be part of a panel instead. He suspected it as their plan from the start. 

Since the panel was held with individuals he respected, he obliged. However, his disapproval started when he realized that “people of colour were grouped to speak altogether in the commonality of [their] blackness and force [them] to disagree on stages in public.” Amed responded to Jean-Raymond’s comments by reiterating his passion for diversity in a letter where he explicitly mentioned his experience of being gay and “the only brown kid” growing up. 

Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Lindsay Wagner believes that Amed’s inadequate approach could set precedence for future designers of the industry and create a culture of not speaking up. “Young designers will look at that statement and will think, ‘I probably won’t get an apology either, so I won’t speak up.’” Phillip Pocardi, Editor-in-Chief of Out Magazine and a fellow BoF 500 member, said that BoF can only move forward with substance that demonstrates their meaning behind their inclusive message. “I felt that the spirit of the BoF gala, and of BoF in general, is to amplify and listen to voices,” he said. “I think it is important to listen to Kerby and amplify his message.” 

One thing is sure: Jean-Raymond will not shy away from speaking up for himself. As he concludes in his Medium post, “me getting checks is not going to stop me from checking you.” 

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Monique Santoso

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August 2022
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