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Historical protests last month, sparked by the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, speak of separate but intersecting forces of race and class to shape inequality in American society and the economy.

the fashion, retail and beauty industries offer a cross section of this inequality, according to experts, where rooted power dynamics are reflected in the persistent lack of diversity in leadership roles and trademark ownership, as well as the precarious employment and wages of sales and manufacturing workers.

At all levels, these disparities have a particular resonance for the livelihoods and actions of industry players from historically marginalized groups, including blacks, Native Americans and LGBTQ, as well as other people of color. and women, said experts.

Who are these modes designed for? What is a symbol of beauty? It all depends on who can have a voice and, if you have a voice, if you have the capital to control these bigger issues, said William Spriggs, professor in the economics department at Howard University. .

And so, they become a self-fulfilling reinforcement, when you deny people the opportunities at these different levels where the industry operates, he said. The role that fashion plays in this area is not at all trivial. It is an integral part of it.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the wider economic hardship that marginalized workers suffer disproportionately. Overall, black workers still experience significantly higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts, 16.8% versus 12.4%, according to this month’s employment figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics .

Starting in 2019, persistent gender-based wage gaps let women earn 85 cents on the dollar made by men, according to a report released in February by the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank that studies the working conditions of low- and middle-income workers. The ratio, of course, varies more depending on the breed. According to the same report, the median wage of black workers was about 76% of that of white workers.

These disparities are often more existential for employees of color retails working class. In 2015, a NAACP report on the retail the industry found that poverty was significantly more prevalent among its black and Latin American workers than among its white counterparts, and that these former workers were also less likely to have managerial or supervisory roles.

Black workers in retail are now twice as likely to live below the poverty line as their white counterparts, according to a statement released this month by United for Respect, a worker-focused non-profit organization.

The pandemic has also thrown many more existing inequalities for sharper relief, experts said.

Black Americans are disproportionately employed in jobs requiring high levels of personal contact and personal service, said William Darity, professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

Since these jobs are considered essential, blacks should continue to work in these jobs and risk higher exposure to the coronavirus, he said.

On the other hand, non-essential retail jobs during the pandemic were also the subject of layoffs and leaves. In their first bankruptcy filings this year, retailers, including J. Crew, who had put some 11,000 employees on leaveand JC Penney, who had put some 77,000 employees on leave, described taking such measures to manage the lack of sales during government-authorized store closings.

For many blacks of the working class, either you lose your job or you stay in a job where you have a much higher risk of being exposed to infectious disease, said Darity.

The moment also drew attention to workers’ access to paid sick leave and risk premiums, as well as to their continued efforts. advocate for safer working conditions. Among those at the forefront of these efforts is the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union, which represents some 100,000 workers in the country’s supply chain in the areas of food processing, shipping and fashion. The RWDSU also represents some 6,300 employees at Macys and Bloomingdales, in addition to employees from other retailers, including Zara and H&M.

The union is in contract negotiations with Macys, with discussions on calls from retail workers for additional security protections beyond what the company intended, and for additional contract language on pandemics and what would happen in the event of a new epidemic, according to the president of RWDSU. Stuart Appelbaum.

A Macys representative said in a statement on Tuesday that the retailer had implemented improved cleaning and social distancing protocols to reduce physical contact between customers and colleagues. He also installed features such as plexiglass barriers, added sanitation stations to stores, and provided workers with masks, the representative said.

Employees of color make up about 75 percent of union members at Macys, according to the RWDSU representative. The amount they earn depends on their role, their commissions and their experience. New hires generally start just above the minimum wage, while salespeople make an average of between $ 20 and $ 30 an hour on average, according to the representative.

I am very encouraged by this moment and the changes underway regarding racial justice, Said Appelbaum.

I also understand that you cannot properly deal with racial justice if you also do not deliver economic justice to communities of color and others who have been marginalized, he said.

“I think the pandemic and the outcry over racial injustice, together, have revealed that there are a lot of economic inequalities that need to be corrected right now,” said Appelbaul.

Note to Editors: This article marks the launch of a new regular WWD feature, Equal Measure, which will examine the issues of diversity, equality and the growing movement for social change and their impact on the retail sectors. , beauty and fashion.

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