Go from an internship to an entry-level job in your twenties, Grazia Fashion director Kenya Hunt felt isolated. She noticed that many of her fashion peers had networks, but they didn’t. Fashion is so relationship driven. You have a history of hiring people they know and no history of hiring in more diverse pools, which contributes to a culture that can seem insular and cohesive, she says. Sometimes jobs are filled before you even apply.
Hunt founded Room Mentoring for Black, Asian, Muslim and Marginalized Groups in 2015 to create a formal mentoring program that he lacked early in his career. I have had women in my life who acted as unofficial mentors and I felt so indebted to them.
Grassroots organizations like Room Mentoring, Mentoring Matters and Raise Fashion are part of a recent wave of mentoring programs, spurred by Black Lives Matter, that aim to restore the racial balance in fashion. We want to make room for candidates from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds who should always have been there, says Laura Edwards, founder of Mentoring Matters, design director who has worked with Christopher Kane and Alexander McQueen.
Designed to foster personal relationships between individual mentors and mentees who do not meet or typically work together, organizations aim to help marginalized groups succeed in fashion. Mark Kaplan, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for The Dagoba Group Consultancy, accredits the recent rise in mentoring programs structured to focus on systemic actions aimed at addressing racial inequalities. He says they address systemic bias by removing the affinity bias at play in less formal mentoring relationships. But to reach their potential, these programs need brand buy-in to penetrate internal working relationships. Some are launching their own initiatives.
The biggest deficits blacks in fashion face are access, mentorship, capital and visibility, according to Brandice Daniel, founder of New York-based Harlems Fashion Row. Any brand or retailer wishing to help out needs these four components. It is not a quick fix. Make a commitment to match the length of time black designers have been excluded from the industry.
Build personal support networks
The Hall and Mentoring Issues offer professional guidance through one-on-one sessions, with occasional guest speakers. Mentoring Matters now has 34 mentors and 60 mentees, aged 18 to 27, and a waiting list of 400. Due to Covid-19, these sessions are taking place through Zoom; Room added more group sessions for emotional support as jobs dry up and workplace racism is called out. With growing interest since June, Hunt has also created formal subgroups for specific positions, as well as written resources on mechanisms that silently reinforce racism, like rates of pay and contracts.
Hikmat Mohammed, fashion assistant at The telegraph, who joined Room when he worked with Hunt at She, says it provides a safe space outside of work and a sense of community. This was really helpful during Covid-19. A lot of people were calling their workplace and needed an outside perspective, says designer Bianca Saunders, who just became a mentor for the first time with Room Mentoring, and has been a mentee since 2018. I love seeing our mentees lift themselves up by climbing. , says Hunt.
Stylist Francesca Burns discovered Mentoring Matters through a friend, fashion editor Julia Sarr-Jamois. She hopes to help her mentees move into paid positions, overcoming the early career barriers created by unpaid internships. Being able to work for free is a privilege. It’s exploitation, too, and to truly create equal opportunities, you need to empower everyone on your team, regardless of their background or background, she says.
Rebecca Osei-Baidoo, who has worked as a buyer for Selfridges, Tsum and Browns Fashion, has two mentees in the organization. Fashion is not as transparent as other industries, so it’s not always clear what roles are available, she says. She wishes something like this existed when she entered the industry. I am Métis. When I first started, there was no one who looked like me in senior positions.
Financial support makes mentorship actionable
Beyond individual mentors, Mentoring Matters works to establish brand partnerships, by associating their own objectives with companies concerned with diversifying their workforce. Bleach London and London designer Molly Goddard signed up. It’s easy to take the knowledge and confidence you have a few years in your career for granted, says Goddard, who offers a three-month paid sales and marketing or production and development internship at the London Living Wage. These departments were chosen specifically to offer experiences that involve technical skills without requiring prior fixed experience or fashion training.
Other brands are launching internal projects. Peter Baldaszti, CEO of Budapest-based Brand Nanushka, says the mentorship has enabled the brand to diversify and educate their team while promoting inclusion and providing financial support. At present, over 90% of his team are white. Through its inaugural mentorship program, two winning contestants will see their designs produced as part of the Nanushkas Fall / Winter 2021 collection and receive 20% of the resulting sales. While sales figures are hard to predict, Baldaszti estimates that each mentee could receive between 1,000 and 10,000. We hope they can use this money to further their education or to start their own business, says founder Sandra Sandor .
The Elevate Incubation Program includes mentorship from Harlem’s Fashion Row Founder Brandice Daniel and Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lake.
© Courtesy of Stitch Fix, Bryan Taylor
Harlems Fashion Rows Daniel acted as an advisor on Elevate, a new incubation program developed by personal styling with the Stitch Fix e-commerce platform. While several retailers have signed up for initiatives such as the 15% pledge, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York announced in August that black-owned businesses were twice as likely to shut down due to Covid-19. Elevate hopes to address this by offering five Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) entrepreneurs a $ 25,000 grant, access to Stitch Fix data tools, continued support from the algorithms team, amplification on marketing channels. Stitch Fix and the possibility of being sold. Stitch Fix alongside mentoring.
Daniel says funding is crucial for amplifying the impact of mentorship, although this applies more to entrepreneurs than individuals. Black designers, like most black entrepreneurs, have been so underfunded, she explains. If a designer doesn’t have the finances to execute the plan you helped them put together, you haven’t made any real progress.
Mentoring as part of a larger diversity and inclusion strategy
In addition to embracing mentoring, Edwards of Mentoring Matters would like to see companies reflect on their internal culture and overcome barriers to long-term inclusion. Why aren’t people being promoted to managerial positions, what is the ethnic breakdown in your business and, if people of color aren’t applying for positions with you, then why aren’t they seeing your business as a good opportunity or a good choice for them? she asks. We need accountability now.
The Hive Diversity recruiting app, which partners with fashion brands like Steve Madden and Michael Kors, mentors candidates on workplace inclusion.
© Hive Diversity
It’s easier to measure the impact of formal than informal mentoring, adds Dagobas Kaplan, who adds that brands should focus on helping all employees, especially leaders and managers, build relationships. through differences and to create opportunities for development.
Several major fashion brands have partnered with Hive Diversity, a new app in hopes of diversifying the recruiting process and providing candidates with on-the-job integration training in tandem. The goal is to create an inclusive space by working with the recruiting partner, according to Jaryn Bloom, group president at Michael Kors. At Steve Madden, connecting with diverse candidates is part of a larger inclusion strategy, says Group President Liz Rodbell, which includes mentoring, diversity advice and employee resource groups designed to retain the diversity of talent once hired.
Change requires skills development within the organization, not just excluded groups, Kaplan says. The biggest mistake is not making mentoring part of a larger strategy.
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