Black and in Fashion, Representation in the Workforce

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The killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked rage and largely peaceful coast-to-coast protests that have the nation grappling anew with the old ill of institutional racism. 

Fashion — an industry keen to promote its own diversity, often in a self-congratulatory way — is also taking a fresh look at just how welcoming it is to the black community and how it can do better. 

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But for all of those efforts over many years, there continues to be a real divide at the very top of the corporate org chart, where the salaries are big and the faces remain mostly those of white men. There are black chief executive officers from A (Virgil Abloh) to Z (Jide Zeitlin), but very few in between.

In the broader workforce, statistics from last year show black or African-American representation is higher than average in some categories, such as shoe stores and department stores, but below average in other areas, including jewelry, luggage and leather goods stores. While parts of the country are starting to reopen now, many stores are still closed to slow the spread of COVID-19 and some will never reopen.

Still, even at retail, the vast majority of those black workers are sales staff, rather than at the executive level.

Here, some points of reference on fashion’s racial divide.

The C-suite — Black Ceo’s

Virgil Abloh ceo Off-White
Jeff Tweedy president, ceo Sean John
Jide Zeitlin chairman, ceo Tapestry Inc.

The Workforce Break Down

Representation of black or African-Americans in key sectors of the fashion business.

Total  Black or African-American
U.S. population 328.2 million 13.4 percent
Overall workforce 157.5 million 12.3 percent
Electronic shopping 556,000 23.4 percent
Shoe stores 161,000 21.8 percent
Department stores and discount stores 1.8 million 18.9 percent
Clothing stores 924,000 12.1 percent
Jewelry, luggage and leather goods stores 172,000 8.5 percent
Apparel, piece goods, notions wholesalers 92,000 6.8 percent
Barber shops 150,000 29 percent
Beauty salons 1 million 12 percent
Nail salons and other personal-care services 600,000 6.2 percent
Textiles, apparel, and leather manufacturing 552,000 10.7 percent
Sources: Census Bureau (population figures as of July 2019), Bureau of Labor Statistics (industry figures, 2019)

Paul J. Carlson

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