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. 

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

Retail

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

Wholesale

Apparel, piece goods, notions wholesalers

92,000

6.8 percent

Services

Barber shops

150,000

29 percent

Beauty salons

1 million

12 percent

Nail salons and other personal-care services

600,000

6.2 percent

Manufacturing

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)

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