The Business of Fashion Podcast
Robin Givhan on the US Capitol Siege and Vogue’s Kamala Harris Cover

Robin Givhan on the US Capitol Siege and Vogue’s Kamala Harris Cover

January 14, 2021

Speaking with Imran Amed, the Washington Post’s senior critic-at-large shares her thoughts on the controversially ‘familiar’ image of the vice president-elect, and explains where it sits within the wider political climate of the United States as it is due to enter a new chapter.

When the cover of American Vogue’s February issue leaked on Saturday, January 9, a flurry of controversy ensued. Many took to social media to deride the image of vice president-elect Kamala Harris, lensed by Tyler Mitchell, for its casual styling, unflattering lighting and lack of gravitas. The criticism focused on the argument that the portrait lacked the stately deference they believed such a political figure — not least the first Black, South Asian female vice-president — should command.Among those to share their thoughts was Robin Givhan, The Washington Post’s senior critic-at-large who penned a column on January 11 in which she said “the cover did not give Kamala D. Harris due respect… It was a cover image that, in effect, called Harris by her first name without invitation.” Givhan, who became the first fashion writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2006, sat down with Imran Amed in the latest episode of The BoF Podcast, to further discuss the cover’s significance and the wider tumultuous landscape of US politics. 
  • Debating Harris’ portrait is about more than just a critique of the technicalities and production value of a fashion glossy. Its release comes at a time of political division and fraught race relations, just days after a violent right-wing mob stormed Washington D.C.’s Capitol building, an event incited by President Trump, who now faces a second impeachment for his involvement in the incident. “The last few years have been an exhausting, emotionally draining time,” said Givhan. “I was very surprised that [the cover] became such an issue. I was really stunned that people were so exercised about it. When you think about it, it’s [like] pain from a thousand papercuts, and this was the 1001st papercut.”
  • The informality of the image chosen for the print cover carries greater historical significance and weight. Vogue and Anna Wintour defended it as an extension of the Biden-Harris campaign’s platform of accessibility, which Givhan described as a “legitimate” point of view. But, she said, “I think that the upset is rooted not so much in the current moment but its history. Throughout history, Black women in particular were not given the kind of respect that white women were. People had this familiarity with Black women that was not about friendship and equality but was condescending. Understanding the complicated nature of that would give one pause in presenting the first female vice president — a Black woman — in that way.”
  • While the alternative digital cover image, which depicts Harris in a more presidential light and formal style, offers some reprieve, this print issue has significance as a cultural souvenir (“you can’t give a screengrab to your grandchildren,” said Givhan), and there is no real opportunity for a do-over. “There’s no way to make people happy,” said Givhan, adding that it’s important to instead listen to criticism and “recognise where things went astray” in allowing this misstep to happen. “You just have to do better the next time, and the time after that and the time after that.”

External clips courtesy of Good Morning America and ABC7 News

 

Related Articles:
Anna Wintour Speaks on VP Cover Controversy, Amazon and Diversity Efforts
The Risks and Rewards of Dressing American Politicians 

 
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Big Tech’s Threat to Fashion

Big Tech’s Threat to Fashion

January 12, 2021
It’s hard to imagine running a successful brand in 2021 without advertising on Instagram, buying search ads on Google or selling on Amazon. At BoF VOICES, H&M’s Christopher Wylie and venture capitalist Roger McNamee talked about why that’s probably not a good thing — and how the industry can reduce its reliance on tech giants.
 
Before the pandemic, social media and e-commerce giants like Facebook and Amazon were ascendant. The physical isolation caused by the ongoing global health crisis has only consolidated their power. Nevertheless, fashion brands can’t rely on a handful of Silicon Valley firms to run their businesses, venture capitalist Roger McNamee said at BoF’s VOICES.
 
In an interview with Christopher Wylie, who blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica’s improper use of Facebook user data during the 2016 election, McNamee outlined how big tech has touched off a “cascading series of catastrophes going from the online world into the real world.”
In fashion, Facebook, Amazon and Google have inserted themselves between brands and their customers. Though they offer unparalleled marketing and commerce capabilities, McNamee noted their clients pay a steep price in the long run by ceding control of such crucial elements of their businesses. But all is not lost.
 
“The fashion industry has a superpower,” he said. “You’re actually connected to culture, so people care what you have to say. You have to recognise as an industry that these guys are changing the rules and you have to fight back.”
 
 
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Tremaine Emory on Mixing Politics and Fashion

Tremaine Emory on Mixing Politics and Fashion

November 12, 2020
Imran Amed talks to the designer, also known as Denim Tears, about the US election and putting conditions on his collaboration with Converse.
 
This is just the beginning for designer Tremaine Emory. Following the US election, the designer, who is also known as Denim Tears, spoke to BoF’s Imran Amed about negotiating with big brands, leading with purpose and the work still ahead. “It’s been an incredible week and there’s a lot more work to do,” said Emory. “I hope this is the start.”
 
  • For Emory, principles come first when it comes to working with big brands, especially if they are using corporate activism in their marketing. The designer notably withheld the release of a collaboration with Converse earlier this year, posting a set of conditions for parent company Nike on Instagram that ranged from disclosing the number of Black employees in leadership roles to stopping all support for the Republican party. “I can’t put these sneakers out if all the company is doing is donating money,” said Emory. “I need to know specifically what they’re doing to combat police brutality in Black neighbourhoods… Who are we protecting with this money?” In negotiations with brands, Emory delineated the tango that comes with corporate partnerships: “Their number one thing is making money... how can I dance their bottom line with my bottom line?”
  • Reflecting on the results of the election, Emory emphasised the importance of registering young voters and getting them excited about the upcoming senate elections, particularly in his home state of Georgia. “We’re going to work to get people to vote and get Democrats in those seats,” he said.
  • Emory also hopes to introduce young consumers to new ideas and ways of thinking about American history and civil rights. “That’s probably my favourite part of my practice is being a bridge of knowledge between generations,” he said. “How can I condense... a James Baldwin book [or] a Black Panther book into a T-shirt?”
 
Watch and listen to more #BoFLIVE conversations here.
 
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Stella Jean Asks ‘Do Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion?’

Stella Jean Asks ‘Do Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion?’

August 27, 2020

The Italian-Haitian designer and the only Black member of Italy’s Camera della Moda speaks to BoF Editor-in-Chief about racism within the country’s fashion industry.

LONDON, United Kingdom —  For designer Stella Jean, enough is enough. “It’s time to turn the page” and demand fashion reform, she said. Last month, alongside Milan-based designer Edward Buchanan, Jean issued letters to Carlo Capasa, president of the Camera della Moda, and to the organisation’s 14 executive members in what Jean described as “an historical appeal to bring to the forefront for the first time in our history, the paradoxical taboo topic of racism in Italy… and also to support Black designers who are still invisible in the business of Italian fashion.”
In the latest episode of The BoF Podcast, Jean sat down with BoF Founder and Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed to share her personal history growing up the daughter of a Haitian mother and Italian father, discuss the systemic racism within Italy’s fashion sector and focus on fostering change.
  • The self-taught designer, whose clothes have been worn by the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna and Zendaya, called out fashion giants for making “performative gestures of public support” regarding racism in America, while simultaneously “overlooking what is happening to the Black minority in their own country among its workforce.” During the virtual call with Amed, Jean shared that she had received a letter from Capasa regarding the creation of a new unit in the Italian fashion council to tackle racism within the sector. Jean hopes that this will transform her question “do Black lives matter in Italian fashion?’” into the statement “Black lives matter in Italian fashion.”
  • In order to effect change, fashion leaders and executives must have an open discussion about what more can be done to boost diversity within their organisations, Jean said. While brands rushed to post black squares on social media, Jean urged leaders to first address the lack of diversity within their corporate structures. “[Brands] have long preached multiculturalism but have rarely applied such concepts beyond the media window… [and] in the spaces away from the spotlight where no one is watching,” she said. “[This is a] wound that we have ignored for far too long… If you don’t understand that awareness is the first step in solving the problem, this wound will never heal.”
  • For Jean, who founded the sustainable development initiative Laboratorio delle Nazioni, growing up in the 1980s “and struggling [with] being so diverse from [her] fellow citizens has motivated [her] to find a way to show people not to be afraid of different cultures and colours, but instead to see them… as a chance to grow better and together.” Jean recognises fashion as a tool that can offer fair and equitable opportunities for people in low-income countries. When Jean creates a collection she meets and works with various artisans in countries like Peru, Haiti, Burkina Faso, Mali or Pakistan for example, researching and learning about the local indigenous skills to then create a textile or garment, combining the country’s traditional craftsmanship with Italian design. “The beauty of fashion is it has no borders,” Jean said.

Related Articles:
Op-Ed | Fashion Is Part of the Race Problem
Op-Ed | Inclusivity Demands More Than a Show
Fashion's New Stella

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Tackling Systemic Racism in the Fashion Industry

Tackling Systemic Racism in the Fashion Industry

August 6, 2020

Harlem Fashion Row’s Brandice Daniel, Black in Fashion Council Co-Founder Sandrine Charles and creative consultant Henrietta Gallina on actionable anti-racism steps brands must take to move the industry forward.

 

NEW YORK, United States — The anti-racism protests that erupted across the US over the last two months have brought conversations around racism in the fashion industry to the fore. In the latest #BoFLIVE event, BoF’s Lauren Sherman spoke with Harlem Fashion Row Chief Executive Brandice Daniel, Sandrine Charles Consultancy Founder Sandrine Charles as well as brand and creative consultant Henrietta Gallina about combatting systemic racism in the fashion industry.
  • In order to implement meaningful change, brands must introduce clear, public goals for which they are accountable. Vague, performative messages will no longer suffice as employees and consumers put pressure on brands to deliver actionable progress. “When we talk about the problem, I always come back to equity and that’s what I’m striving for,” said Gallina. “We are no longer asking for the industry to support us, we are asking for the power structures to be rebuilt.”
  • Companies must be holistic in their approach when tackling racism in the workplace. “It absolutely starts at the leadership level and C-suite level,” Daniel said. “Black people have set the foundation for the fashion industry but we’ve never held leadership roles.” Hiring a D&I chief, while a step in the right direction, doesn’t hold much weight if anti-racism measures aren’t implemented throughout the business, both from the bottom up and the top down.
  • “What’s really important is that everyone else acknowledges where they have a privilege in this industry,” said Charles, who is also the co-founder of the Black in Fashion Council. “Moving forward, they also have to do the work.” Charles, Daniel and Gallina all underscored the importance of introspection and then action, particularly from white and non-Black people. Committed allies are a crucial step to moving the fashion industry forward. “It’s essential that we do the work with everyone because there are various spaces that we don’t have access to,” Charles said.
 
Related Articles:

 

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Aniyia Williams on Why Self-Examination Is Critical to Dismantling Racism in Fashion

Aniyia Williams on Why Self-Examination Is Critical to Dismantling Racism in Fashion

July 1, 2020
LONDON, United Kingdom — Aniyia Williams is ready for difficult conversations. The opera singer-turned-fashion tech entrepreneur has navigated systemic racism within corporate culture for years. And as companies slowly begin the process of dismantling policies and norms that harm Black people within them, Williams has a few ideas on where they go from here.

“The biggest thing that gets in the way is self-interest,” Williams told BoF Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed in the latest edition of the BoF Podcast. “Discomfort is the key ingredient to getting to the other side.”

  • Self-examination is critical. “It starts with the blind spots,” Williams said. “You are going to find things you don’t like about yourself.” Companies should look to their own practises and corporate culture to understand who they benefit and what needs to change.
  • You’re not going to hire your way to diversity, inclusion and equity. “What’s more important,” said Williams, is the environment that exists to support those people once they’re hired. Diversity and inclusion initiatives can only go so far, and it starts with senior leadership recognising the need to change both policies and company culture. “If the leadership isn’t buying into those ideals... I don't know how you can expect anyone else to,” Williams added.
  • Act to make it true. Aside from social media posts and one-time donations, fashion companies need to push for a larger, longer-term change. Diversity and inclusion at its core is about creating shared realities that understand what each employee is facing. “What is our relationship to each other going to be and is it going to be as fair and equitable as it can be?” asked Williams.
 
 

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Anna Sui Says, ‘You Can Define an Era By the Clothes’

Anna Sui Says, ‘You Can Define an Era By the Clothes’

June 16, 2020
The American designer speaks to BoF’s Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks about how fashion mirrors politics.
LONDON, United Kingdom — The world has changed immeasurably since designer Anna Sui’s last fashion show took place in New York in February. Her next collection is likely to reflect this transformation. “Fashion is a mirror of the times — you can define an era by the clothes,” Sui told BoF Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks. “What people are wearing mimics the politics of the times.”
Over the last few months, the world has grappled with a pandemic, a steep economic downturn and, more recently, widespread anti-racist protests. In this week’s special edition of the BoF podcast, Sui makes predictions on how these global events might impact the future of her industry.
 
  • People have spent much of the lockdowns at home in sweats and a T-shirt. Sui believes that people might go polar opposite once social distancing restrictions are relaxed. “Suddenly [people] are going to want to be seen,” Sui said, adding that eating at restaurants and drinking at bars will once become occasions for self-expression.
  • Handicrafts may see a resurgence as “people are now taking the time to relearn those skills,” Sui said. Tie dying, crocheting and knitting might well become popular creative outlets for the many people investing time in new hobbies — and this shift could be reflected in upcoming collections.
  • Sui hopes the pace of the industry will slow down and allow space for self-reflection. Looking back to the 1990s, “[There] wasn’t this frantic need to be working all the time, I remember enjoying the holidays,” Sui said. “Let’s hope that this gets back under control and that we learn how to balance out our lifestyles again.”

Sweatsuits and Yoga Pants Are Selling Like Crazy. What Happens When Lockdowns End?
A Proposal for Rewiring the Fashion System
Why Fashion 'Seasons' Are Obsolete 

 

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Graydon Carter Says, ‘There Is More Good Journalism Being Produced Now Than There Was 25 Years Ago’

Graydon Carter Says, ‘There Is More Good Journalism Being Produced Now Than There Was 25 Years Ago’

June 12, 2020
LONDON, United Kingdom —  “Magazines bring the world to you more than newspapers do and more than books do,” Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fairand creator of email newsletter Air Mail, told BoF Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed in the latest episode of the BoF Podcast. “They bring the cultural nuances of what’s going on now to your door. They [tell] you about a world outside of the small town that you’re living in.”Carter’s journalism career spans over four decades, during which he was a staff writer at Time and Life, co-founded Spy magazine in 1986 and served as the editor of The New York Observer. His “third act,” the digital weekly newsletter Air Mail, employs a team of remotely working individuals from across the globe.Carter shared his thoughts on the state of the publishing industry in this time of upheaval.
 
 
  • An upended global economy is not uncharted territory for magazines. During the Great Recession, publications were hit hard as brands cut their advertising budgets to retain cash, Carter said. More than a decade later, magazines are faced with these same challenges, and for Carter, although there remains “a certain romance for magazines” the print industry “is going to have its issues and I think the strong magazines will survive and thrive and the weak ones will go away. That is a natural process in any industry.” The winners that emerge from this crisis will be the publications that form a connection with their readers. “You have to be the first or second favourite magazine of your reader… if you’re the fifth favourite magazine of a reader, they could probably do without you,” he said.
  • During his time running Vanity Fair, Carter spearheaded several newsmaking issues, including the 2015 “Call Me Caitlyn” cover, revealing Caitlyn Jenner for the first time as a woman and the “Africa Issue” that was designed to amplify the region and came with 20 special covers fronted by the likes of Muhammad Ali, Dr Maya Angelou and Barack Obama. However, his leadership was not without controversy. In a recent Netflix documentary, “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich,” allegations resurfaced that Carter removed information about the sexual abuse of Annie and Maria Farmer from an article about the disgraced billionaire written by Vicky Ward in 2003. In response to the claims, Carter said: “The legal and fact-checking elements of Vanity Fair, which was quite extensive,... is your line of defence and my head of fact-checking, my legal review editor and the lawyer for the company said we simply do not have what we needed to print this and it came in late,” he said. “In this case, they said we did not have the information we needed to publish that little bit of information in the story... I feel great pain and sorrow for the women he took advantage of, it’s an appalling situation.”
  • As the publishing industry pivots to adapt to a new normal, relying on digital tools like Zoom, cutting back the number of issues and reassessing the diversity of their organisations, Carter believes there are opportunities to be capitalised on. “I think there is more good journalism being produced now than there was 25 years ago… The fact is, now… you can start your own thing, you can do it on your kitchen table.” In a sea of start-ups it can be difficult to stand out, but “it’s just about being good at doing something that somebody else doesn’t do… You can make a name doing anything as long as it’s done well.”

 

Related Articles: 
Graydon Carter to Step Down as Vanity Fair Editor After 25 Years
Fashion Magazines Hit as Luxury Ad Spend Dwindles
For Fashion Magazines, It's Crunch Time

 

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Scott Galloway on Breaking Up Big Luxury | Inside Fashion

Scott Galloway on Breaking Up Big Luxury | Inside Fashion

May 29, 2020

The bestselling author and business professor offers his insight into the challenging market and M&A landscape that industry players of all sizes have to navigate.

Scott Galloway is no stranger to expressing views as provocative as they are incisive. The author, business school professor and serial entrepreneur has a lot to say about the state of the market in the era of Covid-19, but his observations and predictions are also, crucially, grounded in wider social, political and economic arguments — whether that’s the now-untenable position of American exceptionalism, the burden of student debt or the failings of intergenerational wealth distribution. Speaking in conversation with Imran Amed, Galloway shares his thoughts on the state of the luxury sector, importance of e-commerce and the indomitable power of Amazon, a company he describes as “firing on all 12,000 cylinders” yet still can’t crack the fashion market. Here are some of the key takeaways:
 
  • “The class of IPOs that will come to the markets in the next 3-6 months will boom,” said Galloway. “I think the markets are going to accelerate but people conflate the markets with the economic health of america. The markets are nothing more than an indication of how the top decile of Europe and America are doing.” 
  • Amazon’s tricky relationship with fashion and luxury is hard to reconcile. “Amazon partners with an industry the way a virus partners with a host,” he said, which explains why luxury brands have traditionally kept the e-commerce giant at arm’s length. Even with the remarkable acceleration of e-commerce in the past eight weeks, however, Amazon’s algorithmically driven retail model does not allow for the forward-looking trend cycle on which the fashion industry operates.
  • Luxury is a relatively well-positioned industry. “The majority of sectors in the world would pray for luxury’s problems right now,” he said, but much like big tech companies, conglomerates in the luxury space create “an unhealthy environment where too few players are allowed to [accrue] too much power... if you wanted to oxygenate the economy around luxury you would go ahead and break them up.”
 
 
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Special Edition: Journalist Rana Ayyub on Why Social Distancing Is a Privilege

Special Edition: Journalist Rana Ayyub on Why Social Distancing Is a Privilege

April 3, 2020

In the latest special edition of the BoF Podcast, Indian journalist and author Rana Ayyub joins BoF’s Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the lives thousands of migrant labourers, many of whom work in India's now-shuttered textile industry.

 

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