Source : https://www.gq.com
In February, following backlash against Gucci for a racist balaclava, the Harlem couturier Dapper Dan took the initiative to help the brand move forward. Dap, whose atelier was revived by Gucci in 2017, announced via social media that he would meet with CEO Marco Bizzarri to discuss how the company could prevent future missteps and become a leader in racial diversity within the fashion industry.
Now, the fruits of that meeting have been revealed. After Dap announced on social media on Sunday night that Gucci would unveil a program that “is game-changing for the industry at-large,” Gucci issued a press release Monday, describing “a global program to support industry change and to foster unity through community action, called Gucci Changemakers.” It notes that the program was originally launched “internally” last year, but that this public phase will include three larger prongs.
The first is a $5 million Changemakers Fund designed “to support social change by investing in community-based programs across North America,” per the press release. Gucci says that the fund has “a particular focus on building strong connections and opportunities within the African-American community and communities of color at-large.” The brand will assemble a Changemakers Council—a group of community leaders and “social change experts”—to oversee it.
The second prong is a scholarship program that will offer funding to college students who want to work in fashion. “Over the course of four years, each student shall receive a $20,000 grant toward completing their college education,” the press release notes. The third part of the program offers Gucci employees four paid days off to volunteer in their communities. This is pretty standard in the United States—GQ’s parent company, Condé Nast, has a similar program—but Gucci is bringing it to its 18,000 employees globally.
Fashion brands often wait to survey the full damage of a crisis before taking action, but Gucci has positioned itself as a model for quick action and empathetic listening. When it was accused of stealing Dap’s designs, for example, it reopened his atelier. Just days after the balaclava incident, the brand met with the designer and a group of community leaders he assembled to discuss what went wrong.
But the plan still leaves a few blanks. It is limited to North America, for example: As Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri says in the release, “We will invest important resources to unify and strengthen our communities across North America, with a focus on programs that will impact youth and the African-American community.” The release notes that the brand will open a “parallel” fund “in the Asia Pacific region” later this year, but it was presumably in the brand’s European office that the design conversations around the balaclava took place. It also neglects direct funding for internships, the most costly hurdle to breaking into the fashion industry. We’ll never knock a college scholarship, but what about kids who don’t go to college, or who figure out they’re a fabric prodigy halfway through a marketing degree? (That might sound ridiculous, but given Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele’s out-of-nowhere origin story, it’s kind of the Gucci dream.)
Real, systemic change will involve addressing the minutiae of office life, too—creating an environment with a multitude of voices, where opinions from every level are welcomed and listened to. To that end, the smaller changes Gucci is making, while less splashy, are likely to be just as impactful: The brand is searching for a global director for diversity and inclusion, has established a scholarship program with colleges in ten cities globally, is hiring five new designers from around the world to work in the brand’s Rome design headquarters, and has moved three regional employees to the corporate office as part of an “Internal Global Exchange Program.”
And Gucci has already set a valuable example just by listening to Dap, rather than talking: “It is imperative that we have a seat at the table to say how we should be represented and reimagined,” the designer said in the release. “Through our work together, Gucci is in a position to lead the overall industry toward becoming a better, more inclusive one.” Now it just has to make sure that approach radiates to every level of the company.