UPDATE: July 12, 2016, 9:42 p.m. EDT The Council of Fashion Designers of America made an official statement to Black Lives Matter, below.
NEW YORK It started with a cryptic text message with a location and time.
“Each person is responsible for getting their own Black T Shirt made/bought with a victims name on it in White Writing,” it began.
The text was passed around discreetly, with clear instructions not to share any of the details on social media.
“WE ARE MARCHING IN THE STREET WITH OUR HANDS UP,” it read. “WHEN WE REACH THE VENUE- WE WILL STOP AND WITH OUR HANDS UP AND LET OUR SIGNS, OUR PRESENCE AND OUR SHIRTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES WHILE THE MEDIA AND PHOTOGRAPHERS CAPTURE THE IMAGE.”
On Tuesday morning, the second day of New York Fashion Week: Men’s, more than a dozen men and women proceeded to meet on the corner of Washington Ave. They were there for a purpose: To show the fashion industry that black lives mattered and that they, too, should care.
Since the #blacklivesmatter movement was birthed, the fashion industry has, by and large, stayed mostly silent. From designers to editors, there’s been little social media engagement with the movement, and virtually no support for the black community.
“I don’t want to be labeled a ‘black designer,'” said one individual who spoke on the condition of anonymity to Mashable. “There’s that stigma that’s hard to detach from.”
“Fashion loves controversy, for sure, but it has to be the right kind,” said an anonymous editor to Mashable. “It’s not chic right now to stand up for the movement and for many, they’re afraid to lose their jobs or clout in this industry.”
This sentiment has certainly forced many to stay neutral on the divisive movement. But for Hannah Stoudemire, who works at a high fashion brand and is cousin to NBA player, Amar’e, enough was enough.
“I work in the fashion industry and I noticed none of the designers cared about it,” she told Mashable. “I’m the only black employee for a major house on Madison and everyone seems not to acknowledge what has happened. There’s no condolences. There’s nothing. When it comes to a matter of life or death, a dollar sign shouldn’t come into play.”
So to signal to the industry they, too, needed to care, Stoudemire picked New York Fashion Week as the perfect place to shine a light on this issue.
“I had this idea last year,” she told Mashable. “I took it especially hard when Tamir Rice died because I’m also from Ohio. I cried over his death. He was 12. He’s a baby. Then Alton Sterling happened and I was like, why wait?”
Stoudemire admitted she was ready for the repercussions from her job and knew her own employment could be at stake for being so outspoken.
“Whatever happens, happens,” she said. “These are my convictions. I worked for them and I worked 8 hours a day for this company, away from my child. I keep thinking, ‘If that happened to me, would you post that I, too, matter?’ Probably not.”
Stoudemire revealed she quietly texted and emailed everyone about the plan that morning.
One of her friends, Rachel Johnson, NBA stylist to the likes of J.R. Smith, Lebron James, and Amar’e Stoudemire, came in support.
“This epidemic cannot be ignored,” she told Mashable. “There’s no one in this country that cannot ignore this. I’m a black woman. That comes first for me before any status or kind of popularity or opinions people have of me. This is about humanity.”
At around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday Johnson and Stoudemire, along with a dozen others, marched down Washington Ave. on their way to Skylight Studios, the official venue for men’s fashion week.
Immediately upon arrival, a swarm of fashion week street style photographers click clacked in unison as they stood in front of the venue.
Each participant in the silent march stood there, wearing black, in solidarity, their hands up.
One woman, Olivia Walker, held up a sign reading “Black Lives Matter,” on black paper, written in white.
“I wish I knew why the fashion industry hid from this,” she said. “They don’t want to mix and match politics. But this is America and we’re supposed to be a community. Fashion is a strong part of our history so they should be the first ones to speak up.”
Next to her stood Sabrina Cerrati, who traveled two hours from Westchester to join the movement.
“It takes more than a meme,” she told Mashable. “We can’t keep posting on Instagram and Facebook and say we’re angry but go back to our Starbucks and Pokemon. We’re not starting a race war, we’re trying to end it.”
David Yi (@seoulcialite) July 12, 2016
As the fashion community walked past them into the venue, there were iPhone photos taken, Snapchats, and a few discussions.
“Forget about street style today,” a photographer muttered. “It’s all about these guys today.”
But even as the dozen men and women stood by in silence, there were little to no passersby who joined, though they were in support.
“They’re ensuring that people aren’t too quick to forget in this movement and attention is taken away to something frivolous,” said Kenya Sherron, wardrobe stylist who was observing from afar.
“It’s powerful to watch them out here and to be so bold,” said Bryant Woodson.
“Fashion is afraid because of controversy,” said Sherron. “The fashion industry already has its own problems with racism and is not a secret. It has a problem with beauty standards. It would hurt the industry more than support it.”
Would they join in?
“I would, but we have things to do, it’s fashion week,” Sherron admitted.
“We have to go now,” said Woodson.
And that said it all. Though a worthy cause and one that was valiant in effort, two hours had passed without another new face joining the cause.
Fashion, as it turned out, wasn’t ready for change.
Since reporting this story this morning, we observed Stoudemire and the other protesters who were at the venue four hours later.
Stoudemire was in tears and embraced her friends.
“I just spoke to Steven Kolb from the CFDA,” she told Mashable.
“He said that the CFDA is behind us, that he cares. This means so much to me. I’ve been in love with fashion since I was 4-years old and to finally have the industry say that we matter too is validating. And I’m touched.”
Since, the CFDA posted an Instagram post acknowledging and supporting the cause.
“An important reminder no matter how busy the week #blacklivesmatter,” the post wrote.
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