I follow the fashion industry pretty closely. Fashion is a love of mine and, of course, I love public relations. So, when the two worlds collide, I have opinions and thoughts.

Fashion has always had a problem with racism, – from whitewashed runways to cultural appropriation and skin-lightening Photoshop jobs – but it seems that lately it’s become more obvious. In the last three months alone, we’ve read about three instances of blackface – Prada , Gucci and Katy Perry – and one use of a noose on the runway – Burberry . Skipping over the obvious question about racism in 2019, I’m curious whether or not the PR teams were involved in the creative process. 

As PR people, we’re naturally hypersensitive to actions that can offend others and cause a crisis. It’s our job to consider all potential outcomes and to let the other team members know when something could play out negatively.

The public relations team should be every company’s, fashion industry or not, first line of defense. We’ve got the experience to know how the public thinks and how they could potentially react.

The PR team should be involved in all aspects of the creative process, so they can counsel the company before it invests energy, time and money in a concept or product that can turn into a crisis.

Will Prada, Gucci and Burberry fall out of favor because of these incidences? Probably not. They might see a small decline in sales, but ultimately, because of their prestige and long history in the fashion world, they’ll likely bounce back. But, it’s important that even fashion icons don’t rely on “I’m sorry. We’ll do better.” as an easy-out.

Fashion (any business) is all about how other people perceive the brand – many would find it unappealing to be associated with a company that doesn’t align with important societal views. And, what about the brands that aren’t so significant — like Katy Perry? One misstep could ruin the company they’ve worked so hard to build.

How can a company or brand avoid this (besides not being racist in the first place, of course)? Consult their PR teams on everything – every new line, new ad and new slogan. Even better? Consult their diverse PR teams on everything – every new line, new ad and new slogan.

I’d love to hear other fashionista PR reps’ thoughts on racism in the industry and how PR people can help the houses move forward.

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