Can you tell us a bit about your team at Flourish In Diversity? How did you meet and come together to initiate this vital project?
The Flourish In Diversity team is Giulia, Amelia, and Nishy. We have come together through a shared dedication to promote diversity and sustainability within the Fashion industry. Collectively we are from Italian, West African, Australian, and British Indian heritage. Giulia and Nishy both grew up in the UK and Amelia grew up in Melbourne, Australia.
We are the three female co-founders of the project, from very different backgrounds, both ethnically and socio-economically. The concept was born from Giulia in early 2020, prior to the pandemic, from a frustration with the industry and a need for deeper meaning in the work she was doing. By 2020, having worked in fashion for over 15 years, she had become increasingly disillusioned by the industry and felt she wanted to leave it. Instead, she decided to use the skills and experience she had gained to create change from the inside. She shared her concept with Nishy in May 2020 after being connected through a mutual friend. Nishy had her own lived experiences as an ex-fashion student, and together they set about trying to create an action plan. In June 2020 Giulia shared the project ideas with work colleague Amelia (they both work at Margaret Howell) and from that day the team was born!
How did you come up with the idea of Flourish In Diversity?
Flourish In Diversity was born through a frustration with the existing environmental and social injustices we currently face, and a responsibility to utilise our skills and experience to effect positive change for the next generation.
What is the goal and timeline at Flourish In Diversity?
We are launching our pilot training programme this Summer 2022, which is incredibly exciting and a long time coming! We had plenty of setbacks and delays due to Covid since our inception in 2020. For now, we are looking to observe and gain a deeper understanding of what young people need from us, and that’s why this pilot is so crucial. It will give us the foundation from which to realise how best we can serve the future generation.
“Our training programme seeks to up-skill young people in the widest industry skills gap and in doing so boost their employability prospects, build their confidence, and connect them with the industry firsthand.”
Flourish In Diversity offers a training programme for marginalised groups who have previously been ostracised from and underrepresented in fashion jobs. Can you tell me more about the training programme?
Our training programme seeks to up-skill young people in the widest industry skills gap and in doing so boost their employability prospects, build their confidence, and connect them with the industry firsthand. We are collaborating with brand partners to take students through the fashion product cycle through a mix of lectures and interactive workshops, focusing exclusively on sustainable and ethical practice. We aim to present cleaner and fairer solutions to the future fashion workforce to effect change from the inside. Our programme will also include life skills workshops to prepare our young people for the transition from education to employment.
“The Fashion industry is inherently (pathologically even!) nepotistic. In most of the companies we know of or have worked in, the workforce tends to be from a similar socio-economic and ethnic background.”
How many applicants can you accept onto the programme, and can you tell me about the funding process that the team has set up to run the programme?
We are funded by a combination of sources – we have put our own money into this project as well as crowdsourcing with family, friends, and the wider community. Additionally, we have received a grant from Foundation for Future London in collaboration with Westfield Stratford. Nevertheless, our budget is tight and we have worked for free until this point. For the pilot, we are only accepting eight school leavers. This is partly down to funding, but it also gives us the opportunity to work closely with them, allowing us to build better relationships and gain a deeper understanding of the day-to-day barriers they face, and how we can support them going forward.
“The creative industries are known for being cliquey, which ironically is to their own detriment. “
Why do you think a programme like this is necessary for the fashion industry?
The Fashion industry is inherently (pathologically even!) nepotistic. In most of the companies we know of or have worked in, the workforce tends to be from a similar socio-economic and ethnic background, ie. middle to upper middle class and predominantly white. It’s not uncommon to be hired simply because of a family connection or as a ‘favour’ to a close connection. We have witnessed friends referred for roles where they were not even interviewed and got hired all the same! The creative industries are known for being cliquey, which ironically is to their own detriment. Diversity brings power, innovation, sensibility, and a deeper connection collectively. Surely these are the elements that inspire creativity.
“Across the fashion industry and beyond, the roles of Boards members and Directors are predominantly held by Gen X white men which is a very narrow perspective to hold across an entire sector and economy.”
From inequality in opportunity for people from minority ethnic and low socio-economic backgrounds to sustainably negligent practices in production and sales, the problems we are facing in fashion are intersectional. Do you think they can be tackled collectively, and if so, how?
Ultimately, we seek to diversify decision-making roles to effect broader and long-term change in this sector. The environmental effect of harmful practices predominantly impacts those in the economic south, which on the whole, means people of colour. We want to help place underrepresented groups into head offices and fashion businesses to make a living from the fashion industry, be part of the decision-making process and contribute their ideas and perspectives. Across the fashion industry and beyond, the roles of Boards members and Directors are predominantly held by Gen X white men which is a very narrow perspective to hold across an entire sector and economy.
“The industry needs to invest in the younger generation, not momentarily but consistently with a focused approach, as they will be the fashion leaders of the future.”
Diversity is a conversation being had more and more frequently in the fashion industry at the moment, subsequently, a lot of changes are taking place – for example, the re-branding and team re-jig at Dazed which hopes to move forward as a publication with a global point of view. How can we ensure that changes are lasting and not, as you say in the Flourish In Diversity fundraiser campaign, just a trend?
Our programme aims to support underrepresented talent not only gain access, but also prosper within the industry through a combination of mentoring and internship opportunities, and a network of past and present young people and professionals alike on which to rely for lasting advice and support. The industry needs to invest in the younger generation, not momentarily but consistently with a focused approach, as they will be the fashion leaders of the future.
On the subject of trends and their toxically fast turnaround, could you tell me more about the problematic nature of trends in fashion?
The problem with trends is that they move fast and require the consumer to keep up! Systematically moving so quickly through products based on fleeting popularity encourages overproduction which is one of the biggest challenges. This also leads to a distorted idea about access and availability, with the consumer having little to no understanding of the human and environmental impact of overproduction. Our hope is that people become more selective in their consumption, whilst taking care and repairing the belongings they already have. Educating the consumer is crucial.
“The companies that are still operating based on outdated business models have a responsibility to change their offering and significantly reduce the harm they do to people and the planet throughout their supply chain.”
What do you feel positive about with regards to changes that are being made in the fashion sector today?
Thankfully, the next generation is bringing positive energy and ideas! It’s incredibly inspiring to see the emergence of the rental market with companies such as Loanhood and By Rotation leading the way. Marketplaces like eBay and Depop have shown significant growth as many consumers are opting to purchase pre-loved items, whilst saving money in the process. Many companies are now striving for B Corp certification and taking part in initiatives like ‘1% for the planet’ to make positive changes in how they operate and how they contribute to the welfare of the planet. The companies that are still operating based on outdated business models have a responsibility to change their offering and significantly reduce the harm they do to people and the planet throughout their supply chain. We have also seen many initiatives emerge for underrepresented young people in the time we have been setting up our programme from the likes of Adidas and Gucci for example. We hope by partnering with brands in the UK we can inspire a shift towards greater diversity and more sustainable practice, for a cleaner and fairer fashion industry.
You can apply for Flourish In Diversity here