As several culturally-insensitive designs from brands like H&M, Zara, and Topshop continue to make headlines, one thing has become clear: fast fashion has a diversity problem. Now, following social media backlash over incidents like H&M putting a black child in a "coolest monkey in the jungle" hoodie and Zara's Baati dress, The New York Times reports that some of these brands are starting to make strides to rectify it.
Last month, H&M announced that they will be hiring a South African marketing firm to oversee their efforts to diversify and train in those areas. They also hired Annie Wu, a diversity manager whose job it is to help employees recognize unconscious biases. The same article reports that Zara, on the other hand, is reportedly implementing an algorithm to "scan designs for insensitive or offensive features." According to the story, these brands are also blaming "fast-shifting trends and high employee turnover" for their continued mistakes.
In the past, Zara has been accused of cultural appropriation and creating offensive designs numerous times. For example, there was the aforementioned Baati dress, a lungi skirt, and even the use of a white supremacist symbol on one of their items. As these problems persist, it's clear that a significant change needs to be made.
While Zara's algorithm — which amounts to simple coding that detects problems — might be a step in the right direction, there is no talk from the brand about the need for a diverse staff on the design level. An inclusive design team will ensure offensive products aren't green-lit, and employees from varied backgrounds can bring a wider set of experiences to the table. Brands like Chromat or Gypsy Sport hire design teams that reflect both the clothing they want to make and the consumers who buy it. In doing this, not only are they more likely to avoid producing appropriative work, but they're elevating the artistry of designers from different backgrounds. At the end of the day, an algorithm is fine, but inclusivity is better.
Zara declined Teen Vogue's request for comment.
We have reached out to H&M for comment and will update if we hear anything.
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