When you look at runway models, campaign stars and brand ambassadors today, the fashion industry is noticeably more representative than it was a decade ago. But beneath this public facing exterior, only 5% of the total workforce is drawn from a People of Color background.*
Roksanda Ilincic CEO turned Executive Director and BFC Diversity Committee Chairman Jamie Gill is on a mission to redress the balance. This month he’s launching The Outsiders Perspective, an incubator to help talented People of Color to enter the operational side of the business at an elevated level.
The Outsiders Perspective is backed by British mega brand Burberry, Deloitte, The British Fashion Council, The Mayor of London’s Office, Karla Otto worldwide communications agency and leading online retailer, Zalando.
It differs from current initiatives as it is specifically targeting People of Color with four years’ plus professional experience as opposed to grass roots projects in schools and colleges which will take much longer to show results.
Gill is a pragmatist. He’s about getting those results and getting them fast. We spoke in August, just days before the scheme’s official launch.
“I believe we are hitting it at the right experience level,” he says. “It’s philanthropic but it’s also feeding an immediate business need. Brands want to address their diversity issues. They are looking for talented people of color but recruitment is taking so much time because, often, they don’t know where to go.”
In many ethnic communities, fashion is not considered a viable career path: “The law, finance and consultancy are seen as much ‘safer’ options for candidates who perhaps lack the personal and financial networks needed to enter a more ‘risky’ arena like fashion.”
The Outsiders Perspective will help to facilitate matchmaking and integrating this talent with its brand partners.
The aim is to recruit lawyers, accountants, bankers and the like who have an active interest in fashion and valuable transferable skillsets but, due to “social mobility factors and cultural nuances,” initially chose more establishment careers. In normal circumstances, he says, you won’t even get a look-in at Burberry without five years experience in luxury fashion under your belt.
Starting today is a five-week recruitment drive to fill the 25 spots in the scheme’s pilot cohort. Successful candidates will participate in a series of evening workshops and networking sessions with managing directors, chief merchandising officers and chief marketing officers from its partners. They will be given a holistic overview of the industry’s various business models, trends and challenges while learning how they can transfer their own skillset.
“We’re asking brands to be patient and take a risk,” Gill says. “The candidates may not have five years’ experience in fashion but they’re smart, capable and educated so just give then six months longer than someone who’s come the traditional route.”
This approach is a product of Gill’s own career trajectory. The executive, himself of British-Indian heritage, grew up in a Derbyshire mining town and began his career in architecture before moving into chartered accountancy. He learned about the fashion industry on the job, via a start-up he launched for the Indian luxury bridal market, ultimately joining the Roksanda board via an executive role at a venture capital fund for luxury fashion.
The short-term goal for The Outsiders Perspective is to successfully incubate its first cohort. “We’ll find out where the gaps are — both on our own and the candidate side —and what kind of further support is needed, but if we can transition the first 25 people into a new career that’s a really strong start.”
Gill is also in the process of onboarding further leading brands and groups to the program. “The reaction has been fantastic, there was no ‘sell’” he says of the response. “We just spoke with Meta; brands are being open to me about their needs; people have already approached me and we haven’t even launched yet.”
Going forward, he already has U.S. expansion in his sights: “The dream is to become a go-to hub for holistic talent via a diversity lens. All we really have to do now is to up our numbers in order to scale.” And while, for now, “significant” partner investment is resource based as opposed to equity, he is certainly open to official funding rounds in the future.
Interested candidates and brands can find out more here: The Outsiders Perspective
*The MBS Group: Diversity and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry