As protests swell around the world in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department, fashion is reckoning with its own role in systemic racism. While many brands have issued Instagram statements, pledged to evaluate their own companies, and shared educational resources, there is much more work yet to be done. Large companies have put long-term diversity and inclusion strategies in place, including Gucci, which also launched a new Instagram account, @GucciEquilibrium, to share its ongoing commitments to people and planet. Other sizable brands like Nike have made donations in the millions. Still, much of the conversation online around the Black Lives Matter movement and racism in fashion is being led by independent brands and individuals.
Most small brands cannot afford to give massive sums all at once, especially if their businesses have been impacted by COVID-19. But they haven’t wasted time figuring out clever, creative ways to engage their communities and divert necessary funds to organizations fighting racial injustice. Here, we’ve outlined the six ways designers are giving back, from donating 100% of proceeds for a limited time to creating brand-new products.Donating 100% of Proceeds of Existing Products
Peter Do, an independent label based in New York with 12 employees, will donate 100% of its sale proceeds for the month of June to Color of Change, the Black Youth Project 100, and Black Visions Collective. “With the murder of George Floyd, we as a family decided it was our duty to speak for the first time on the brand channel and to follow words with actions via a financial pledge: An attack against one is an attack against all,” creative director Peter Do tells Vogue. “This is our ongoing commitment to fight for a racially equitable world, not only in word but in deed.”
Peter Do is just one of many independent labels donating proceeds of existing goods, an act that helps brands cover the cost of materials and production of extant products while simultaneously raising money for charities. Rodarte has pledged 100% of its sales on its e-commerce site to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund through July 31. Jewelry brand Serendipitous Project will donate 100% of profits to the Minnesota Freedom Fund for two weeks. Kepler, Comme Si, Azeeza, Ottolinger, Medea, and more are also donating 100% of their sales for a period of time. In addition, brands like Prabal Gurung, Lou Dallas, Collina Strada, ASAI, Daisy, and Amy Crookes have donated 100% of profits from specific products, like ASAI’s Rihanna-endorsed tie-dye dress worn or Lou Dallas’s “End Militarism” tee.
As Asai designer A Sai Ta wrote on Instagram, “Black Lives before anything. Just start with one product. 100[% of] profits after the cost to make the garment. Your percentage reflects your compassion. Tbh nobody should be using resources in fashion to further pollute this world until what they create supports black lives and POC in every level.”Launching New Products to Benefit Organizations Fighting Racial Injustice
As factories and studios gradually reopen, some designers have been able to quickly produce and sell new, limited-edition items with all proceeds going toward organizations fighting racial injustice. Last week, Fear of God’s Jerry Lorenzo released a T-shirt made in collaboration with Pyer Moss, Noah, Off-White, Melody Ehsani, Just Don, Denim Tears, Awake, and Union; their logos were printed on the back, with GF—George Floyd’s initials—on the front. The T-shirt sold out within minutes, raising $100,000 for the Gianna Floyd Foundation.
KidSuper’s Colm Dillane has raised $500,000 for Black Lives Matter through a capsule collection of T-shirts printed with the names and faces of people killed by police in recent years. (He also made face masks that read “speak up” and hoodies with this message on the back: “If you want to change the system, speak up, white silence is pro racism.” Dillane is hoping to hit the $1 million mark this week. “The graphic does not include everyone who was wrongfully murdered by the police, and there are many that have gone unnoticed,” he tells Vogue. “But my hope was for [this] to open some eyes to the injustices of the American system. As I was drawing each face, each smile, each small unique detail, this became more and more real. I hear and see all of these isolated horror stories on the news and as it becomes more commonplace, it also becomes almost just another statistic—we cannot let that happen.”
Kathryn and Lizzie Fortunato have been donating 20% of proceeds from specific items—namely single-strand, semiprecious necklaces—to charitable organizations throughout COVID-19. They said the response from customers has been unprecedented; in May, they launched a turquoise strand benefiting Every Mother Counts that sold out in a matter of days. Later this week, the sisters will launch their next semiprecious necklace to benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center. “I think everyone is looking for ways to be proactive right now. We’re fighting challenges on multiple fronts—COVID-19, the economic slowdown, and now the overdue pandemic that is racism in America,” Kathryn says. “By shopping small with a brand like Lizzie Fortunato and knowing your purchase is going to a good cause, our customer should feel good about creating a positive impact in multiple ways.”
Fans of the indie ready-to-wear label Chopova Lowena should feel similarly about their next jewelry purchases: Designers Emma Chopova and Lauren Lowena made 10 of their signature upcycled keyring necklaces and sold them via Instagram DM, donating all proceeds—including material costs—to the National Bail Out. Menswear label Brain Dead collaborated with Maaps on a long-sold-out incense holder, and all proceeds are being donated to Know Your Rights Legal Camp Defense Initiative. Brain Dead also teamed up with Fontaine Cards to make a special-edition deck of playing cards, with all sales benefiting Black Lives Matter. Elijah Funk and Alix Ross of Online Ceramics made a T-shirt printed with a giant peace sign, skeleton hands in handcuffs, and quotes from a speech by Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I (which later featured in Bob Marley’s song “War.”) They’re donating 100% of proceeds to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Black Lives Matter, the Movement for Black Lives, and the National Bail Out collective.Selling Exclusive Items Through Auctions and Raffles
If you’ve been online in the past couple of months, you’ve seen the interest in Kiko Kostadinov’s sneaker collaboration with Asics. Debuted on the brand’s menswear and womenswear runways, the sneakers typically retail for around $250 and sell out instantly. To benefit a range of Black-centered organizations, Kostadinov began auctioning unproduced samples of the shoes on Instagram. So far, he has auctioned three pairs of shoes for nearly $15,000—that money has been donated to Black Minds Matter, BlackTableArts, I Run With Maud, The Philadelphia Bail Fund, Justice for Breonna Taylor, The Freedom Fund, and The Marsha P. Johnson Institute.
Jewelry designer Isabella Lalonde of the brand Beepy Bella raffled off three of her pearl pieces to benefit Reclaim the Block and the Loveland Foundation. Charging $10 per entry, Lalonde raised $2,000. “I found the raffle to be an interactive and unlimited way to have my fans donate to the movement, while getting the chance to win Beepy Bella jewelry for as low as $10,” the designer tells Vogue. “I selected three of my favorite handmade creations, which are one-of-a-kind designs, and made several eye catching posters. This raffle was able to pool together my brand’s global fanbase in order to donate to causes that directly impact the Black Lives Matter movement.” Following the success of her initial raffle, she plans to continue the practice in the future. “Hosting donation raffles with my jewelry will become a regular practice for my brand and I look forward to continuing to use my platform, and unique designs, for a good cause.”Refunding a Percentage of Sales to Customers
There’s a PSA on handbag label Behno’s website announcing a new “honor system” for its customers: For every order that comes in—whether it’s a $125 wallet or a $700 bucket bag—founder Shivam Punjya will refund the customer 40% of the total purchase. He’s encouraging them to redistribute the funds to a black-owned business. It’s an unusual concept; Punjya could have chosen to donate 40% of proceeds to organizations fighting racial justice instead, or made a donation on behalf of the company. In fact, he considered both of those routes. “I thought about this a bit—juggling whether we [should] directly donate a portion of our sales to a nonprofit organization doing critical work for the Black community, or have our customers be decision-makers in this process,” he tells Vogue. “Something I’ve been reading and learning about are the tangible, lasting actions that we can take as consumers and citizens to make space for Black-owned businesses. One of those actions is directly buying from [them]. Donating 40% of consumers’ purchases would have been easy, and many of my peers in the fashion space are doing precisely this; however, as a society we have much learning and unlearning to do. And in order for us to do this, we need to take initiative and exercise our own agencies within our own consciousness. Returning funds to our consumers and giving them agency to redistribute these funds to Black-owned businesses is critical in our own growth and understanding our roles within a larger context and framework.”
It also enables customers to support smaller Black-owned businesses that might not be getting the attention of major media outlets or Instagram influencers. Of course, you don’t have to buy a Behno bag at all, and could spend 100% of that money on Black-owned businesses instead. But Punjya’s is a business you can feel good about supporting. Behno is sustainably and ethically manufactured in its own factory in India, and Punjya has launched several initiatives benefiting garment workers, disabled adults, and the planet.Matching Donations
For brands that do not wish to engage with consumption philanthropy, matching donations is another means to fundraise without selling any goods. On June 1, Eckhaus Latta announced it would match donations to The Bail Project on Instagram. The brand collected screenshots of donations via DM, asking for followers’ full names and other personal information, and matched funds from there.Donating Retail Space for Protestors or Organizers
In the Before times, hoards of people would gather at Procell’s store on Delancey Street to buy rare vintage tees. Now, the crowds are helping to support City Kits, an organization founded by Sophia Wilson that donates bags full of water, masks, gloves, and more to protesters in New York City. Volunteers assemble kits and distributors pick up kits to be seeded around the city from inside the store. With many bricks-and-mortar stores closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this seems like a worthy transition of storefront space. In addition, many organizations in New York, from the Museum of Modern Art to Metrograph, have been opening their doors to allow protesters to hydrate, rest, and use the bathrooms.