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BoF’s Top 500 Weigh In on Fashion’s Business of Appropriation

Photo: Courtesy of Pyer Moss

Kerby Jean-Raymond, designer of Pyer Moss and CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner, took to Medium on Tuesday to expose the hypocrisy of BoF’s two-day diversity extravaganza and to disassociate himself from their list of industry influencers. In an essay titled “Business Of Fashion 500 is now 499,” Jean-Raymond described how he was exploited for “his intellectual capital and black culture, as a whole” by BoF’s EIC, Imran Amed, who promised him one of the three covers of the magazine, rescinded the offer and then failed to include him in a speech to gala attendees thanking those who helped him address the need for diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry.

“I’m offended that you gaslighted me, used us, then monetized it and then excluded us in the most disrespectful way to patronize companies that need ‘racist offsets,’” he wrote in the scathing tell-all. Kerby went on to call-out the awkward performance of a black gospel choir for a predominantly white audience as cultural appropriation. “And I’m offended that you all made those beautiful black and brown people feel really terrible to the point where some of my friends said ‘this is helpless’, ‘this shit will never change’ and others left in tears. I was fine until they weren’t fine. So I hit 100%.”

The accused editor-in-chief defended himself in an article published in his own magazine titled, “Why I’m Listening to Kerby Jean-Raymond.” He argued that as the “son of Ismaili Muslim immigrants to Calgary, Canada from Nairobi, Kenya,” issues surrounding diversity and inclusion are deeply personal to him, as well. Amed spoke of being physically small compared to his peers and “the only brown kid in my class,” in addition to being gay.

Amed defended his actions by citing the conscious hiring of diverse staff at BoF and listing names of gala attendees of color before finally concluding with an apology. “I am deeply sorry that I upset Kerby and have made him feel disrespected. While we may disagree in our opinions on the gala and the details of our exchanges over the past year, Kerby has my complete respect and I would appreciate the opportunity to sit down with him and learn more about his concerns and how we at BoF can do better, especially as we try to address important topics like inclusivity. While we will not shy away from addressing challenging topics, I am committed to making this a listening and learning opportunity for myself and BoF.”

The exchange sparked a heated debate online with the industry’s elite applauding Kerby Jean-Raymond’s bold and refreshing honesty. Many support his suggestion to those who question how to proceed towards creating true equity:

“Homage without empathy and representation is appropriation. Instead, explore your own culture, religion and origins. By replicating ours and excluding us — you prove to us that you see us as a trend.”

Check out our favorite hot takes from fashion month’s biggest scandal below.

Elaine Welteroth, author and former editor-in-chief, Teen Vogue

“Inclusivity or appropriation? The answers are clear when a black gospel choir is used out of context as a backdrop for a mostly white audience in Paris, all in the name of inclusion in fashion. I am not one to promote call-out culture but as someone who grew up in a black Baptist church, my ancestors won’t allow me to absorb this shock silently. The paradox here is stunning.” Welteroth wrote on her Instagram stories.

Joan Smalls, model

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“Diversity when it’s convenient to them,” Smalls wrote in a comment on one of Jean-Raymond’s Instagram posts regarding BoF’s behavior.

Lindsay Peoples Wagner, editor-in-chief, Teen Vogue

“People of color in this industry are notoriously in the cycle of being mistreated but are too scared to speak up because then we don’t get the promotions or the accolades. There’s a trope of being angry black people when really we’re being real and honest about what’s happening,” the editor and Top 500 honoree wrote on social.

Aurora James, designer of Brother Vellies

“I love a strong olive branch but this was not that. Let me tell you what Imran left out. 1) An apology to all of the other black and brown people in the room 2) A specific apology to black women. What BoF does by continuing to glorify people who play a large part in the systematic oppression and commodification of black women is NOT okay. WE are the ones that are suffering in this system the most,” the designer explained.

Phillip Picardi, editor-in-chief at Out magazine

“Good intentions are step one, but step two is a lot of really hard work and the predominant reason why these inclusive experiences feel so shallow is that often times, inclusion in fashion is not a 360 experience. But I felt that the spirit of the BoF Gala, and of BoF in general, is to amplify and listen to voices, so I think it’s important to listen to Kerby and amplify his message,” the editor commented.

Jessica Hoppe

Jessica Hoppe is a New York-based writer and social media strategist who founded her blog, Nueva Yorka, in 2015. She has been featured in Vogue, Yahoo, HuffPost, PopSugar, Who What Wear, Ravishly and worked as Lifestyle Editor for StyleCaster. Jessica has been passionate about writing, diversity and Latin American culture from an early age. Having grown up in a Spanish speaking home, her father is Ecuadorian and her mother is from Honduras.

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