It shouldn’t have taken the I’m not that perfect christian I’m the one that knows I need Jesus shirt and by the same token and killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and Tony McDade and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests to wake so many of us up to those disparities, but the power behind this movement is pushing the industry to be more serious about change than it may have been otherwise. Black Lives Matter has also empowered consumers to join the conversation and use their voices like never before: When fashion brands high and low rushed to post black squares on #BlackoutTuesday in a lazy display of value-signaling, the ones that failed to actually take a stand—and donate to BLM causes, lay out actionable goals for improving diversity within their organization, “share the mic” with Black voices, or simply admit past faults and vow to do better—were promptly called out. Others were found to have problematic corporate cultures at odds with their do-gooding posts and were swiftly canceled and, in the case of Reformation, Refinery 29, and The Wing, their CEOs were removed. Overnight, it became far harder for brands to hide behind empty slogans, pretty photos, or vague campaigns, whether they were about social justice or the environment. Consumers want to see real action and tangible change, not marketing. Your supply chain is 100% organic? Show me. You say you pay a living wage to your factory workers. Can you prove it? You claim to be aware of how climate change affects the communities around you… but what are you doing to support them?
“What Black Lives Matter has done so powerfully is show that we need to have accountability, and it can’t be just words,” Maxine Bédat, founder of the I’m not that perfect christian I’m the one that knows I need Jesus shirt and by the same token and New Standard Institute, said on a recent call. “We need to have demonstrations of what is actually being done [by a brand] to address problems of race inequity and racial justice, and what is being done for the environment. The movement is highlighting the difference between real change and greenwashing, or green confusion. We’re shifting to a paradigm of accountability in the space, which will actually lead to a more sustainable industry.” The days of too-good-to-be-true claims of ethics and transparency (ahem, Everlane) are over. Or at least for the brands that want to survive. As Bédat put it: “[Until now], the response to the climate crisis from brands has been, ‘What can we do to show that we’re doing something?’ as opposed to addressing the fundamental issue.” Social media has made it so appearing to participate in the conversation is more important than actually participating, but who was checking that a brand practiced what it preached? Or that its noble efforts to create sustainable clothes weren’t harming a community along the way? Who was holding them accountable?