LONDON — Jamie Gill, executive director at Roksanda and chair of the British Fashion Council’s Diversity Committee, is launching an incubation project, called The Outsiders Perspective, to tackle fashion’s diversity issue behind the scenes.
“It’s an incubator nurturing people of color to ensure they are equipped to join the operational side of the fashion brand, driving changes in equity, diversity, inclusion in fashion,” Gill said.
While racial diversity has increased on the runway and on social media in recent years, Gill argued that those working behind the scenes have barely changed.
Only 5 percent of the workforce in the fashion industry comes from a people of color background, a study from the MBS Group and the British Fashion Council showed.
“There is a severe lack of ethnic representation working on the less creative but no less essential roles — finance directors, sales directors and operations managers.
“Aside from the macro fashion brands, which most of us know, the reality is the fashion industry is made up of small to medium-sized brands where there is no clear professional training ground for sourcing talent. I want to help change this,” Gill said.
Together with Burberry, the British Fashion Council, Mayor of London’s Office, Deloitte, Karla Otto and Zalando, the project aims to provide a platform for people of color — like Gill himself, who was born to working-class British Indian parents in the Midlands — to join and maybe one day lead the British fashion industry.
“I want to speak to professional talents, like bankers, lawyers, accountants, people who are of color, and who have been sat in a career that they felt they kind of had to do and always looked at fashion as a glamorous and exciting creative industry,” he said.
“The walls always have been up, because even if they want to be a lawyer at Burberry, you don’t have the five-year luxury and fashion experience working in law, let alone anything else. And this is a talent who’ve got an active passion and interest in the space and they don’t know who everybody is,” Gill added.
Those who are interested in the incubation project can get in touch via its website Theoutsidersperspective.org from Thursday.
“I’ve already got some ring-fence talents that I think could be really good. They go through a recruiter with all of the partners together, and then we take them through a series of workshops and they have to actually even do a case study at the end of the workshop.”
The platform will also provide a much-needed talent pool for fashion businesses that are facing diverse talent shortages.
“It’s addressing two things. It is a diversity project, but it’s also a talent project. You have brands like Roksanda, Erdem and Victoria Beckham looking for diverse talents, but don’t know where to go,” Gill pointed out.
The reality the industry is facing today is that “as soon as a business starts turning over a million pounds, they can be employing 11 people and scaling. But where are you getting that salesperson from? They’ve just most likely trained at another smaller brand, and then gone to another brand onto another brand, but not really been built up,” he said.
In comparison, the talents coming out of The Outsiders Perspective might need a few extra months to get up to speed with industry knowledge, but “we’re gonna give you someone who’s smart,” Gill said.
Having worked in architecture, accountancy and venture capital prior to joining Roksanda, Gill believes that the British fashion industry can benefit greatly from welcoming people from more diverse backgrounds joining the decision-making process, as their multicultural upbringings can help brands access challenges and opportunities from a more nuanced point of view.
“On top of that, they understand how to budget. They’ve got accounting and legal awareness and an innate understanding of this. And then on the soft skills, they know how to communicate and be analytical. They can be thorough, and they can be diligent. All those skills that we could really do with but they just don’t know specifically about fashion,” he added.
At the end of the mentorship, Gill will match the talents with brands, and all the bodies in The Outsiders Perspective will monitor them through that.
“If I can transition 25 talented people of color on the first incubation in the six subsequent months, getting them jobs and onboarding 20 leading British luxury and fashion brands, it will really create a solid foundation to actually scale, and then we can be like ‘let’s go bigger now, because we’ve got something that works,’” Gill said.