'To some people in this world...and in this industry, I don't exsist' - Black fashion insider shares his experiences

Protests against the death of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in the United States have sparked a global debate about racial inequalities - putting pressure on major fashion brands and industry leaders to do more to foster change.

Former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine, Emil Wilbekin, said there has always been a lot of racism and exclusion in fashion.

"I think fashion is a great example of a platform and business that loves Black culture, loves the Black body, but doesn't want to kind of pour back into the Black community financially," he said.

"I think that this moment in time is going to be very challenging for them, because I think consumerism is being challenged at this time. Inclusion is being challenged at this time and they sit at the nexus of that," he added.

Long time Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan said as a journalist she can spot the lack of diversity in brands with their end products.

"What I see is, what the models look like when they're walking down the runway. What the advertising campaigns look like. What the, you know, the lead, what the creative director of the brand looks like. All of those decisions are obviously made from a corporate level. And what goes into those decisions comes in part from background and experiences of the people who are making those decisions."

For image architect/stylist Law Roach, who has worked with Zendaya, Ariana Grande and Celine Dion, his brushes with racism have left him feeling as if "he doesn't exist in the industry".

"Have I ever been introduced as the assistant and my white female assistant as me? Absolutely, a thousand percent," said Law.

"I've been asked to see - in New York - to see my ticket or to see my text message with my seat assignment lots and lots of times. You know, and it makes you feel unwelcome….those are the things that, the things that I have to deal with and to me are just as egregious as calling me N-word," said Roach who recently collaborated on a collection with Zendaya and Tommy Hilfiger.

Recently, Vogue's editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, apologized for "hurtful and intolerant" mistakes by the magazine during her 30-year tenure.

"I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators," Wintour said in an internal memo widely reported in the media.

"We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes."

Givhan feels that some are looking at Wintour's statement as little too late, but said "it's better to get on the right side of history at some point than to never get on the right side of history."

But added, "it is very challenging for a system to change its ways without changing the nature of the system itself."

In response to all of the stories of discrimination surfacing in the industry, veteran model Beverly Johnson has created the 'Beverly Johnson Rule,' which would require a company to interview "at least two Black professionals for any openings for executive boards, c-suites, top editors and other influential positions."

Johnson hopes to speak with Wintour one-on-one and implement the rule at Conde Nast.

"It's an open invitation to all the brands and the CEOs. And I'd like to come in and speak with Anna Wintour and really, you know, sit down with her and tell her this, this 'Beverly Johnson Rule' and how I think that it can really instead of just lip service, that it could really effectuate a structural change in the fashion industry."

In December 2018, Prada released pictures of a monkey with inflated lips that some compared to Black sambo, which is racist imagery from the early 1900s. Italian fashion house Gucci faced the same backlash after it released a high-neck sweater with mouth cut out trimmed in red which appeared to be lips in February 2019.

Most attributed these products to a lack of diversity at the executive level, something Givhan said is where the real change needs to happen.

"That's where the decisions are made about what the designer looks like, and the designer is then the person who is able to determine what the runway show looks like and what the advertising campaign looks like."

"It's the same thing for media. It's in the executives' suites where it's determined who's going to be an editor-in-chief. And then that editor-in-chief can make all of those much more - those decisions that consumers actually see on a daily basis or a monthly basis."

One of the first steps Roach will make towards change is to intentionally champion Black brands.

"Black brands and, you know, across the board will be more of a focus moving forward," he said.

"I'm holding myself accountable as somebody who has the power to make a difference in someone's career and life. I'm holding myself accountable to make sure that I do it more frequently for people who look like me."

(Production: Alicia Powell)