Looking for more of the best deals, latest celebrity news and hottest trends? Sign up for Yahoo Lifestyle Canada’s newsletter!
Australian fashion label Zimmermann has issued a response after receiving multiple allegations of racial discrimination by former employees and customers.
Last week, the company took to social media to address the recent protests in the United States in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The brand shared a quote by Desmond Tutu alongside a lengthy statement, which ended with a call for unity against victims of racism.
“The tragic recent events in America have been heartbreaking to witness from here at home in Australia. But of course, these are not just American issues - racism and discrimination continue to exist in our communities regardless of where we live...,” the caption read. “We must continue to act beyond our words to demand equality, embrace love, act with fairness and engender respect for all. We stand in support of the victims of racism everywhere.”
The post received multiple comments from users who claim to have experienced discrimination both as an employee and as a patron of Zimmermann stores.
A former Zimmerman intern, Desirée Celestin, said she witnessed a French Zimmermann employee call a black model a racial slur while working in the brand’s U.S. office in 2019. According to Celestin, instead of reprimanding the employee, Zimmermann fired the model when she tried to defend herself to the employee referred to as “Zolika.”
“Everyone tried to cover it up instead of thoroughly apologizing,” Celestin wrote. “It was a horrible experience as a black woman and there were other black girls interning as well. Your U.S. team covered up discrimination and prejudice and I was extremely disappointed. There are other internees who will verify. If we matter so much stop allowing horrid discrimination and insensitive comments and having an entire team cover it up!”
Maci Bourgeois corroborated Celestin’s account add shared a separate derogatory exchange she experienced with the woman called Zolika.
“Additionally, Zolika compared my hair to a furry scarf, delightfully laughing, satisfied with herself for the ‘joke,” Bourgeois wrote. “How can you quote Desmond Tutu when you in fact, knowingly have those working for you whom are on the side of the oppressor?”
Zimmerman responded to Celestin’s comment, confirming that the brand was made aware of the racist exchange in 2019.
“As a brand we believe in values of honesty, integrity, respect and equality,” the response from the Zimmermann account read. “We confirm that the issue you have raised was brought to our attention in early 2019, and after investigation it led to the immediate termination of a contractor to our business for breaches of our company policies.”
Fashion watchdog account Diet Prada shared Celestin’s comments and shared leaked images from the brand’s employee manual section entitled “Grooming and Presentation Standards.”
The guide featured several reference photos for employees that featured caucasian models and famous faces like Gigi and Bella Hadid and Olivia Palermo. Critics say that Zimmerman’s strict policy of “clean and polished” infer discrimination against Black employees with naturally textured hair.
“Hair can be worn in soft textured loose waves, or blow dried straight with a centre or side part. If worn up there are to be no high buns, top knots, plaits, braids or ponytails worn on top of the head,” the guide stated. “Only a polished ponytail can be worn on the floor; it can be worn low to mid with a part or no part.”
The brand also included a “visual guide” for employee-makeup which provided suggested products and instructed employees “not to come to work without makefashup on.”
According to Marie-Claude Mallat, Zimmermann’s public relations director, the guide shared by Diet Prada has not been used for the past 12 months.
Earlier this week, Zimmermann issued a separate statement to social media, alluding to the complaints from their previous post.
“We have taken time and reflected on how we can do more to educate our teams, build on our diversity and advance equality in our organization. We have listened and heard your voices and are focusing on how we can be a force for positive change as we look to the future. We must do better, we must do more,” the company said.
Zimmermann pledged that they would work to reinforce a zero-tolerance policy for racism or discrimination in the workplace, focus on diversity and inclusion across all levels of the company and create an in-house diversity and inclusion team for employees, provide diversity training for Zimmermann teams and ensure diversity in brand campaigns.
The brand also announced a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund as well as Aboriginal Legal Service in Australia which provides legal representation and services to Indigenous peoples.
“We will continue to listen to our teams, clients and community to learn from them and their experiences, and promise to do more,” the brand concluded.