A conversation on Inclusion and Representation

Dec 7

It’s the Holiday Season! How exciting, or exhausting. It all depends on where you’re at on your holiday timeline. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that this week there was a lot of talk about inclusion and diversity (or lack of) regarding a particular brand. Although you may have seen that this brand was cordial and a bit shady in their response, their immediate action was to post a black girl in efforts to shut us up. I’ll have you know that I just went back and there are THIRTY-SIX photos of white girls before you see another POC on their feed. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to extend the conversation so that my thoughts can come across a bit more clear.

First and foremost, I would like to clarify that addressing issues like lack of diversity is by no means bashing anyone. When other influencers and myself shed light on companies or brands that are not inclusive, it’s not to shame them or drive away their profit, but rather to bring attention to a very big issue in hopes that they will work towards a solution. Now the issue you will hear me talk about a lot is the lack of diversity in color and size for many fashion brands. I talk about this because I can relate to these issues. I am a size 8/10 curvy, Afro-Latina woman. This is only a little tiny baby part of the diversity and inclusion issue. The LGBTQ community is constantly fighting for inclusion as well as many other marginalized groups.

As an Afro-Latina woman, I cannot in good faith knowingly continue to support a business that does not support me or my people. It just doesn’t feel right. Now that’s not to say that I go around checking to see if every single item I owned was made by a person of color. Or that I’ll never shop at a big corporation again. I’d be 100% lying to you if I said that were true. But what I can say is that I will always call out lack of inclusion and diversity if I know about it because knowledge is power. As an influencer with a reach of 30K plus, I feel that it’s only right that I share this information with you. What you do with it is solely up to you.

Now let’s talk facts

The Hispanic buying power grew from $495 billion in 2000 to $1.4 trillion in 2016. According to Fortune, Black buying power is about $1.2 Trillion. Basically, we have coins and we are willing to spend them. My point in discussing issues regarding diversity and inclusion is to encourage us (the people with a combined buying power of $2.6 trillion) to be mindful of where we are investing our money. Because let’s be honest, I love shopping. I work very hard for my money and I love nice things. However, as time goes on, I’m learning more and more about being a smart consumer who supports inclusive companies. Normally I would just buy from wherever I wanted, but now I make a bigger effort to shop small or shop at a store owned by a POC. Now I get this isn’t always possible, and it doesn’t make me a better POC for thinking this way. But If you are aware that a specific brand you are investing in is blatantly refusing to be inclusive or refusing to make a consistent effort towards diversity, then scratch them.

I’ll tell you a bit about Ban.Do. It is one of my favorite shops. You have heard me rave about @Jengotch and how her personal mental health journey has helped me in more ways than I can count. A few years ago, Ban.Do was not very inclusive. They showcased super basic advertisement models. The skinny white girls with the super straight hair. We’ve had a few twitter and DM exchanges about this. They promised to work on it and they have. Now although there is still a lot of work to be done, they’ve come a long way. There are now women that are a bit curvier. There are curly haired girls and other ethnicities represented.

Another great example is Madewell. MY FAVORITE SHOP OF ALL TIME. I have also had Twitter conversations with them where I’ve written in about their lack of diversity. We can see below how they are making an effort towards being inclusive and diverse when it comes to size and color. Because a huge issue that we find in advertising is colorism. Many of the models used by brands are white, passing or we are just unable to relate to. I continue to support both of these brands because they listen to consumers and make efforts to progress their brands. I always try to be professional and mindful when approaching these brands, but sometimes they just don’t care and so I make it a point to make sure Y’all know that actions speak louder than a “We’ll do better. Thanks for your feedback.”

One of the goals I set for myself this Holiday Season and this coming year is investing in businesses run by POC. Here’s a quick story: my gorgeous engagement ring (I feel like I can tie it into any and every post so don’t hate me) was made by Iz&Co. Iz&Co is a small shop in Manhattan owned by a POC. When Chase and I discussed what I wanted for when the time came, I specifically sent him to Iz&Co. I explained that it was super important for me to have my ring made by a POC. Not only a POC but a small business right at home in NYC. I knew exactly where his money was going and it makes me even more proud to wear my ring, knowing not only that Chase loves me but that my ring was made by someone I know. I’d been following Iz&Co for years before even meeting Chase. I was even able to visit the office in the diamond district and meet the owner. A truly personal and incredible experience.

So what is the solution to all of this?

To many people, I may just be the angry brown girl online who’s always upset about something. That’s cool too. I’m not for everyone and if you feel that way then you just don’t get it. That’s part of the problem. Refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem is a privilege, and quite honestly, most people who have expressed having a problem with anyone addressing these issues are either white or passing [insert shoulder shrug here]. But I digress. I want to do more than just screaming into the void about how brands need to do better and how we need to do better as consumers. I want to put my money where my mouth is, and I encourage you to do so as well whenever it is possible.

Storytime

I’ll share a quick story or two because these are my fav’s. You all may have come across @helloseef. I was her and her sisters’ nanny for 6 years. The girls along with their parents are my family. Sefan is adopted from Ethiopia and her parents are both white, as well as her sister. I remember there were a few brands they loved shopping from because they made adorable dresses, tights, shirts, etc. Then I remember having a conversation with my mom boss, Garet, and she mentioned e-mailing a certain brand about the lack of diversity in their catalog. The brand did nothing to change so she asked them to stop sending mail to the house because she did not want Sefan to have to choose her clothing from a shop where she was not represented. This really impacted me because this is teaching Sefan, who is now 9, where at the time she was about 6, that representation matters. So I think of Sefan, and I think of my cousins and their children. I think of my future children. My fiancé is white so our children may look passing. They also may not. Who knows? But I do know that no matter what they look like, I want them to see everyone represented when I’m showing them a catalog to choose their school year outfits from. I want my daughter to know that she can wear a “Science Rocks” shirt because obvious signs of intelligence like loving science and math are not just for boys to parade.

Let’s make sure we’re on the same page

Before I go ahead and share a few shops I love, I want to leave you with this thought. If you are reading this and you are white, you have the privilege of not understanding the struggle of what it’s like to be a person of color in America. You have the privilege of not being a consumer who is often deliberately left out of marketing campaigns because they are not found appealing to the majority of the people in our society. Most places you shop, you are the majority. Now imagine walking into Tommy Bahama and wanting to find a tropical shirt identical to the 18 you got last year, but everyone in their store ads, catalogs, and even the associates are black. How comfortable would you feel shopping there? Would you notice? Would you be more hesitant towards spending your money there in that specific location? Would you think, “Gosh, this sure looks like an all black Tommy B’s.” Would you complain and write to their corporate office explaining your discomfort when you didn’t see a single white person there that you could identify with? If your answer is no then I applaud you. If your answer is yes, then you have some work to do because that is how it feels when we shop 90% of the time. Whether it’s online or in person.

If you are a POC reading this and you don’t have an issue with these major issues, then you are part of the problem. Refusing to acknowledge an issue is oftentimes the biggest obstacle that keeps us from achieving a healthy solution. I want to remind you that you matter. Your brown/black body matters just as much as your black dollars. You don’t have to yell on the internet. I can do that for you. You don’t have to stand on a corner and angrily throw fliers at white people demanding they facilitate change. But you can start the conversation with yourself and with others. Look at the brands you are supporting and ask yourself, “Is this brand supporting me and my culture? Or are they choosing to promote the narrative that POC or plus-sized models are not appealing enough to be an addition to our marketing campaigns?” Then think about the answer and from there, you do you, boo. I can only encourage y’all so much.

Okay. One More.

The last story, I swear. Chase and I were in Ohio and I really wanted a Louis Vuitton bag. He was on a project working and I was visiting him so I went to the mall to check it out. I walked into the store and no one said a word to me. I wasn’t even acknowledged. I spent ten minutes gushing over the bag of my then dreams, only to have NO ONE offered to help make my dream come true. The following day Chase was off and we headed to the mall again. I wanted to show him the bag and so we walked into Louis Vuitton. The second we walked in there were about 4 associates asking us if we needed help. “Can we offer you some water?” I was crushed because I realized that oftentimes when we go out I get treated better because I am with a white man. That is my personal experience and so that fuels my personal mission to change the narrative whenever I have the opportunity to facilitate change. Whether that looks like collaborating with a brand to be a part of the change, or fighting until someone is so uncomfortable that they have to change, I’m ready for the work. It is exhausting. It is alienating. But it is necessary.

Now here are some shops you can support this holiday season and beyond, owned by POC

  1. Iz&Co – Fine Jewelry
  2. The Wrap Life – Headwraps and headbands
  3. Naked Bar Soap Co. – Handcrafted Soap & skincare
  4. Brown Toy Box – A toy box subscription company focused on representation
  5. Coco & Breezy – Optical wear and Sunglasses
  6. Nubian Skin – Hosiery and Lingerie for WOC
  7. Eat Loisa – Organic Latin foods and spices
  8. GreenBoxShop – Social Justice T-Shirts
  9. Melanie Marie – Custom Jewelry
  10. Juvia’s Place – Makeup + Cosmetics

 

There are so many more I can list but these are the ones I could think of right off of the top of my head. If you have a favorite shop owned by a POC please leave a comment below. I’d love to check them out.

Thanks for stopping by and in the words of Issa Rae…

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  1. Leomary Rodriguez

    December 7th, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    Wunder Body – owned by an Afro Latina 😉
    http://www.wunderbody.co

  2. Sydney

    December 7th, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    Thank you so much for this Denisse! I don’t understand why diversity/inclusion/representation is SUCH a difficult concept for brands to grasp. By no means is calling a brand out “bashing”. It’s not my fault you’re doing it wrong! I think too many people have a problem with WOC speaking up about race issues as though we are supposed to just sit there and be happy with the crumbs we’re given. WE AREN’T DOING THAT ANYMORE!
    Listening to the consumer is Brand Management 101 so when a consumer, and a valued one at that, bring something to light, YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING. Thank you for speaking on this AND leaving all those dope POC brands just in time for Holiday shopping. (P.S. Sorry for all the caps)

    Sydney
    http://www.classiccitychic.com

  3. Denise

    December 16th, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    Denisse,
    Utilizing your platform to enlighten others about race and diversity is wonderful and courageous. I say courageous because speaking about race comes with a great deal of flack and backlash in our society today. Unfortunately it needs to be stated and addressed.
    When I was in high school, my guidance counselor told me that I didn’t need to apply to college because the jobs that I would be getting didn’t require a college degree. Apparently he didn’t know my mom, and how this comment would impact the rest of my life. How many children had he told that to, and more importantly, how many listened??!!
    Needless to say, I graduated high school, went on to college and hold four degrees.

  4. Denisse Benitez

    December 17th, 2018 at 1:18 am

    Denise,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. This is incredible and I’m so glad to have met you and to be able to continue to learn more about your story. You’re an inspiring force!

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