Angela Burt-Murray has recently departed from her role as Editor-in-Chief of Essence, but one of her final decisions will continue to stir embers of unrest for some time. Her choice to hire a White woman as Essence’s fashion director ignited a far-reaching discussion of the lack of jobs for Black people in the industry. While most people know and respect famed Vogue contributing editor André Leon Talley, there are few other African-Americans making major taste decisions in fashion. Burt-Murray’s hiring choice rubbed salt on this raw nerve, and this wound remains open. But new facts might lead to a salve for this serious industry problem. It’s been established that Michelle Obama generated $2.7 billion for the fashion industry between December 2008 and November 2009 through her style choices alone. This revelation is a call to action for greater racial equality within the fashion industry. Why?

Because, before Michelle Obama can wear it, designers have to design it, stylists have to create looks, fashion directors have to pick pieces, model bookers have to find faces, and photographers have to shoot images. In all of these roles in fashion and more, Blacks are still woefully underrepresented—despite having a Black woman as its billion-dollar icon. If a Black woman can sell clothes like no other figure in the industry today, fashion must evolve to accommodate her queen-like power.

Researchers from NYU’s Stern School of Business have found that just a single appearance by Michelle Obama in a piece from firms like Calvin Klein or J. Crew could create up to $14 million in revenue for the fashion brand, or boost its stock price by up to 25%. And of course, all this profit was created without setting up photos shoots, hiring expensive photographers, Photoshop magic, or complex lighting. This power to make massive mean green for both average clothing stores and high-end luxury brands relied solely on our first lady’s explosive style influence.

If one exceptional African-American woman can generate almost $3 billion in stock price increases and fashion revenue in a year through her taste, the undeniable reach of Black style can no longer be denied. And yet somehow it is.

In the CLUTCH magazine article covering the Essence hiring controversy, one reader noted, “While I agree that the magazine needs to be revamped, I do think that it’s an insult to think that a white woman is the only person qualified for the job. There is a general attitude in the fashion world that black people do not possess a sense of style, and having a white person in this position only reinforces that idea.” Even though our culture of fashion ingenuity has been obviously co-opted for decades, those who have excluded Blacks from the inner circles of fashion have denied us entry based on this belief. Plus, the insane misconception that Blacks don’t have style feeds into the insidious myth that Blacks can’t sell—magazines, style concepts or clothes. This has been the justification for keeping Black faces off of magazine covers, and our minds out of fashion boardrooms. This mistaken belief is reflected in the underrepresentation of Black editors, writers, photographers and fashion directors. But until now, the African-American community did not have the irrefutable proof needed to squash this poisonous assumption.

These new statistics establish our ability to set trends and create wealth through them. Given this, will African-American professionals still continue to be denied places within the hallowed halls of fashion where style is professionally commodified (even if we have already been denied access at a magazine we used to call home)? If we are, at least style insiders have been robbed of their favorite excuse. With no real or imagined reasons left to bar our entry, perhaps we will see the end of the denial/blame game going on. It is time for the healing change in fashion we are all looking for. And First Lady Michelle Obama is the leader to bring it.

If we don’t see evolution soon, it will be time once again to march.

- Alexis Stodghill

  • FauxBLAsian

    “Plus, the insane misconception that Blacks don’t have style feeds into the insidious myth that Blacks can’t sell—magazines, style concepts or clothes. This has been the justification for keeping Black faces off of magazine covers, and our minds out of fashion boardrooms.”

    This is not a fallacy; just look at how the show on NBC starring Boris Kudjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw was cancelled. Black faces don’t appeal to white audiences. However, considering Essence and Ebony are indeed OUR MAGAZINES, I think more of an effort should be made to include US, just like the mainstream, caucasian magazines like Vogue continually make an effort to keep A.L. Talley the token.

  • http://divalocity.blogspot.com Vonmiwi

    The black brands she wore were not on the list for many of you. The designers: Byron Lars, Tracy Reece and Duro Olowu brands don’t yell logos none the less but are brands that still survive without our support. Don’t forget that many of the brands she has worn already had a huge customer base, she only enhanced their bottom line. If black designers design, the customers will come but, they can’t get out their brands if the customers don’t come, which equals to dollars or have non-working websites and other problems which will hinder their visibility. You speak and march with your dollars which by the way is the only language they understand. Sure the misconception is that we don’t have style nor do we establish it, the truth is it is the people of color (The Indigenous people) all over the world who really are the ones who create the styles they covet and steal and claim they created them. If the majority of “US” didn’t think we needed luxury items as a symbol of wealth and prestige we wouldn’t be going broke to buy their brands. Stop shopping and buy stock in the luxury brands, then that way you will really have a voice. LVMH consist of 60 luxury brands we all love and hope to one day own, not me, I’ll take the stock because it will appreciate and grow in value instead of depreciating in my closet.

  • Interested

    All I know is that Black women need a fashion industry of their own since excluding Black women seems to be some kind of rule in that industry. Burt-Murry should NOT have hired that women and found a sista instead, period.

  • Bronze

    And after we solve this conundrum our next problem to solve will be the heart of the real issue, that gay men are over represented in women’s fashion: Hair, photog’s, editorial, designers, producers, scouts, skincare, make-up, everything except the vagina has a gay man running the show.

    I would like to see us support black fashion on a small scale. Have you ever seen a Korean, Indian or non-American network? Sure it looks cheesy but they support their own and they could give a damn about what anyone thinks about it. Maybe that is how we should be. Have our own fashion network, and no matter how cheesy or poorly produced, we support it.

    And Amen to Mrs. Obama. She is a flawless woman I will always admire.

  • http://gorgeousspice.blogspot.com/ Gorgeous Spice

    Michelle Obama has style and substance. She has a charm that comes with self confidence. sometimes people use fashion to be a fame whore. Their cloths scream for you to look at them. Michelle’s style is timeless. I think sometimes you can think that your style is limited by your race. Black women have the right and duty to look amazing at all times. We should be able to wear all the styles under the sun

  • http://www.thebestreddress.com Janna

    We’ll only be denied if we only buy theirs and not ours. If for one week only the only labels we bought were from high end Blacks, they’d take note. We are so powerful and quite often don’t even realize it. Harness your power for your own good.

    P.S. Stop buying Essence.

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