Glass talks to Alexis Williams of the Fashion Minority Alliance

Fashioning the future – Alexis Williams of the Fashion Minority Alliance tells Glass about the road to a more diverse and inclusive fashion and beauty industry

THE year 2020 was a time for businesses and industries around the world to look inwards and re-evaluate their efforts to help make the world a more inclusive space. Spurred on by the actions of the Black Lives Matter movement, British PR mogul Barbara Kennedy-Brown and A-list stylist Cheryl Konteh founded the UK-based Fashion Minority Alliance (FMA) in response to criticisms about the lack of diversity and representation in fashion.

Lockdown was an opportunity for the duo to join forces and be part of the solution – through educating fashion brands on how they can improve, providing a community for under-represented people and being platform into the industry.

Alexis Williams of Fashion Minority Alliance wearing suit by Thebe Magugu.
Photograph: Mathushaa Sagthidas

In June of that year, Alexis Williams joined the team as chair after watching a Black Lives Matter protests passing by his home. “Sitting in my living room in the very upmarket town of St Albans, I heard a large noise outside my window,” he explains. “When I rushed to see what was going on, my heart sang at the sight of what appeared to be the whole city walking past with signs chanting for Black Lives Matter. I knew I needed to do something, and something that would make a difference.”

FMA, a non-profit organisation, offers services such as mentoring schemes, workshops and industry bootcamps – all in an effort to start conversations that may lead to change. “We are hugely aware of the power that the fashion and beauty industry has, not only in terms of careers but also its wider societal importance. Where fashion leads, others follow,” he says.

With the UK fashion industry alone being worth an impressive £21 billion, the power and influence it has as a sector to prompt change elsewhere is undeniable. And as it continues to grow year by year, the importance of organisations such as the FMA to highlight its shortcomings, from the grassroots level up, grows with it.

“We wanted to avoid optics and look at how we can create a space that supports those from black and minority backgrounds, along with helping businesses in the fashion and beauty sector to spearhead evolution within the industry, with the view that one day it will look like the streets we walk along,” Williams continues.

Anna ShevtsAnna Shvets

It is not about shaming big brands into becoming more diverse. The FMA is looking to be a platform to encourage people to enter the fashion sphere, as well as to guide those who are already established on how they can help: “We are pushing for less performative action and compelling brands to be more inclusive, which ultimately benefits output, perception and the bottom line.”

By creating bespoke programmes for companies, the FMA is identifying their needs in an open and honest way to formulate the most effective solutions. Williams goes on, “There are so many ways in which we provide support, through working on campaigns to initiating projects that support the talent pipeline at all levels.”

Creating quality outcomes for their partners has led to the FMA’s rapid growth, he reveals. “As we learn more about the advantages of being more inclusive, we start to make organic connections, and I’d love for the FMA to connect everyone in a 360-degree cradle-to-grave scenario.”

Ksenia ChernayaKsenia Chernaya

In just over a year, the FMA has already achieved an impressive list of partners such as Tommy Hilfiger, Amazon, Browns and M&S. All of its founding members are from BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) backgrounds, which creates an alliance of like-minded people who understand the barriers and know what is necessary to alter the landscape.

So far fashion’s response has been positive. “Just like the moment when I saw the protesters pass my window, I am constantly overjoyed to see the passion and commitment that comes from the brands we all know and love,” says an upbeat Williams.

However there is still a lot more work to be done. Addressing issues such as the ongoing normalisation of unpaid work at graduate levels, the FMA team is working to rewrite the narrative, from “paid work placements, through to jobs, engaging and encouraging people to go for these opportunities and assisting them to be prepared for the industry”.  By doing so, fashion and beauty will eventually no longer be the preserve of   young creatives who can afford to work for free and instead  become a level playing field for all.

Prince AkachiPrince Akachi

The aspirations of the FMA are high. Another of its aims is to set up an annual scholarship programme in order to scout out talented individuals looking to study fashion. With the extortionate costs of London living, the chances of studying at institutions like Central Saint Martins or London College of Fashion are slim, and the same applies globally.

Being backed by an organisation such as the FMA would open up the opportunity of studying fashion to far more people. “We’d also love to set up an award to acknowledge those who are doing a brilliant job in this space, and those who go out of their way to make the world a better place,” Williams adds earnestly.

Wherbson RodriguesWherbson Rodrigues

With the backing of passionate individuals such as Alexis Williams and the rest of its team, FMA’s future looks bright. By expanding its influence globally, it is hopeful that one day the need for it will diminish. Williams leaves us with an insight into what we can expect next from the FMA: “There are some really exciting things that we have in the pipeline, many of which will be innovative and explore new territory. As the industry evolves, we in tandem will.”

by Pia Brynteson

For more information, please visit the Fashion Minority Alliance site