In the wake of international protests provoked by the senseless and brutal death of George Floyd, few of the major fashion brands have expressed their position or provided real help to the Black Lives Matter movement. And while the industry mastodons humbly keep silent, small independent companies are coming to the fore, whose goal is to create a bright future without racism and discrimination. One of them is A-Cold-Wall * and its founder Samuel Ross.
On June 3, on his Instagram account, Ross announced that he had donated £ 25,000 to help black entrepreneurs, and also donated £ 10,000 to the Black Lives Matter Foundation. After 72 hours, after reviewing more than 750 applications, Ross selected winners from a wide range of industries, including technology, education, urban planning, agriculture and food, and retail. The design team read every email they received.
“We got an incredible response,” Ross said during our Zoom interview. “Before deciding on the final list, I tried to understand what difficulties entrepreneurs face in various fields and which industries are least represented on the market.” In his opinion, historically, the areas in which people of color could achieve the greatest success were fashion, music and sports. At the same time, “dark-skinned bodies are often sexualized and commodified.” “It has to do with stereotypes and racial cleansing,” explains Ross.
Ross was inspired by the desire with which the contestants are trying not only to keep their business afloat, but also to develop it in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. 75 percent of grant holders, who range in age from 23 to 35, founded their companies at least 18 months ago. “We especially singled out for ourselves those who know how to generate new ideas, invent something or bring a fresh perspective to this or that sphere,” says Ross, explaining how the selection process took place.
Jermaine Craig, for example, came up with the so-called digital village built for the black community on reliable and strong resources. His platform, called Kwanda, is spurring fundraising through the Slack computer program to help people around the world. At the same time, the purpose of donations can be very different: from a lack of food to projects related to coding. Hayesam Mohammed offers a fresh take on men’s beauty products: his perfume brand Uniform was literally based on the stairwells of Stockholm’s municipal houses. Another extraordinary creative person is Michael Omotosho from Plugull startup. He creates home appliances with built-in lights and energy sources. “Michael is an example of a dark-skinned designer who doesn’t work in fashion or streetwear,” says Ross.
The crisis, triggered by the epidemic, has only exacerbated the financial hardships that each entrepreneur faces. Many were about to start their own stores, but instead had to switch to online or self-service. But Ross keeps repeating: “They are entrepreneurs. It’s very exciting to watch them develop. “
The designer admits that he was extremely upset by the lack of any reaction to the Black Lives Matter marches from the fashion industry. For the past two and a half years, he and his friends have been “desperately trying to show what ‘black’ capitalism is.” According to him, the grant is “the first step towards getting the black community on the path of economic growth.” This is especially true in the UK, where Ross himself lives and works (although 25 percent of the candidates were from North America). Ross then plans to “pool resources and build a tiered support system based on empathy and understanding.” He believes that every member of society should make a contribution.
When asked how the fashion industry can become more inclusive, Ross says that talent needs to be nurtured and empowered before they even go to college like Central Saint Martins. “There is no need to hide this industry from the black community,” says the designer, who in his youth did not perceive fashion as a suitable field of activity. “The new generation must have the time and skills to be successful.”
In addition, it is worth changing the infrastructure of companies so that representatives of the black community can also occupy leadership positions. “They should be hired for intelligence and achievement, not as a marketing gimmick,” says the designer. Only when important decisions are made by a board of directors that include representatives of all races, and without any systemic bias, can the fashion industry move forward. Much remains to be done, but Ross, in a company of young innovators, is changing the course of things not in word, but in deed.
11 winners with a Samuel Ross grant:
Design & Engineering: Aeism
Design & Engineering: Plugull
Fashion and retail: Cremate
Fashion and retail: Uniform
Art and creativity: ïhe & Oherë
Beauty Industry: Biophile
Beauty Industry: Goodman
Food & Catering: Sunmo
Food and catering: Artels