Can the luxury fashion industry dismantle its socioeconomic barriers?

To lower the barrier to entry, companies could accommodate flexible ways of working. There has been some progress on this front, particularly since the Covid pandemic. UK-based luxury resale platform Luxe Collective is based in Liverpool, where CEO and co-founder Ben Gallagher stays true to his roots and his mission to make luxury more attainable. “This location allows us to offer an alternative for people who aspire to work in the luxury sector without relocating to London, where they could potentially be priced out. We’re proud of this decision — we’ve built an incredible team of talented, experienced individuals who are proud to work up north,” he says.

Exceptionally low pay in the fashion industry is another barrier for employees with no savings or family support struggling in entry-level positions. Pfeiffer-Key has seen talent working two to four jobs just to make ends meet.

Best recruitment practices include deconstructing biases, exploring remote work opportunities or ensuring the application process is accessible (some companies allow candidates to type their application in text boxes rather than requiring a PDF upload, which can lower the barrier for people who don’t have access to a laptop). Experts also agree that mentorship is a useful means for supporting young people from different backgrounds to build networks and skill sets.

Progressing in the industry

Representation at leadership level is extremely lacking. Those from challenging socioeconomic backgrounds still feel “this isn’t for us to go further or get to leadership level”, Gill says.

There’s a pressure to fit in, too, by changing accents or dressing differently. “The weight that is put on talent to fit culturally is one of the biggest barriers,” says Pfeiffer-Key. Companies should nurture talent from working-class backgrounds, says Peters, pointing out that talent often simply gives up and leaves.

Those who do make it to leadership roles can play an influential part in breaking down the barriers for others, says Gross. “They are more likely to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, that person may not be able to afford it.’ That creates more of a trickle-down [effect] to create more equity for hiring for the interns.”

Those from under-represented socioeconomic backgrounds that do make it to the top, have a special responsibility, suggests Pfeiffer-Key. “We need to offer better representation at a senior level and talk to those experiences of coming from those backgrounds,” he says. “If you want to see yourself represented in a boardroom, that requires leaders to talk about it more.”

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