SXSW Panel: Female representation in consumer market

Jordyn Zitman

Influential female voices in fashion gathered for “Feminist Rising: Why Brands Must Take a Stand”, a fitting topic to discuss at South by Southwest on International Women’s Day.

Jennifer DaSilva, advertising executive at Berlin Cameron, mediated the panel composed of designer Rebecca Minkoff, Chromat founder Becca McCharen-Tran and Parsons School of Design professor Kimberly Jenkins. The panel covered topics from female representation in the consumer market to personal mentors and advice to those hoping to make a career in the fashion industry.

Minkoff said women drive over 85 percent of consumer decisions. She said brands should strive to align with female values and their efforts in the industry should be valued and promoted.

“It’s important that we stand and align ourselves with brands that stand for something,” Minkoff said. “We should be choosy about who we’re giving our money to, and whether their values align with our own.”

Jenkins touched on issues of diversity in the fashion industry, citing recent events surrounding Gucci’s release of a “blackface” sweater. She said brands need to examine the big picture when evaluating diversity.

“It’s easy to be inclusive when you’re just paying a model’s day rate,” Jenkins said.

Diversity, she said, should be evident in every member of a company’s team. Photographers, advertisers and creative directors should reflect an overall diversity within the company.

Jenkins said one reason for this racial imbalance is the nature of  internships in fashion, which exclude people from certain socioeconomic upbringings.

“Internships cater to the generationally wealthy,” Jenkins said. “White people who can afford to work for a small stipend.”

McCharen-Tran said she is motivated to represent queer identity in fashion and make efforts to change the role of gender in the industry.

“As a queer woman, I feel it’s important to decentralize the male gaze,” she said.

Minkoff said her mother is the greatest mentor in her life. Growing up with two older brothers, she said she was never taught to be a victim.

“(My mom said) ‘I’m going to raise her to be a fighter and to know that she is equal to men,’” Minkoff said. “I’m going to yell louder, even if it makes people uncomfortable. I’m going to get a seat at that table.”

Minkoff created the Female Founder Collective to promote community and networking among female business founders. In response, March 6 was declared Female Founder Day in New York.

“Redefine what it means to be the best,” Minkoff said. “Being the best should be about talent, not gender.”