The Weekly Journal | Fashion
By Yenia Hernandez Fonseca - May 12, 2022
People Moving Fashion:
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Frivolous. Superficial. Narcissistic. Those are just a few words that come to people’s minds when asked about their thoughts on fashion. The trillion-dollar industry has gained bad rap over the years—and rightfully so.
Fashion is known for its overindulgence and seeding overconsumption. As a corporation, the demand and stress that a career in fashion brings can be overwhelming and draining. As an establishment, fashion gatekeepers—a top tier group of editors, photographers, stylists, buyers, and international corporations—still trade on exclusivity and sustain toxic systemic practices.
The issues that the fashion industry faces in 2022 are far from over, but there are people whose efforts towards positive change give this discipline a light of hope. In our new series, People In Fashion You Must Know, we feature individuals whose contributions to fashion represent a new era for the industry.
Below, we open our series with Kimberly Jenkins, founder of The Fashion and Race Database.
Kimberly Jenkins — “You have to know your history to understand the present and shape the future.”
Kimberly Jenkins is a professor, researcher and consultant who specializes in the sociocultural and historical influences behind why we wear what we wear.
Jenkins might be publicly known for working with Gucci as an education consultant back in 2019. (Gucci’s efforts in cultural awareness began promptly after the brand’s infamous wool balaclava jumper—a black sweater with bright red lips— sparked blackface controversy and conversations around racism in fashion.) However, for many people working in the industry, she is highly regarded for bringing light to under-examined topics in fashion, both in academia and business.
Jenkins’ background in cultural anthropology and art history propelled her to integrate her studies and interests—such as social psychology and social issues—into her longtime love for fashion. She dedicated her research to the intersection of fashion and race but quickly realized there was a lack of diverse content and resources on the matter. “I felt fashion history and theory was really Euro- and American-centric, just very white and very homogenous,” she told Vogue in 2020, recalling the beginnings of her scholarly practice.
In an effort to diversify her Fashion and Race teachings at Parsons School of Design (her alma mater), Jenkins built a huge collection of resources and content to share with her students. But it was in 2017 when she decided to share her personal database under a single public umbrella: The Fashion and Race Database.
The Fashion and Race and Database provides a roadmap for lasting, significant change in the industry. It aims to expand the narrative of fashion history to dismantle racism and structural inequality in fashion.
The online platform provides a wealth of resources, from interactive, open-source tools to hands-on research, as well as publishing opportunities for students, scholars and writers. Furthermore, Jenkins and her team’s ongoing work on fashion and culture has successfully crossed over into the public square.
In 2021, she opened Artis Solomon, an education consultancy that provides academic and creative solutions towards a more intelligent fashion system. This year, Jenkins, in partnership with Tommy Hilfiger, launched The Invisible Seam, a podcast dedicated to the Black experience and contribution to American fashion.
In short, Kimberly Jenkins is a true force of nature. Her work challenges racism in modern fashion. Her efforts to implement diversity in the industry has inspired her fellow colleagues, brands, and students to continue the conversation of both society’s and culture’s role across the industry. Her work proves that fashion history is integral to understanding the sociocultural contexts surrounding race in fashion.
Kimberly Jenkins is currently Assistant Professor of Fashion Studies in the School of Fashion at X University (formerly Ryerson University). To learn more about the Fashion and Race Database, visit fashionandrace.org