Reeling from recent accusations of blackface, Prada has announced that it is starting a diversity and inclusion council that will be headed up by director Ava DuVernay and artist Theaster Gates.
The aims of the council—which will include several other yet-to-be-revealed members—are to create internship and job opportunities for students of color in fashion, which will include partnering with universities, as well as working to increase the number of people of color working within Prada itself.
The news comes just two months after Prada came under fire for selling and decorating its stores with black monkey-resembling figurines with thick red lips, which people decried as racist and compared to blackface. The brand said the items were intended to be “fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre,” according to a spokesperson, but nonetheless, quickly pulled them from stores.
“Prada is committed to cultivating, recruiting and retaining diverse talent to contribute to all departments of the company,” Miuccia Prada, the label’s CEO, said in a statement announcing the council’s creation. “In addition to amplifying voices of color within the industry we will help ensure that the fashion world is reflective of the world in which we live.”
Prada is just one of several fashion brands that has faced accusations of racism, blackface or offensive depictions of race in recent months. Most recently, Gucci pulled a black turtleneck sweater that came up above the neck and had a red-trimmed cutout around the mouth area. On social media, the garment was given the nickname of “blackface sweater.” Dolce & Gabbana had its latest scandal at the end of last year when the brand ran several videos of a Chinese woman eating with chopsticks, which leaned into offensive Asian stereotypes—the outcry was immediate.
It’s hard not to see this news as a continued effort to mend the brand’s reputation in matters of diversity after December’s events. And DuVernay is a natural choice to lead the council: Besides being an outspoken proponent of diversity herself, she also has years of experience in public relations. That experience will likely give her a unique perspective on the subjects of diversity and inclusion, which will be useful in seeing the business impact of failing to recognize a product, initiative or even a social media post that many would find offensive.
As DuVernay’s filmmaking career has grown, she’s made an effort to be intentional in her own hiring. For example, on her OWN show Queen Sugar, she’s solely hired female directors. The intent, DuVernay told Adweek last year, is “to make sure that I’m not the only person in a given room who looks like me.”