Sean John Exec Alain Lafontant Discusses The Ongoing Diversity Problem In Fashion

October 22, 2013  |  

Fifteen years ago, Alain Lafontant was an intern at BRAG (the Black Retail Action Group). On Thursday, he was accepting the organization’s BRAG Special Recognition Award  in front of 600 guests alongside other awards recipients, Macy’s CEO and president Terry Lundgren, and Iman, supermodel and CEO of Iman Cosmetics, Skincare and Fragrances.

BRAG is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing African Americans and other people of color into the retail and fashion industry fold. This year, they hosted the 43rd Annual Scholarship and Awards Gala, which was hosted by style expert Lloyd Benson and featured a special performance from Nick Cannon, who just recently launched a line of ties at Macy’s. In addition to the awards, the organization handed out 67 scholarships, more than double the previous year. The event raised more than $1 million, including $35,000 at a live auction during the event.

Since the days when Lafontant was working on his BRAG project focusing on the changes in retail on Harlem’s iconic 125th Street (today there’s a MAC, an H&M, a Starbucks, and an American Apparel steps from one another), things have changed in stores. But diversity continues to be an issue. Each year it seems, diversity gets attention around Fashion Week, when people notice how few models of color are walking the catwalk.

“Fashion Week always brings diversity to the forefront because it’s an easy visual to see the lack of diversity,” Lafontant told MN Business during a phone call. But for him, it’s not just about racial diversity, but a “diversity of background” that’s missing. And, just as important, is the lack of diversity at the upper ranks where decisions are made is an issue.

“This sea of sameness doesn’t promote evolving changes,” Lafontant added. “I’m interested in the diversity on the business end.”

To that end, it’s worth noting that Lafontant is the VP of business development and brand manager at Sean John, Diddy’s successful fashion line. This is his second time with the company. In between, he was the VP of men’s sales at Rocawear.

“In my career, whether it’s Shawn Carter or Sean Combs, they saw a void in the market and they filled it themselves,” he said. This is a model that other aspirants in the fashion industry should follow. “You don’t have to wait for the company to come and hire you. The industry is fueled by big dreamers.”

It also benefits from both diversity of culture and diversity of ideas. While the Ralph Laurens and Armanis of the industry continue to garner name recognition, there are others coming up behind them like Alexander Wang, who Lafontant noted for his “innovation in product.”

“Creativity is one portion of it,” Lafontant said.

One of this year’s BRAG scholarship recipients, quoted in information we received from the organization, may have listed the other components best: “Because of BRAG scholarships, we are given the character, confidence and education we need to succeed.  To us, these scholarships not only represent funding for school, but it affirms our dreams, our hard work as students and our individual ambitions.”

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