In the spirit of open and transparent conversation, the founders of Dôen, Margaret and Katherine Klevelend, answered a series of questions from our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee co-chairs, Jessie Nash and Fran Rodriguez, to discuss and elaborate further on the details of our recent Anti-Racism Accountability statement and action plans -- including their roles as individuals and as company leaders. We wanted to share this discussion, which addresses some of the inquiries and concerns we’ve received about Dôen, here with you today.
Dôen released an Anti-Racism Accountability statement in response to what we are now witnessing all around the country -- and the world: Thousands of people taking to the streets to demand structural change due to the irreparable damage and violence that systemic racism has caused since the start of this country. What do you think is Dôen’s place in this conversation?
MK. Dôen was built on the idea that fashion and apparel needs a new approach that is fundamentally different than before.
KK. Dôen was always about uplifting people who identify as women in the workplace -- a meaning and message that transcended the clothes. Anti-racism action needs to be vital and ongoing within that -- and as founders and leaders, we are responsible for paving the way forward.
MK. Our statement includes a promise to release bi-annual reports to be transparent and show our community the steps we are actively taking to create this change.
KK. Our place in the conversation is to be listeners, learners, and forces for positive change. Even if it’s imperfect sometimes, we need to be a part of the work, because we’re all a part of the system.
In your Anti-Racism Accountability Commitments, you have a whole section on supply chain. Can you speak to that a little bit -- how that is related to anti-racism work and the importance of that work for Dôen as a company?
KK. Our foundational company value of supporting women in the workplace -- that doesn’t end at our office doors. That’s a global commitment. It was always integrated into Dôen’s purpose because we had witnessed how the industry has always been exploitative of women -- particularly Black and brown women. We specifically seek out woman-owned vendors and vendors that have ethical working conditions, including employee programs that benefit their families.
MK. On top of that, the apparel industry has really been experiencing a crisis during this time. Workers are fighting the health crisis, but also for their employment. At one point, I read that it was reported that more than a million apparel workers in Bangladesh alone had lost their job. That number is really representative of workers who are mostly young women.
KK. Our largest vendor in India has also taken a real stand against anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia in the workplace, which is pervasive in India. This is part of working with vendors that we feel completely aligned with, and making that a priority. As a company who works with partners all over the world -- who, in turn, employ workers all over the world -- to us, it felt necessary to include it in our statement.
In the Content and Creative portion, you discuss how past photoshoot decisions were steeped in white privilege, and how that has led to some failures and mistakes. Can you give an example?
KK. We realized that when it comes to photoshoots and content, we’ve been doing it backwards in a way: We’ve been looking at nature, lighting, and seasonal aspects of a location first instead of the cultural and historical implications of a location. Our inspiration needs to begin with cultural awareness around a location -- the history, the storytelling, and a sensitivity to that.
MK. Our biggest learning was definitely our Summer 2019 shoot in Savannah, Georgia.
KK. Margaret and I have been doing a lot of reflecting on and grappling with this shoot. In short, we didn’t do the due diligence in researching the location or site names where we were shooting. We used a location scout for the first time, and gave the directive that we wanted to shoot a Southern style house, but that we would not shoot on plantations or properties with questionable histories.
MK. One of the houses we used was presented to us with a 1920 construction date, and we were explicitly told it was not a plantation. This information was definitely inaccurate. It’s not an excuse! Nothing is. It was our duty to do the research and to always know the history of the areas we choose to shoot in. The fact that we didn’t magnifies how deep our own white privilege runs. As a location, this was unacceptable.
KK. We are accountable for what we put out into the world, and shooting at, and potentially even glorifying, a plantation by using it as a backdrop to sell our collection -- that does not align with our values. We removed the campaign from our website because it doesn’t reflect our principles as a brand, and take full responsibility for that shoot.
How do you think Content processes will change moving forward? What feels like the right way to move forward, keeping in mind the brand’s creative pillars? Will those changes be sustainable for the long run? What is the customer asking for when it comes to imagery and representation?
KK. So many of our shoots have been inspired by travel, a sense of adventure and the natural foliage, natural light, and climate of a location. We are recognizing that emotional inspiration needs to be representative, and never appropriative. We are changing our processes to include a different starting point -- one of self-education around cultural meaning and history of a location, including the impact of colonialism. Honestly, we’d love to hear from our community about what locations they would love to see -- no matter what, we are committed to keeping our editorials and campaigns representative and inclusive and reflective of a new level of awareness. Our brand’s creative statements absolutely need to encompass this. We have to start there.
What are some other ways that it feels possible to have a positive impact, and continue the ongoing anti-racism work both internally and externally? Like many brands, you’ve addressed Internal Training and Inclusive Hiring. Do you think there is a socioeconomic aspect to working in Design and Fashion? Do you have any views on the idea of hiring with a “culture” or “brand fit” in mind?
MK. Hiring is one of the most impactful ways we can make a difference as a company. It is absolutely crucial to be representative -- not just externally, but internally as well. When we founded the brand, we were centering it around women and mothers, but we hadn’t extended that thinking enough to intersectional team make-up and long-term growth.
KK. I keep thinking about how much stronger our team is when we have different perspectives, different walks of life, at the table. Our entire process, our office culture, our worldview becomes so much richer and more complex. Dôen is responsible for designing inclusive products -- something we are working towards, but have been challenged with some COVID-related delays -- and making sure that all people feel represented. That takes all perspectives being at the table and having a powerful voice.
MK. The first action steps for us are to network with Black professional and alumni networks so that our future job postings can be made much more accessible to the Black community. These next few months will be significant for our HR and other teams to build relationships with these new networks, and spend our time finding a diverse pool of new candidates before we even start an interview process.
KK. There is definitely a socioeconomic aspect to working in Fashion and Design, and it’s something that was also top-of-mind when we included our internship and mentorship programs in our action plan. It’s not acceptable to us that there would be a socioeconomic barrier to entry for this industry -- or any industry -- and we need to put in the work to change that.
MK. And to the point of your question … We have to learn to move away from the idea of a “culture fit” -- and understand what that actually means. The so-called “culture” has been warped for far too long by these oppressive systems.
Under Vendors & Partners, you speak about long-term partnerships and adding a third. Can you elaborate on that? What makes Dôen different when it comes to brand/vendor relationships?
MK. We are beginning the search for a third long-term partner that supports Black women and girls here in the States. We always built the idea of giving back into the bones of our company -- Dôen has been a vehicle to drive awareness towards our partners, Room to Read and Planned Parenthood LA.
KK. I’ve been revisiting all of the statistics and reports about the huge disparities between Black and white women in this country, particularly in pregnancy and maternal health. We’re hoping to find a long-term partner that is working towards these non-negotiable values of our company -- the humanitarian principles that were always part of the foundation of our brand.
You also speak to divesting from pro-prison industrial complex entities. Can you explain that a little?
MK. When looking at our company, we could not ignore that, while slavery might be thought of as over, there are still enslaved people in this country in our prison industrial complex.
KK. So many corporations make political contributions that uphold the prison industrial complex as the status quo -- and we’re making a concerted effort to divest from each and every one that we have used in the past, and find other suppliers that align with our company values.
What is the place of fashion as an industry in this conversation, as well as what are fashion’s tools for change?
KK. I think it’s the responsibility of anyone who has any type of platform to use their voice. There’s no excuse for anyone who has a platform or following to bow out of the conversation. I believe that fashion’s place is to represent equally, but not on a surface-level: Make it holistic, make it meaningful, make it structural. I think it’s so important to have multiple perspectives in the room and at the table -- this is what we’re working towards at Dôen.
MK. I also think that with Dôen, we have a voice to lobby for fair pay while fighting exploitative work environments and uplifting those who are doing it right by giving ownership to workers and women who have been systematically shut out of the system for so long.
KK. There have been a lot of female-identifying founders and leaders stepping down in the fashion and media industries right now, obviously deservedly. I think we need to think about why that is — why male CEOs and founders seem to evade the same scrutiny, and how we can hold those corporations accountable, too.
You’re also both mothers to young kids. Are there any resources you’ve been finding helpful right now?
KK. To be candid, I am really focused on self-educating before I educate my kids. Our dinner table conversations have been an amazing way to discuss what I'm learning to them, but distilled down to their age-appropriate levels. As I get more confident in my understanding of these concepts, I can have truthful and authentic conversations with my kids with new depth. I’ve been hearing them as they work through comprehending these new ways of thinking about their lives and privilege, and about standing up for others in the community.
MK. We were talking about earned privilege versus unearned privilege in a workshop with Dr. Akilah Cadet, and how to learn how to articulate the difference. It has opened up such new discussions for us as a family -- about the obstacles in our lives and how those obstacles were experienced in a way that was still shielded by privilege. And how that makes you who you are. We are privileged simply to be learning about this, rather than living it.
KK. I do plan to catch up on The Conscious Kid -- I hear that is a great resource!