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#213 - How the Business and Media of Fashion Co-Exist, with Tara Donaldson of WWD

February 22, 2022

#213 - How the Business and Media of Fashion Co-Exist, with Tara Donaldson of WWD
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It’s easy to get distracted by the flashy surface of the fashion industry, but it’s the sinister underbelly that we need to delve into to truly start making a difference. Today we are joined by Tara Donaldson, Executive Editor of WWD, Founder of The Diversity List, and former Editorial Director of Sourcing Journal, to talk about how the business and media of fashion co-exist.

It’s easy to get distracted by the flashy surface of the fashion industry, but it’s the sinister underbelly that we need to delve into to truly start making a difference.

In the latest installment of our series on the Impact of Fashion with our partner, Dhana, we are joined by Tara Donaldson, Executive Editor of WWD, Founder of The Diversity List, and former Editorial Director of Sourcing Journal, to talk about how the business and media of fashion co-exist. 

In her work, Tara has been covering the business of fashion, from textiles to retail, bringing light to the important issues of sustainable and impactful fashion, and speaking to a more inclusive and equitable fashion industry. 

In this episode, Tara explains the role of media in the fashion industry and its effects on sustainability, social impact, and inclusion. She breaks down the effects of fast fashion on the immediate communities and environments of workers along the supply chain and shares her views on what precisely needs to change to prevent unethical labor practices and expose the bad actors! 

We find out why we need to be supporting smaller brands who are building their business with sustainability at the center, starting with the design process, and the difficulty larger brands face in turning the ship around. 

The term “sustainability” contains everything from waste prevention to the social impact element, and Tara touches on why it’s critical to pay attention to and elevate the voices and contributions of people of color in the fashion industry.

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  • Why Tara left her job as a merchandiser to pursue a more realistic perspective on fashion
  • The importance of addressing the negative aspects of the fashion industry
  • The role of media in the fashion industry and the importance of looking beyond the surface
  • How rampant the problems of inequity in the fashion industry really are!
  • The ways in which the fashion industry is gradually evolving
  • Why sustainability and social impact need to be widely and consistently addressed
  • Tara shares a horrifying story about the pollution of fashion byproducts in Bangladesh
  • Tara defines the immediate goal of sustainability in the fashion business
  • What people are doing to move towards sustainability
  • The effect of fast fashion on the lives of workers along the supply chain
  • What Tara feels should be a requirement to prevent unethical labor practices, and the role media plays in exposing them
  • Tara outlines some of the unjust practices going on in the retail sphere
  • How things are changing in terms of consumer vigilance
  • The need for scale in sustainability solutions to make costs comparable and sustainable fashion accessible
  • Why brands need to invest in factories to truly make a difference
  • The inspiring work Unless Collective and Shelly Xu are doing!
  • The value of building sustainability into the design process
  • The complete business model overhaul required for large, longstanding brands
  • What The Diversity List is, why Tara started it, what it consists of, and the purpose thereof
  • Why it’s critical to pay attention to and elevate people of color, their voices, and their contributions to the industry
  • What the brands that are making progress in terms of diversity are doing right, systemically
  • Tara answers rapid-fire questions about the books she reads, her goal for 2022, and her daily habits
  • Tara’s final word of advice: pay attention to small brands!










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Tara Donaldson  0:00  
The place looks beautiful on the surface, but there was a river there that was completely Indigo, like completely Indigo that you've never seen anything like that in your life. And that's the only water stream in that community. So, okay, we have genes, but what's happening to the people who live there in that community where we're making the genes and letting all these chemicals running to their drinking water.

Cory Ames  0:31  
How the business and media of fashion co exist. It's this relationship, this dynamic that we explore today on the social entrepreneurship innovation podcast, where we talk about the who, what, where, why and how of building a better world. And to talk about fashion media and its relationship to the industry. Its effects on sustainability, social impact and inclusion we're speaking with Tara Donaldson is the executive editor of WWD. She was formerly the editorial director of sourcing journal, Sarah has been covering the business of fashion from textiles to retail, bringing light to these important issues, speaking to sustainable fashion, a more impactful fashion and as well inclusive and equitable fashion industry. This conversation here is another important piece to our series on the impact of fashion with our partners at Donna to see the full series and all the list of other conversations that we've had with leaders of a sustainable fashion movement, go to growensemble.com backslash impact dash of dash fashion. Alright, y'all, without further ado, here's Tara Donaldson from WWD.

Tara Donaldson  1:52  
I'm Tara Donaldson and the executive editor at WWD, where I've been for a little over a year. And prior to that I was at sourcing journal, covering the end to end fashion supply chain for seven years. So pretty familiar. And even before that I used to work in the industry stuff

Cory Ames  2:09  
I caught all that and I was curious to start. thank you first for providing us with the context, but interested to start first, with what's attracted you to this particular perspective on fashion being part of the media and journalists specifically, why have you pursued and been inspired to pursue this particular perspective on fashion?

Tara Donaldson  2:31  
Well, I mean, I think this is the realistic perspective on fashion. I think as much as it's an industry filled with a lot of beauty. There's a lot of less beautiful things that happen. And I think it's important for people to know about that. And it's important for the industry to address those things so that, you know, it can continue to be something that's positive.

Cory Ames  2:54  
That's interesting. Could you say a bit more as to what you think is the role and relationship of media to the business and industry of fashion?

Tara Donaldson  3:04  
Certainly, well, as I mentioned, I used to work as a merchandiser. And at that time, it was part of my job to be one of the people pushing the factories in Bangladesh to make this thing cheaper every year, which is what my boss's job was doing. And of course, I'm supporting that. So when you see the prices that these things are being made for, and you're making millions of T shirts for low price stores, you realize the kind of impact you can have. And so for me, that's actually why I left the industry and didn't end up in media covering it on purpose. But because I did want to be a journalist, and my background was in fashion and sort of ended up that way. So I think it's critically important, it's so much better for me personally, to sit in this position and kind of talk about those issues than to be perpetuating them. So I think it's critically important for media, not just to tell the stories, but to pay attention to the stories that need to be told, you know, it's really easy to talk about the surface level of fashion, what's happening on the runways who's wearing what, what the pretty fabrics are, but if we don't go deeper, where the bulk of the industry is, then we're not doing our job as journalists, I think, you know, the media is probably covering a lot of fashion media could be guilty of covering, let's say, focusing 80% of their time on the, on the pretty side of fashion and 20% or even less, in some cases, on the true underbelly of it. And I think we need to bring that into better balance because there's so many people and so many communities and environments that are impacted by what's going on in fashion, that it isn't just about telling stories. It's about taking care of the people who are taking care of us.

Cory Ames  4:57  
And so from making that leap to Working in fashion to then covering the industry of fashion. Were there any surprises for you, or learnings or new understandings? Like maybe you went in with some hypotheses, and it either wasn't at all what you expected to look at the industry from that lens, or perhaps it was exactly like you expected.

Tara Donaldson  5:18  
I guess having had the experience I had working in the industry, I wasn't terribly surprised by what was going on, I think what was the most eye opening was how rampant some of these problems are and how much factory workers, for example, suffer because of what we're doing further down the supply chain. And I think the things that got to me the most for people's individual stories are kind of realizing how these big companies are just raking in money, and really not willing to pay more and more being just a reasonable amount for the things that they're requesting to have me. So that was a biggest eye opener, kind of how our rampant this problem is, and kind of how the industry is built on being okay with it.

Cory Ames  6:10  
And so at maybe gut level, what's your feeling towards fashion as an industry and how it's evolved, maybe from your first day, your first years in covering it to now here is the executive editor at WWD,

Tara Donaldson  6:26  
it certainly hasn't evolved as much as we would like to think one thing that is certainly more obvious is that these things are in the conversation much more than they were having come from sourcing journal, it was, you know, it's a niche publication that really is focused on the fashion supply chain. So I was living and breathing, you know, what's happening with the garment worker, and feeling like, you know, when you're in that you could feel like, oh, everyone's talking about this. But having emerged from that into, you know, a more mainstream fashion publication. Everyone is not talking about that. So I think now the conversations are there, people are addressing what's happening with, with garment workers more than they have in the past. So I think I'm hopeful that we're moving in the right direction. Just you know, if we can move there a little more quickly, that would be great.

Cory Ames  7:18  
I'm sure many, many people agree with you here many of our listeners as well. So from the perspective of the media, and that of a journalist, maybe someone who sees more of the narrative lens on any sort of ecosystem, where do you see the industry of fashion right now? Or what are the few particular maybe it's the relationship, the garment workers in supply chain? Specifically, but what are the few Cornerstone topics, themes and challenges that are set to shape and mold of fashion here in the immediate near future?

Tara Donaldson  7:50  
Yeah, I think fashions two biggest mandates are sustainability and social impact, I think those are the things that people need to be addressing widely and consistently. I think that the industry was set up, like a lot of things have been set up over the years, you know, these few people at the top, they make the money, they have this success, they have the fun, their whole ability to do that is built on the backs of other people, and you're not taking care of those people. So when it comes to taking care of those people, it's not just paying them a decent wage, which many companies are not doing. I was in Bangladesh for a factory visit some years ago, and just driving between factories, and there's a river, the place looks beautiful on the surface. But there was a river there that was completely Indigo, like completely Indigo that you've never seen anything like that in your life. And that's the only water stream in that community. So, okay, we have genes, but what's happening to the people who live there, in that community where we're making the genes and letting all these chemicals bind into their drinking water, they're still drinking the water, because that's what they have, you know, so it's just so much deeper than corporate social responsibility reports. And, you know, following the certain few things that are legally required of you, you actually have to care about what you're doing, and the people who are doing it for you and the environment that they live in and the earth. And what's gonna happen to that if we continue to just do what we're doing.

Cory Ames  9:35  
What do you see as for definition sake, when you say sustainability in a more sustainable fashion industry? What do you see as the end result there? Perhaps some examples or what's the goal that those within the industry should be striving towards?

Tara Donaldson  9:51  
Great, big question, I think, I don't know if I can say what the end goal is because it's hard in an industry where you know, you're going to continue Need to make products all the time? I think the immediate goal is how can we make less? How can we make more exactly to demand? How can we convince consumers to buy quality over quantity? I mean, that shift is already beginning to happen. But how can we get back to the days of, you know, you buy one really nice coat, and you have that coat for years and years. And then when you're done with it, you pass it on to someone else. So I think we have to, we have to focus on having a lesser impact from the outset. So can we use better materials? Can we use regenerative materials? Can we use processes that can give back to the earth in a positive way, rather than just continuing to deplete from it? So we're starting with better products? And then we can make fewer good quality products and convince people to shop like that? And then can we have less waste? You know, can we pass clothing through circular models? Can we really run resale reuse? And then how can we figure out what to do with these things, instead of just dumping them in the landfill? There are a lot of people working on things like this, celebrating circularity is one of them, you know, trying to figure out how to recycle more of the waste that we will ultimately end up having no matter what, no matter how much we improve on some of the things I mentioned, it's a lot of things, there's a lot of things, and it's a lot of dedication, and a lot of people putting in hours and hours and really their lives to figuring these things out. You know, you really have to care brands have to care to find these people find these solutions, engage them pay for them.

Cory Ames  11:46  
It certainly is in although it is quite a daunting task. And perhaps as we mentioned earlier, we're not moving as fast as we'd like to, do you feel hopeful? Do you still have a sense of hope and optimism for the change?

Tara Donaldson  12:00  
I do. I think I'm generally a hopeful person. And I guess I have had the privilege of seeing so many people who are really passionate about solving some of these problems. And they'll just build, they're just fighting, we just need more people to feel like that are more people to support them, at the very least. But I do think people are thinking that everything that needs to be done with fashion. One of the main problems is that's kind of a siloed effort. Right now, a lot of different people are thinking about a lot of different things. So some of the recent initiatives coming up are trying to get people to work more as a collective in the industry. And I think that's where will really move the needle, but I am hopeful that things will move in the right direction, even if it means we have laws and penalties for people to do what they need to do.

Cory Ames  12:51  
Well, it certainly seems like it's an all hands on deck sort of situation that we're in, and whatever levers will affect change, either if it's some sort of voluntary effort, or what you know, consumers decide to alter towards, or of course, things that are obligatory inside, all things that will provide solutions to where we need to go, those should all be explored to the greatest potential, for sure. But I mean, even in your comment, or your definition of of sustainability, or exploring what that means. It's, it's interesting to note that it's all quite intertwined. Anyways, you know, we've conceptually separated the effects on the environment and the planet to be some conversation sustainability. And that in social impact, or the the human element effects on people to be something different, but they're completely intertwined, especially in the context of, it's not sustainable for a business to be able to operate when the people working for it aren't making a living wage, by definition, that seems unsustainable, because it's like you mentioned a group grossly benefiting or profiting off the unsustainable effort of others. So in that mention of like, there's a lot of silos working in fashion. And it seems as well, the definition of what, you know, it means to be sustainable and fashion. There's a lot of interconnectedness. And it seems like that's starting to be addressed. I think. And it sounds like you're noticing that too.

Tara Donaldson  14:12  
Yeah, I think for a long time sustainability. And even now was environmental. Can we use less cotton? Can we use less water? Can we put out fewer emissions? Can we control the chemicals that are going into people's water streams, and kind of all forgetting about the people who make all of that possible? So certainly, if you are killing the environments, the people who work in the supply chain and we all know, the people who work in the supply chain or remote parts of less developed countries, and that's not going to change unless companies are going to be willing to spend more for labor. So we can't just let these people waste away where they live. and suffer and struggle to feed their families. It's so unethical. And I think if people were to really face, you know, I think it's easy for companies to pretend like what's happening in the supply chain isn't directly related to them. Or if it's not in their face, you know, it's like facing your demons, if you don't think about it too much, maybe it won't feel so bad. But when you see people and they can't buy shoes, and they can't buy food, and they're living, you know, 20 people to a small apartment, that's not great, just so that you can have fashion, just you can have another piece of clothing that you don't even actually need. You know, it's really ugly, if you think about what's actually happening. And sometimes it's a matter of cents, you know, companies, some companies won't pay 10 cents more for something next year, even though, you know, the cost of living is going up, and there's inflation. And it's like, why are we paying less for clothes now than we were paying for clothes 20 years ago, even nothing else is moving in that direction. Before fast fashion, you couldn't go into a store and get a t shirt for $4. But everything is getting more expensive, and the clothes are getting cheaper. That can't be the way that we continue to operate. Because we're literally starving people. For that to be possible.

Cory Ames  16:24  
There's certainly a hidden cost to the cheap retail prices. And what do you think is going to affect those conditions for workers along the supply chain, you mentioned facing the demons, it must be easier to make decisions that might affect those focuses experienced in a boardroom detached, you know, from their their day to day experience. But is there any sort of practical application of getting people to more so face the circumstances, perhaps the the tragedies that are caused by that hidden cost that we're avoiding to pay

Tara Donaldson  17:00  
in a perfect world, I would set it up like Undercover Boss, where the CEO of the big company would have to go to the factory and see the conditions and talk to the people. I'm not saying some of them don't do that some of them very well, May. But I imagine those who do are probably changing the conditions in their supply chains. But I would require that I would make it so that the CEOs have to spend a day at least in the factory, eat with the people talk to the people understand what's happening in their personal lives. Because if you could then go home to your millions of dollars and sleep at night, knowing how much a lot of these people are struggling would be its own problem. But you know, I think most people would probably begin to be better at doing the right thing, if they were face to face with the realities of what's happening in supply chains. Very often, I think the media has a good role to play in that the more that we tell the stories of garment workers, the more that we expose companies who are refusing to pay for things that they ordered, like what happened when the pandemic hit and all the stores closed, suddenly, retailers were like, Well, I'm not going to make any money. And I don't have anywhere to put these clothes. So I'm not paying for them at all, or I'm not paying for them right now.

And what happens is, factories very often pay upfront for the raw materials to make the orders. So if a retailer decides that I don't want it, what then happens to the factory, they're just out that money, or for retailer decides I'm not paying for it in the 90 days that we agreed on, I'll pay for it sometime, six months from now. But they're relying on that money for salaries, I think the more that we talk about these things that are happening and kind of shed light and the bad actors, then we can begin to change the story. I think the more countries start to pay attention to these things and put legislation in place to protect, firstly to require a legal wage, and then to protect non compliance with paying for orders that you place and things like that. That's on the start to see some of this really change. And some of that is already happening, to be fair, but I think it needs to happen consistently. And it needs to happen in a way that it's not sort of up to each company and the factories just have to deal with however good people are going to be to them.

Cory Ames  19:35  
It's tremendously difficult. I think what you spoke to there of perhaps the companies who are the ones, it's like that the companies are focusing most on sustainability or the general human welfare, you know, those are the people who are perhaps already doing the most visiting the factories. You know, it's it's this divide of the extremes of people who are very committed and driven to running their business in a sustainable and equitable way. People are probably already in the factories, you know, and have close relationships with them, in contrast to perhaps the other side. But I'm curious, what do you see with the consumer perception or consumer vigilance, as it relates to these issues, both the environmental component as well as the human element? But are there elements of that they're changing or trending one way or another? are consumers becoming more vigilant and changing any behavior? I know, preferences are changing, but preferences and actions are a little bit different. I'd be curious to see what you think about this change or shift? If any?

Tara Donaldson  20:33  
Yeah, I definitely think things are changing. I think the first thing that's good is that consumers are becoming more aware of what goes into making their clothing. And that's the first step because once you know what's happening, then you can decide, hey, I'm okay with this, or I'm not okay with this. And I think particularly Gen Z, and the cohort that will come up behind them, they're really interested in equity, environmentalism, fairness, you know, really kind of the things that we need consumers to care about, you know, so as they grow into having more disposable income, and things like that, I think they will act with their values, meaning stop shopping at businesses where they don't support their values, or where they feel like that business isn't transparent enough about how they're dealing with their supply chain. I think the reality is that people are almost always clean and sharp, based on what they like, I once sat in a conference on sustainable cotton. Well, a conference on sustainable fashion, but a breakout room on sustainable cotton, organic cotton. And these are people who are advocates for sustainability. This is what they do for a living. It's like the sustainable person at x brand. Or the person who deals with, you know, sustainable materials that whatever brand, and the person presenting, asked them this was a room of probably about 20. People ask them, How many of you are wearing organic cotton, and no one raised their hand. So it's like, we have to really practice what we preach. Just the people who are in the room was fighting for these sustainable improvements every day. But are we actually acting in what we think is the best interest of the industry? In many cases? No. But what that also means is that more brands just need to start doing things sustainably, you can't be that there are sustainable brands, and they have their products. And then there are brands that are not sustainable. And they have their products that are made in whatever questionable circumstances, because ideally, I should be able to choose anything that I would like to bear and have it be sustainable. And what that also means is, we need scale for some of these solutions so that the cost can be comparable, and that it's not like, Okay, I only have 20 bucks, am I gonna buy this t shirt? Or am I gonna, you know, like, I should be able to make that choice. But if it's twice the price for the same thing, because it's sustainable, then that that will take away the choice from some people and from the money that they had to spend on clothing.

Cory Ames  23:19  
Well, it seems like there's a necessary or an inherent tipping point that perhaps would occur if sustainability as you know, all its different little sub metrics and qualifications and criteria was the bare minimum for what would allow a fashion brands who put something on the shelf, then it seems like incentives would align. This is a term that the business community is quite obsessed with and enthralled with the term of incentives, if they had no other option, but to choose, say, for example, organic cotton versus conventional, perhaps, you know, very innovative minds would work on making that process as efficient and, and cost effective as possible. It's like if we could only use solar, to provide, you know, our energy, there's a reason that solar is getting cheaper and cheaper over the years. But it is something that gains more on an exponential curve. Once you know, it needs to become the norm as opposed to it's voluntary. So it seems like like you said, hitting some level of scale would be the thing that would start to make perhaps more sustainable fashion more approachable and accessible. So many of these things are so related, because likewise, the wage conversation to comes in. We're so comfortable with paying low wages, you know, even in the United States relative to what our cost of living is. If we paid more appropriate wages, maybe consumers would have more spending power and goods wouldn't seem so astronomically, you know, on one way or the other, either tremendously cheap, or, you know, perhaps excessively expensive. So, again, and again, it's also related.

Tara Donaldson  24:51  
Yeah, it really actually has a lot to do with brands coming out of pocket more. As much as they don't like to hear that because many brands They will decide, okay, we want sustainability, we want you to have water filtration, or we want you to have cleaner emissions, whatever meaning this is how they're talking to the factories. So they're like, these are the requirements for us to continue to do business with you go, and they're not paying the factories to invest in some of these things. So what happens is, in some cases, factories can afford it, and they'll do it. And the benefit goes by being cleaner and getting the business they were promised. Or they'll cut corners and say, Yes, it is sustainable. What you asked for, which is now where we want to be, but it's really, again, unfair, you know, factories have so much money, they have people to pay, and they're not paying them a lot. And brands are continuing to make more and more money, because they're selling sustainable products for higher prices. And you're actually going to go to the factory and be like, invest in this, hopefully, you can find the money, you know, and there are brands that don't operate like that at all, there are brands that are like you are our partner, you have been working with us for a long time, we want to continue this relationship, we are going to invest in this machinery, and we want you to use it, or let's go half on this machinery, and we want you to use it. And that that'll be in a case where for example, the brand does not own that factory that that factory produces for multiple brands, but one who is passionate about this may say we'll invest in it or we'll pay half. Those are the people who actually really care. And those are the people who will make a difference. But the industry needs more relationships like that more people like that.

Cory Ames  26:43  
I guess to perhaps point them out if you could are there some of those bright spots that you wouldn't mind sharing, like some of the brands or organizations that you feel particularly inspired by in their work in that regard?

Tara Donaldson  26:57  
Yeah, I'll name a current one. Because there's been so many stories over the years without going back into some of my notes. I don't want to misspeak. But unless collective, they are working on being fully zero waste, and the leaders over there are really thinking of everything. Eric Leica is one of the leaders over there, he was former Adidas executive. So you know, it's like thinking about how to have zero waste shoelaces or zero waste, you know, bindings for your hoodie. So all of those things, how can you figure out how to make them less wasteful? How can you figure out how to make them out of biodegradable materials and things like that. So that's very interesting. I think one person who I'm really interested in is Shelley's you, she is working on zero waste design. So even before that, she'll sketch a pattern that doesn't have any waste in it. So you could draw a dress, right, and you need this main piece, and you need to draw the sleeve and the bodies and whatever the pieces are amount of patternmaker. But you know, it's like a puzzle, and usually put that together, and there's spaces in between. And then you'll put that pattern down on a stack of fabric and cut it, but all those pieces in between are waste. So what she's doing is designing it so that all the pieces touch that there's no waste at all. So it requires an innovative way of thinking, but she's eliminating waste before it can even happen. So I think that's something that's very interesting, because the more that we can think about these things sooner, the better, we're going to end up you know, so there are people who are really going deep into the whole process and thinking about that, and kind of figuring out how to put everything back into the system. He was a shoe brand from Brazil that I can't remember now, but they were making shoes, and like they have a lifetime guarantee on the shoes. So buy the shoe. And then it falls apart, you bring it back and they'll give you another one. But what they do with the old one is they break it down. And they use it now to make the soul of a new shoe. So everything is staying in their system. And because it's a small brand, you know, relatively local, they're able to recollect those things from consumers. But the people who are thinking about all of that before they begin before they make a product before they sell it, how they're going to reclaim it and how they're going to repurpose it. Those are the people who are really innovative.

Cory Ames  29:47  
I'm with you on that. And there's examples that span industry to industry of where these folks are starting in the design phase both for seems the supply chain and a specific product, the business model itself, you know, if we have these obligatory bare minimum measures of paying people the way in which they should be paid making products in a way that is, hopefully, you know, regenerative and restorative to the ecosystems in environments affected, they're starting with that non negotiable from the very beginning. And certainly they're able to figure it out, we just have to, you know, make sure that those are the constraints that we decide with or decide to start with, it seems it is quite the behemoth of a challenge to have these much larger, fast fashion brands, as an example, start to, you know, reverse and do things differently from what they've done. And as well, what seemed to produce the excessive amount of success and wealth for them. So it's harder for them to stop that engine, it seems,

Tara Donaldson  30:46  
Totally, it's like turning around, someone gave me the analogy, once it's like turning around the big ship in the ocean, that takes a long time. You know, for new brands, it's easy, because they're like, Well, this is how I'm going to build from the ground up, everything's going to be sustainable. Now, big brands that have been in business for 20 3050 years, they have processes in place, they have partners, they have things, They've only done a certain way since the beginning of time. So it's like, how do you undo all of that? How do you build it back better? Anyway, how do you build it back in a way that's more what it needs to be, you have to be willing to spend more money, you have to be willing to undo some of the investments that you've made that are no longer good. You have to be willing to retrain people on a new process. And you have to really be invested both mentally and financially to make it happen, because it's a complete business model overhaul.

Cory Ames  31:51  
Yeah, and there is the thing that there are very exceptional, innovative people working within a lot of these large brands, it is just the balance of like, what is the existing giant conglomerate that already exists? And the people who are the bright spots that are really working to like you said, turn that ship, a big, big ship in the middle of the ocean? There, I would like to transition a little bit in focus, as well to another important project that you've started the diversity list, which you started in 2020. If if I'm not mistaken, I'd love if you could introduce us briefly to that project, what it is, and why as well. You started it given that moment in time in 2020.

Tara Donaldson  32:31  
Yeah, so when George Floyd was killed, there was a lot going on, there were a lot of feelings, a lot of reactions, but just dealing with it from the perspective of how brands reacted, it was off putting for a lot of people, because it was brands who had never shown or claimed to support any marginalized communities for they did so for some marketing campaigns, here and there. And suddenly, they're like, we support the black community, we support this, and we're doing this and it's like, Well, do you? Do you support the black community? So what is your organization look like? And I started asking that question, myself, and seeing all the black squares that these companies are posting on Instagram. And I had a conversation with a colleague, who is the CO creator of the diversity list, Selena Tang, and, you know, I was trying to say, it'd be great to have all this in one place. And she built that place, you know, so it was a personal project for she and I, and we did all the research ourselves and built the site ourselves. And just we're kind of pulling from CSR reports and, you know, things that companies were posting about their diversity to see, okay, what does this company really look like? And so we thought, if we could have all the major fashion companies listed there, then consumers would have the ability to determine what kind of company they want to support. What does that company look like? You know, and taking that a step further, with not just the executive team, we looked at the executive team, the overall company, diversity, and boards of directors, and it was really hard to find the information. It was really hard. Some companies are forthcoming about it. Some companies posted some of the data because of the momentum, the pressure that was building after George Lloyd was killed. So we use some of that.

Some of it is like you have to take into a corporate social responsibility report, which you can't find easily on the website. And then you have to dig through that report to find it on one little tiny page. It's almost like most of these companies really don't want you to find that information, which is not transparent. For the way that it should be. So that's what we were trying to do. And I think, you know, the way that Selena was able to think about its presentation, I think was really good, you know, we do sit down to if this company were 100, people would it look like, you know, so people really want to think about math and anything like that, and just see what the representation was, or is. So it was a huge work in process, a huge undertaking that the both of us were doing on the side of our regular day jobs. So it is in desperate need of updating, because companies have made some progress, I think in terms of their representation, there's a long way to go, there's a long way to go, because companies weren't going to suddenly fire a bunch of non diverse people and hire new ones. So it's like, within those open positions, some of them are filled by diverse candidates, some of them were not. So you know, the way companies have changed is very small, it's going to take time, but I think that people need to be able to see who they're working with. And I think companies need to be clear about their representation, it cannot be that something that I knew how to find, because I'm a journalist, it should be something that anyone can find, I mean, there's a certain area of the investor relations portion of their website, that you have to look to find who the boards of directors are, on some websites, it's easier than others. But it's like that should be should be easy to find, it should be in one place, everyone should know what the deal is.

And so that's really where that came from. And the connection is great, because it's not only about diversity in the boardroom, and at the executive level, because that has a lot to do with the decisions that are made about the company as a whole. But the supply chain is overwhelmingly comprised of women of color. So when no one in the boardroom looks like that, and everyone can agree, okay, we're going to continue to pay them, this pitons, or we're going to continue to delay the payment of this order. And because we didn't make as much money as we wanted this quarter, and there's no one who can say, No, you need to take care of those people, those people are me, because people look like me, those people could be my family, you have. So it's really very interconnected. And we cannot, at any level of the business, not pay attention and elevate people of color and their voices and their contributions to the industry.

Cory Ames  37:36  
I think would you say there's I mean, speaks to the importance of putting these conversations into as objective terms as we can, like, what are the numbers, the facts in the figures? Because in the context of companies claiming to be sustainable, or products being sustainable, like more objectively, what does that mean? It's worthwhile to define because sustainability has become quite a popular term diversity is becoming more popular term. But what actually does that look like in practice? And how can we put that into as objective terms as possible? Yes or no? And then therefore, you know, given the answer, what are we going to do about that? What does real progress look like? So I appreciate that so much about what you've done with the diversity lesson, I will certainly second, it's extremely well laid out very clear and visually easy to interpret the results that you'll found. So we'll of course have that linked up. You mentioned some progress being made. What are some things that brands are doing folks within the industry that are making some progress? As you mentioned, what are they doing right, in approaching that level of representation?

Tara Donaldson  38:43  
I think the main thing that they're doing right, is putting in place people who care about this. So a lot of companies are first, their first effort was to hire a chief diversity officer. There's high turnover in that role, I'm sure a number of reasons, I think, probably primarily because a lot of companies will hire those people and not integrate them, not actually take their suggestions not actually make the necessary changes, which I'm sure can be entirely frustrating. But the people who are tasked with making that change, so that people who are doing it, right, they have employed and empowered somebody who cares and somebody who knows how to make the changes, progress has been slow, but the people who are doing it by eye looking at all layers of what needs to change. So someone has spoke to a lot of people are having affinity groups and things like that. But those who are successful are making those affinity groups sit with the CCIE and tell them what the problems are and why their problems. The people who are successful are going as deep as looking at language within the review process and as detailed as saying, oh, this person isn't? What was the word you can't remember, but there are words that people would use for women that they wouldn't use for men. So it's training your leadership to probe that. Oh, why did you say that about that person, give me an example of how they showed that characteristic or didn't show that characteristic. So they've eliminated some terms from being able to be used in the review process, because they're too objective. And because they're objective in a way that is skewed in favor of men. So the thinking about all of these things, because obviously, the review process is what leads to promotion. So that is also how they empower people within their organization to rise up, because it isn't always about looking outside and saying, we need more black people, we need more people from the LGBTQ community. What about the people who work here, the people who have already been contributing to the organization? Can I pay more attention to them? Can I see what their career goals and aspirations are? And can I support that and empower that and lift them up, if that's the direction they want to go in.

So I think the people who are being successful are digging into all the layers of this issue, to root out systemic bias, systemic default behaviors, and bring balance to it all, you know, so if you have things set up in an equitable way, then you can start to hire and continue to hire in an equitable way and continue to promote people in an equitable way, and then continue to see changes at your executive level, see more people represented there. And sometimes you have to catch track opportunities, sometimes you have to make space for people who might not have, you may not have just made space for because voices need to be represented. And because, you know, they didn't have the same opportunity as one of their counterparts, for example. So I mean, I know there are a lot of nuances. And I'm not the expert in this area. But there are a lot of experts in this area. And a lot of them are doing really good work at big brands. And the brands that are going to be the most successful are the ones who are really committed to seeing this change. Were really asking the tough questions, so they can change themselves and change the corporate culture and who are answering the tough questions. So they can be held accountable to the people who work for them and the people who shop with them.

Cory Ames  42:35  
It certainly seems like the brands who are investing in the infrastructure to see the system actually changed versus as you mentioned, maybe a chief diversity officer being planted but not having a department or, you know, any sort of resources or team to work with. So it seems like there's a lot of different ways in which it can seem more so as just okay, what's the first reaction or impulsive reaction they take to appease? What is this call and this demand versus who are the people that are seriously looking at shifting the direction that that ship is sailing? Once again, there, I really appreciate your time here. Thank you so much for joining me, before we wrap up, even if I ask you a few rapid fire questions. Love rapid fire. All right. So first off, what's a book or maybe a film that has impacted you recently, or something that you always come back to that you might recommend to our listeners can be about subjects we discussed here or not at all?

Tara Donaldson  43:35  
Well, right now I'm in a season of reading fashion coffee table books, which may sound to some like not real literature. However, it is part of learning more about the front end of fashion since I've been so invested in the back end and the supply chain. And one that I love is about Bonnie Cashin, her archivist Stephanie Lake wrote the book. She was a designer, very popular in the 50s and 60s. But she was really in the belief of not going with the masses not going into this big machine that is fashion industry. wildly talented, wildly successful. turned down a lot of big brands that wanted to work with her. She worked for MS for a time. She was the first designer for coach. So a lot of the staple bags that the coach brand has came from her designs, but she was steadfast in kind of running a smaller business one that wasn't filled with waste and one that wasn't excessive, and one that was about really creating beautiful things for the people who keep them for a lifetime. And she hasn't been designing she passed away years ago. And her stuff is still coveted, you know, on resale sites and, and vintage houses and things like that. So it's like a de la cocina In the 50s, are still good and still wanted and still stylish. So I think hers is a model that I think more people in the industry embrace, because we don't need a million brands making a million products, we need just enough really good quality brands led by people who are really passionate about the product that they're creating, and where the materials come from and who they're supporting, and making products that consumers will love and keep for a long time.

Cory Ames  45:30  
I love that next one for you. Are you a New Year's resolution person? And if so, do you have any this year for 2022?

Tara Donaldson  45:38  
I am not a New Year's resolution person, I am a goals for the year person. And I guess, to be honest, I did not set any goals this year because it feels like we went inside in 2019. And we haven't come back out yet. I feel like right now. I can be healthy and happy. I have one. So those are my focuses right now and that the people who I love are healthy and happy. That's my main goal for this year,

Cory Ames  46:09  
maybe you will be setting yourself up for success. So I sure hope so. The next one for you? Do you have any morning routines or daily habits that you have to stick to, if any at all?

Tara Donaldson  46:20  
That's a good question as definitely a different answer in the pandemic than outside of the pandemic. But I have a little book that I have some kind of mantras and reminders in things to remind me to be patient to be positive. And I read that every morning, every morning before I allow myself to touch my phone every to the whole thing. And it kind of helps center me it helps remind me the behavior they need to adapt all the time. But also for that day, it helps settle me if I've woken up frustrated or sad or anything that isn't positive. And I tried to reframe my perspective and early into the day in the best way that I can.

Cory Ames  47:04  
That sounds like a nice way to start the day. I often start way too soon touching my phone and looking at news as I'm sure so many people do. So that sounds like a more fulfilling a wholesome way to approach the world. It has been good. One final question for you. What's one bit of advice that you might leave our listeners with these folks are changemakers social entrepreneurs, working to leave the world a better place than they found it. Pay attention to small brands.

Tara Donaldson  47:31  
I think they're so innovative, and so creative. And every day I discover a new brand doing something cool. And I think both if we can support them, it's a benefit to us, because we'll have better more interesting things in our closets. But they'll also be able to continue doing what they're doing. And they're the ones changing the game. They're the ones thinking about the people who make the products. They're the ones thinking about the environment. They're the ones thinking about waste and had less of it. And I think everyone wins if we kind of cut in on some of these smaller brands,

Cory Ames  48:07  
Excellent advice to end on. That's a thread that comes up quite a bit in our conversations. The folks who are small but small is beautiful, especially in the context of investing in communities and products in relationships with the end consumer. Tara, thank you so much for taking the time. Before we finish out where should folks keep up with you? Where would you like to direct them to?

Tara Donaldson  48:29  
Well, they can definitely find me on WWD. I do write stories still from time to time. That's the most productive place. And I do post that on my stories on LinkedIn.

Cory Ames  48:40  
All right, we'll have all things linked up in our show post at socialentrepreneurship.fm. Thanks again, Tara.

Tara Donaldson  48:46  
Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Cory Ames  48:51  
Alright, y'all, that's a wrap on another episode of the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast as always so grateful to have you listening in. If you love the show, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts or hit subscribe wherever it is that you get yours. And as well. I want to invite you to sign up for our Better World weekly newsletter. This is our weekly discussion with our community of social entrepreneurs and changemakers on all things building a better world is a newsletter I write and publish send out myself every single Monday go to grow ensemble.com backslash newsletter, to join in on that discussion, all things building a better world. Go to grow ensembl.com backslash newsletter to get the next one in your inbox. And finally, if you know of a company work within a company or run a company that might be interested in sponsoring the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast, we always love starting conversations with potential partners who share our vision of building a better world together. Go to Social entrepreneurship.fm backslash contact there you can fill out a quick form, start that conversation with us. These sorts of partnerships fuel our mission to build a better world together. Alright y'all until next time

Tara DonaldsonProfile Photo

Tara Donaldson

Executive Editor

Tara Donaldson is the Executive Editor of WWD and formerly the Editorial Director of Sourcing Journal. She has covered the business of fashion from textiles to retail, bringing to light issues surrounding sustainability, social impact and inclusion.

Tara prides herself on taking an on-the-ground approach to uncovering what’s happening in the fashion industry, a knack backed by her past life as a merchandiser and account manager for two major apparel companies. As a merchandiser at Warnaco, which was acquired by PVH Corp. in 2012, she worked with a design team to create product for leading U.S. retailers. As an account manager at Fortune Fashions, Tara supervised production, working with an in-house factory and design team to ensure product would meet delivery deadlines and designated margins for the sales team.

Tara has a master’s degree in journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and a bachelor’s degree in business and merchandising from California State University, Los Angeles.