Fashion’s Woman Problem

Fashion’s Woman Problem

It is probably not coincidental that the area of the industry that seems to have a significant number of female power players is the digital frontier, where Rent the Runway, Moda Operandi, Glossier and the RealReal (to name a few) were all created, and run, by women. And to be fair, there are many well-respected smaller American brands founded by women, including Rachel Comey, Maria Cornejo and Rosie Assoulin. But the story changes with the bigger heritage names.

“When I was coming up, there were very few women rising to the higher ranks,” said Rose Marie Bravo, who became the chief executive of Burberry in 1997, and who made an effort during her time at the company to promote women to positions of leadership. While her creative directors were men, her head of North America was a woman, so was her C.F.O., so was her head of Europe. And when she left, she recommended a woman, Angela Ahrendts, to take her place.

“You need visuals,” Ms. Bravo said. “You need to be able to think, ‘If she did it, maybe I can, too.’”

For Karis Durmer, the chief executive of Altuzarra, who was recommended for the job by her friend Shirley Cook (then the chief executive of Proenza Schouler), the family issue is key. “You can’t really detach this conversation from the conversation about family planning,” she said.

Indeed, the requirements of globalization, including store openings and fashion shows held around the world as well as a calendar that demands the vacation months of August and December be devoted to creating a collection, may seem to force a choice between building a family and building a career. And all of it is exacerbated by the myth of the creative personality that prioritized 24/7 devotion to the process.

Designing a Solution

Which leaves us where, exactly? The study makes basic recommendations, including offering clear criteria for advancement and building flexibility into the work schedule, But above all, Ms. von Furstenberg said, “the point was to raise awareness that there is a problem, and put H.R. departments on notice, so we can begin to have the conversation.”

Credit: Fashion’s Woman Problem