Jun. 30 2020
If you’ve splurged on a designer label in the past 20 years, it’s likely because of Bonnie Morrison. The former Vogue staffer and PR maven helped make labels like Proenza Schouler into cool-girl empires, and turned Coach’s focus from mom bags to Selena Gomez.
“Fashion is important because people need it and people love it,” she says, which is why after 20+ years in the industry, she’s become a consultant for luxury labels with a focus on inclusivity and impact. “Everyone’s got to wear clothes, so we need fashion brands,” she says. “But how are we building those brands for the future? My job right now is to answer that question.”
Here’s how Bonnie is saving the style industry from itself…
You’ve worked with some of the most influential companies in fashion. Why is now the right time to start your own business?
It actually started with the Women’s March and #MeToo. I felt both more empowered and more disempowered than ever before… and for a while, like a lot of women, I was trying to move on with my own life, you know? But the brutal deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd became constellations for me, and a real reminder that if I have any power at all, I have to use it for change.
Do you think real change is possible in fashion right now?
Change is definitely possible! For me, I’m trying to focus on diversity, inclusion, and impact.
What’s getting in the way of real change in the fashion industry?
Well money, obviously. But something we don’t talk about enough is that people and brands are terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing. There’s a real terror around “cancel culture,” but I think it’s being defanged a bit. Look, if you commit a crime—if you’re Harvey Weinstein or R. Kelly—that’s one thing. But if you’re a mom on the PTA and you’re afraid to say “Black lives matter” because you’re still learning about your own blind spots? Please don’t be afraid to say “Black lives matter.” Don’t be afraid to engage in your own questions and fears. Fear is getting in the way of progress here. It’s taking up a lot more space than I expected.
Are you seeing more fashion brands talk about racism internally?
Not as openly as they should be, because again, there’s so much fear… Even in my own friend groups, some people have been trying so hard to be colorblind [that] it has erased even the possibility that [someone else] has a different experience with race and class. But it’s not racist to “see color.” You’re not saying, “Oh Bonnie, she’s Black,” and that’s the end of who I am. But it’s a part of who I am, and to not acknowledge that can be its own kind of bias.
As a former Vogue employee, how do you think fashion magazines can change for the better?
We talk about political bases a lot. But as fashion lovers, who’s in our base? We have invested too much money in the very tops of companies; I mean, you see it at Vogue. Putting so much power into one ultimate authority? Companies can’t work like that anymore. We don’t live in a monoculture anymore. We want to empower everyone, monetarily and through company culture, to work together. Otherwise, to use a food analogy, you’ve made a lobster dinner for vegans—all because you didn’t ask the people coming to dinner if they eat meat.
We’ve seen several high-profile resignations at places like Refinery29, Bon Appetit, and Man Repeller. Do you think more are necessary?
Not everyone! If you’re empowering your employees and producing [meaningful] content, of course you’re not getting replaced. Will there be some people who are no longer eligible or qualified for their jobs? Absolutely. That will happen. (But you could also argue that some of those people were not qualified to begin with…) But in my experience, there are many, many people who want to be taught and included in the movement for equity in fashion. We need to embrace those people.
Fashion salaries are notoriously low, and they often prohibit women from working class backgrounds from breaking into the business. How can we negotiate a better starting salary?
As someone who’s hired people and been hired, I can tell you, your first salary offer is going to be the bottom of the range. You can say, “That’s great. I’m so excited. Can you go a little bit higher?” Now listen, if you’ve been offered $45k, you’re not going to get them up to $75k. But you can, in most cases, get more money. And to be perfectly honest, I advise my clients to give their entry-level talent more money, because once people have drive, intelligence, and passion, how do we give them what they need to perform to the absolute best of their ability? And we won’t see those dividends accrue immediately. But we need to start now.
What else can we do right now to bring real change?
Well the good news is, most young women have no problem making a giant sign, being loud at a protest, being loud on Instagram or Twitter—you speak up! That’s fantastic. Now take that motivated energy and bring it into your workplace. Bring it into meetings where you see or hear things that marginalize others. Clear your throat and say, “Can we go through this one more time? I’m worried it’s going to create this biased result.”
Like a certain Pepsi commercial?
Exactly! There was nobody in that room who was either knowledgeable or empowered enough to say, “Hey, this is ridiculous. You can’t hand a Pepsi to a cop and save the world.” What kind of boss created an environment where nobody could speak up and stop that? How can we make sure that kind of work environment never exists again?
As a fashion expert and a frequent street style star, do you think athleisure is the new normal?
I do not. I think we’re starting to see that there’s a reason we leave the house to shop. To go to a movie. To date. It’s not just the transaction. A restaurant isn’t just takeout. A Sephora isn’t just a lipstick. I think care and time in things that make us feel confident and happy and give us a buzz, that’s coming. We’re all missing that. We now realize how important it is. And I think so many people cleaning out their closets because they’re all working from home? That action is making room for what they want. We’re going to give more concern and consideration to looking nice and having fabrics and presentations that make us feel good. The desire to look nice and celebrate being seen is going to surge.