“Talent Is Distributed Equally, But Opportunity Is Not”—CFDA Honorees Aurora James and Dapper Dan Discuss Inclusivity and Change

I’m not saying that every Black person should shop at these stores that’ve taken the Pledge, but what we need to make sure is that white consumers have Black-owned businesses available to them to buy, so that Black communities aren’t expected to solely be dependent on Black people for their existence. White people also need to be making that investment too.

Dan: I think the most amazing element about what you have done is that it affects the bottom line. It makes sense for stores to put creative people of color in these spaces. It is an economic platform not a charity platform.

Aurora: Listen, my grandmother used to say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” meaning that you need to put more than just intention behind yourself if you’re trying to actually make change. That’s why it was so important to make all of our pledge-takers sign a contract. With Nordstrom, for example, that’s a 10-year contract and we audit our pledge-takers every quarter and push for progress. Like you said, it’s an economic proposition. We are a data-based nonprofit, we want to know data and we want to know dollars.

There is an emotional side that comes with it as well, but that is a lifetime journey. Black people are not a monolith. Everyone’s going to need their own sort of reckoning, their own sort of healing, and their own sort of discovery. What I’m just hoping for is more autonomy for Black business owners who want to support their own Black communities, so that we can gain more independence in this country. I think, in general, that in 2020 people made a lot of promises, but if they don’t have outside partners holding them accountable, well, then I don’t know that you can expect much to change. 

Steff: How important is it for both of you to operate in the quote/unquote fashion system, which has been traditionally very exclusionary of Black people while appropriating Black culture?

Dan: I have to give you a little bit of background. When I first opened my store, all the rappers used to come to me. Rappers then started taking off. I was the only designer who all the rappers used to wear on Yo! MTV Raps and in all the venues that were available to them at that time. Once the fashion industry discovered how I built this following, they said if the artists wear anything that is made by Dapper Dan, we will not advertise with you.

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