What CaSandra Diggs And The CFDA Are Doing To Create A Diverse (And Safe) NYFW

2020 brought many unspoken issues within the fashion industry to the surface. Underrepresented communities declared that it would no longer be acceptable to overlook the lack of true diversity and ultimately, demanded equity. Fashion professionals were tired of seeing industry tables all looking one way — and not like us. Within the midst of leading organizations and brands directly addressing how they would be moving forward to create a better future, the CFDA announced the promotion of CaSandra Diggs to president of the organization — a decision that came with overwhelming support.

Diggs is a seasoned professional in the industry and originally joined the CFDA in 2001. In such a critical time, it was essential for Digg’s ideas and understanding to be at the forefront of a core pillar of the industry. Her new role consists of developing strategy and making key decisions that further the CFDA’s purpose to champion, educate, and support its membership and the fashion industry at large. 

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Within Digg’s first year as President, CFDA launched a new initiative to create opportunities for historically underrepresented and unsupported communities in fashion: IMPACT. CFDA has been able to build a Black Advisory Board to overlook IMPACT, including EIC Samira Nasr of Harper’s Bazaar, and partner with Creatively to help drive the initiative. The current focus of IMPACT is to address the aged system of exclusion of Black talent in the industry with hopes to create a blueprint for other industries to follow. However, in the future, the CFDA will develop the initiative to also address other inequities within the fashion arena.

Below, CaSandra dives into the effect of IMPACT, upcoming NYFW, and reflects on her transition as she completes the first year as CFDA President.

ESSENCE: How has it been for you to take on and transition into this role?

Diggs: It has been amazing, but it’s also been a bit difficult because there’s high expectations and I want to make sure that I deliver on the goals and the objectives that I’ve set for myself. But also, I want to deliver for our community in terms of making sure there’s equitable representation and making sure that I can help shift the CFDA in new and modern ways — in terms of their programming and their focuses. So yeah, it’s been an amazing opportunity that I’m really excited about.

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ESSENCE: You mentioned that inclusivity was really the true purpose of the IMPACT initiative. How have you seen that initiative evolve and impact the industry over the past year and few months?

Diggs: I think it started before IMPACT really. I think in June of 2020 is really when CFDA started this sort of journey when they released their pledge, which was really a statement around connecting talent to brands and mentors. IMPACT is really a tangible delivery of that pledge. So, when IMPACT was launched in February of 2021, its focus was really to take our state of diversity, equity and inclusion report that we had done with PVH to really sort of use that as a framework to deliver some of these levers of change as we call them.

The first part to that was really about finding in our study that a lot of people talked about access and awareness, and how there was a lack there of when it comes to Black professionals and other underrepresented communities.The first thing we wanted to do was to make sure that we created some sort of hub or some sort of  place where communities of color could go to find out what those opportunities are in fashion. We partnered with Creatively on their platform and were able to immediately establish this network of a couple of thousand professionals. We selected some key brands to help us pilot the program, but IMPACT is in a gestational phase, so it’s still being built. We’re still identifying each lever of change that we need to implement over the course of the next couple of months.

For me, IMPACT is not just about our programming, IMPACT is really the pledge that the board made about inspiring other brands and other organizations and other institutions to step forward and begin to do the necessary work. I think that our statement and our announcement of IMPACT has really launched other initiatives, other programs and other organizations who are stepping forward and saying “we’re taking part, here’s what we’re doing.” We’re going to do all the things that we need to do to bring about change. I’m proud of that.

ESSENCE: CFDA plays such a huge role in fashion week. How will the CFDA not only be a part of the festivities, whether it be physically or indirectly, but what are also some things that you all are doing to help drive home creating safer and more inclusive spaces during NYFW?

Diggs: It’s really exciting what’s going on with fashion week and the level of interest that people have again. The CFDA has always been a voice of authority and influence in the industry. We like to use that to speak to issues that affect our industry and provide resources and guidance that helps the industry. The CFDA’s main role in what it does starts with the calendar itself. We took this opportunity to really make sure that the calendar was diverse in and of itself because we’re the official scheduler of NYFW.

Making sure that the calendar really reflects the diversity that exists within our design community – that’s the first way that we’re involved in the festivities. We also have our Runway 360 digital platform that was launched in 2020 as a direct response to COVID-19 and the shutdown that had happened. We wanted to make sure that designers had a way of putting on their show even if it be digitally and reach a wider audience. It’s been quite successful. We’ve also worked with Harlem’s Fashion Row and the Black Design Collective. It’s another way to amplify diversity for those who can’t have a physical show and for those who want to amplify their live runway show. They can merge that digitally through Runway 360.

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We’re also increasing our focus on health. Just recently this year we partnered with IMG and they also have a health and safety guidelines report that they released around COVID- 19. We’re trying to make sure that people show proof of that vaccination, that they’re wearing masks at shows, and that designers are reducing their show attendance if it means helping diminish the spread of COVID-19.

ESSENCE: Are there any designers that you’re really looking forward to seeing showcase this year?

Diggs: It’s so hard to say, but I’ll tell you what I’m interested in. I’m really interested in seeing American fashion resiliently emerge from the pandemic and their shows, presentations, backstages and all the facets of their operations reflect the commitments to equity and inclusion that they’ve made over the past 15 months. Ultimately I’m looking forward to American fashion and designers showing the world, their creativity, their compassion and their cultural impact.

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