Learning About Diversity in the Sewn Products Industry

Each month, Behind the Seams explores a different aspect of the sewn products industry with an editorial/introduction from the SPESA team called SPESA Speaks (which is only slightly confusing that it's also the name of our blog). This is the February 2021 SPESA Speaks.

Our theme for this month’s issues of Behind the Seams is diversity — a term that much like sustainability, social responsibility, and other buzzwords, can mean different things to different people.

Our inspiration, of course, is the celebration of Black History Month. We aren’t being particularly original here as you often see publications dive into this topic every February. But, if you’ve been paying attention, you will notice that the topic of diversity has been on the agenda for the sewn products industry for a while now. Following the intensification of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 — argued to be the largest movement in U.S. history — our industry has been called to task in this arena and companies are taking stock of their own shortcomings when it comes to diversity, accessibility, and representation.

While Black Lives Matter may have been the catalyst, the call for diversity is by no means limited to any one race or to race at all for that matter. A recent industry article making the business case for diversity in supply chains explains:

“Diversity and inclusion also have different meanings around the world. For instance, in a nation where ethnicity is more homogenous, companies would be more apt to seek out characteristics such as female or veteran-owned businesses for inclusivity.”

Activists and consumers around the world are calling for more inclusion and equal representation in regards to gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, age, body type, physical and mental abilities, and more. They want to see themselves represented in the products they buy and the companies that produce them.

With that being said, we would actually amend our opening statement and clarify that this month’s Behind the Seams issues will look at both diversity and inclusivity in the sewn products industry, because the two really go in hand in hand. By definition, diversity relates to the makeup of a group or a workforce. It’s the goal. Inclusivity, or inclusion, focuses on the creation of a work environment and culture that enables all employees to participate and thrive. It’s how you get there.

Last September, we spoke with SPESA member SourceAmerica about the company’s work supporting professionals with disabilities in the workforce. It was a humbling experience and one of our more nerve-wracking interviews as we quickly realized we didn’t know where to start with our questions about inclusivity, we didn’t know the terminology. But we gained a lot from writing that article, which brings us to the final aspect we want to touch on this month: learning. It’s not about getting everything right immediately, but about the willingness to learn, take an internal look, amend your previous statements, and take steps to improve.

This month, we will hear from SourceAmerica again on why the disability community is the most intersectional group in society. We will explore diversity and inclusivity in the workforce, as well as the importance of considering those aspects in products and services through adaptive fashion and brand representation.