On Monday, June 8th, Inspirations Dancewear was tagged on an Instagram story by Chantelle at @chanty_bakes calling for changes from retail stores for offering products with racist colour names. The post featured an example from our website with a pointe shoe in the colour "European Pink", along with other examples like lingerie from Victoria Secret in a beige colour called "nude".
This was our response to Chantelle's Instagram story…
Thank you for raising awareness of this issue. We know that we have a responsibility to promote and celebrate diversity in the dance community and that we have to also have the products accessible to fulfill this. We acknowledge that the access to colour options in dancewear and the holdover of traditional naming of colours falls terribly short. Our dancewear suppliers are not meeting the needs of all dancer's as their offerings generally exclude people of colour. We are actively having conversations with the suppliers to update their products’ shade names to reflect a value of all skin colours, and increase of range of colours produced. As additional colours and shades are available Inspirations' is committed to adding them to our offerings. Thank you again for raising awareness and demanding changes made, we are committed to amplifying the call for action in the dancewear community.
I have to admit, I braced as I waited to hear back from @chanty_bakes, not knowing what to expect. Her reply was simple…
Hi, thanks for the response. I think it would be really meaningful if you were to publicly announce this commitment to your clients and the dance community as a whole. #nudeisnotbeige #nudeforall
I was bowled over. It was such a simple request. One that was in my power and I could see would make a difference for our customers, and maybe our industry in some way. We need to do better, even if we're just a single dance shop in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. We say we welcome input and being held to account to act consistent with our commitment to the dance community, and this is a chance for us to step up and do a small thing that could make a difference for dancers of colour who shop from us.
I immediately felt shame about leaning so heavily on the excuse that I use the colour names chosen by our suppliers, as if there was nothing more we could do.
That same morning, the staff at Inspirations set to task to change out all our nude colours on our website to something that accurately describes the nude colour not in reference to a white person only. For example, traditional "Nude" became "Beige Nude", and other colours that are designed for other skin tones had "Nude" added to them, like "Mocha Nude".
Our team then created a list of dance products that are offered in multiple skin tones, which we intend to continue updating with more products, as we actively search them out: https://www.inspirationsdancewear.com/collections/inclusive-dancewear
I wanted to include our top dancewear suppliers in this initiative, and I chose to model the message I appreciated so much from Chantelle (@chanty_bakes). I asked our suppliers to do better, made specific and immediate requests as a long-time client, including that they share with us, and the world, their commitment to ending the racist practises in the dancewear industry. Here is the full letter:
I am writing to you inside of our long time relationship with your brand and as a proud retailer of your products.
As mass demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice continue globally, our team at Inspirations have been examining how we have contributed to systemic barriers for people of colour to participate in the dance industry. Two years ago, when we created an active mandate to to increase representation of dancers in our marketing and product offerings we initiated some changes and have continued to up to and including today such as:
- Actively seeking out product shots and marketing photos featuring dancers that are people of colour. We are prioritizing using these marketing photos and ensuring that all dancers can find themselves represented in our web presence and marketing.
- Increasing colour options for bodywear, tights and shoes that represent diverse skin tones.
- Renaming product colours about matching skin tones from the manufacturer names of nude and mocha to 'beige nude' and 'mocha nude'.
- Educating studios about the need for making class & performance requirement colours sensitive to the diverse skin tones of dancers.
We realized that our efforts are not enough, as we still fall far short in serving dancers that are people of colour. We are now calling on you as a valued supplier to join us in the commitment to do better representing and including people of colour in the dancewear industry.
We request that you update your colour naming conventions to represent 2020 values.
It is not acceptable to have a product colour of Nude or European Pink. These colour names need to be changed to something that accurately describes the shade, not in reference to skin tone and especially not in normalizing nude as a caucasian skin tone. This is a great example of inclusive colour names by a dancewear company founded by a person of colour: https://www.balletcafenaturals.com
We request that you release styles and actively inventory products for multiple skin tones.
Products including bras, under garments, tights and shoes are a basic requirement in tones for all people. Not as a special offer, but that you have in your warehouse for us to be able to access quickly. It is not acceptable for a person of colour to have to special order every item they need and often wait 8-12 weeks for the custom order to come in if we are missing a size.
We request that you provide us with brand product shots and dance lifestyle photography that include dancers with a variety of skin tones.
This should be a mandated initiative with your marketing teams. You also need to look at any product shots that need to be updated, such as a white women wearing a bodyliner in dark brown. It needs be a basic requirement that you have photographs of dancers that would actually wear that product, in that colour. Here is an example of another dancewear company owned by a person of colour photographing tights representing the appropriate skin tone: https://nudebarre.com/collections/womens-fishnet-tights
As a retailer we are looking for solutions to the increased costs of additional colour offerings, but feel regardless of cost, we need to make representation and inclusivity a priority. We will be having to make hard product and brand choices based on the availability of diverse colours and a brand's commitment to representation of people of colour in the dance industry.
I know that many of our brands are already beginning to add products and institute changes. I ask that you share with us your specific commitments and actions. I further encourage you to publicly speak about the initiatives and welcome dancers and industry leaders that are people of colour to provide feedback about what is needed.
Together we can make the changes to have the dancewear industry include all people. I look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience.
The Results So Far
Since we sent the letter, we've heard back from multiple companies:
Bloch Canada has committed to bringing into the Canadian market the new shade pointe shoe as well as additional styles of bodysuits catering to a broader range of flesh tones that have been historically available in the USA only.
Bloch International has promised to remove the word NUDE from their colour naming.
So Danca publicly expressed their continued commitment to representation of people of colour with their products and marketing, and welcomed dialogue and improvement suggestions.
Ainsliewear has committed to featuring more dancers from various ethnicities in their marketing and product photography. They have started to put this plan in to action by reaching out specifically to Indigenous dancers in BC. Including doing an open model call to grow their model data base for future photo and video shoots. They will immediately change the descriptive for the lining in bodysuits from Nude to Beige. They promised this will happen on their website this week.
Wednesday, I had a stellar conference call with executives at Capezio, who said that all of my requests are 100% doable now, and that we can count on them to listen, change and act quickly. They further talked about possibilities for initiatives to give a platform for people of colour’s voices in the dance industry to share their experience, perspective and steer decisions and progress still needed.
Thursday, I went through the list of Capezio colours with the Capezio marketing team and we looked at alternative names for the current colours that are racist, exclusionary or fetishizing people of colour.
This afternoon, I sobbed.
Like most people, I have felt helpless about what to do about the unfair systemic barriers for all people of colour. In the face of the mountain of history and tradition in dance, I am just one person. The simple things I initiated this week seem meaningless in the face of the violence that is going on. But they're tangible things in my circle of influence. The community of people I interact with most are all considering what our thoughtlessness is costing others in a way that we haven't before.
Of course, consideration is meaningless without action. But Chantelle at @chanty_bakes is also one person, and I can say confidently that without her post, the team at Inspirations, as well as executives of the world's leading dancewear manufacturers, would not be having these conversations this week, and making the changes to their products and practices they are today.
Systemic racism is real. Even in something as seemingly unimportant as dance underwear. It is subtle and nuanced, and it may seem as inconsequential to those unaffected by it as it is blatant and offensive to those who have to live with it. And that's just not good enough. We can do better for all our dancers.