For years, fashion was built on a myth that a fleeting moral compass could lead to success. Taste was always required, but kindness was optional. And while it’s taken several rude awakenings, the industry is finally learning how to strengthen its empathy muscle. Leading the compassionate charge is designer Virgil Abloh of Off-White and Louis Vuitton and model Bella Hadid.
The pair joined Vogue‘s Creative Editorial Director Mark Guiducci for a virtual panel discussion during its Forces of Fashion conference called “Blazing a Trail” on Monday morning. Abloh, in a sporty tracksuit, and Hadid, with a bold red lip, spoke to how they use their wide-reaching platforms to advocate for young minority creatives and build communities.
“Most people that have been in my atmosphere — everything from my office to an after party — you can see a part of what excites me is to foster a community,” Abloh said, noting that blazing a trail starts with the long, late-night conversations he has at the dinner table. “It’s us being real people with one another.”
The regular Paris Fashion Week party host and serial collaborator has of course had a lull in his social calendar this year, making these spontaneous connections less frequent, but Abloh explained that the pause has allowed him to appreciate staying put.
“Before I was racing, because I felt like I was running out of time, or I felt like everything was urgent,” Abloh said. “This year was unfortunate for the world circumstances, but I found the silver lining of just being in one place and being with family.”
Hadid, who logged 237 flights in 2018, had a similar response to the slowdown of life in 2020, stating that she was constantly chasing Vogue covers and campaigns. Over the last few months, the top model said she’s found peace within herself and is discovering which parts of the work she enjoys the most.
Both agreed that their personal 2020 evolutions have coincided with the fashion industry learning a much-needed lesson on empathy. Abloh and Hadid know there’s still a lot of work to be done, but they hope to pave the way for kindness by setting an example for those around them.
“In this business if you don’t have kindness, respect, integrity for yourself and the people around you, there’s no way to succeed,” said Hadid. “There’s a reason we’re at the place that we’re at and it’s because we’re kind to people and we enjoy what we do and we work hard. If you don’t have those characteristics, it’s hard to keep yourself happy in this business and also respected. Empathy is the only way to live. Kindness is the only way any of us are going to survive.”
Abloh believes kindness and being authentic is how to mount the quiet revolution — one that’s rooted in inclusivity — that’s currently going on in fashion.
“Bella and I’s generation want to see the industry more diverse. We hear our friends and allies on the street protesting and when we go into the offices or when we go on set, we know that we’re close to the message,” explained the Off-White designer. “We’re advocating for that in ways that are seen and not seen from the street level.”
At the end of the 35-minute chat, Abloh, who is king of adding things to his to-do list, suggested that he write a weekly column for Vogue to further advocate for emerging creatives. While we await Anna Wintour’s approval, he left us with some designers to watch, including Grace Wales Bonner and Martine Rose — both of whom Abloh said he’d love to see running a fashion house soon.
“I think females of color represent such a needed voice in the fashion design industry,” concluded Abloh. “Anyone young and anyone from a minority background, I’m excited to see make our industry shine.”