Yael Aflalo and her company are under fire after a former employee accused her of being a racist who created a toxic work environment for Black staffers. The founder of Reformation, a clothing brand that is known for pushing sustainable fashion practices, apologized but regular clients are skeptical and refuse to keep supporting the business.
After the tragic death of George Floyd, the fashion brand took to Instagram to show support to the Black Lives Matter movement, Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective, the NAACP, and the ACLU. “If you want to help fight for justice right now, here are a few organizations we recommend supporting. We will be donating to the organizations above,” informed the company.
In response to the post, former employee Leslieann Elle Santiago commented, “Working for Reformation deeply traumatized me. Being overlooked and undervalued as a woman of color who worked and managed their flagship store for 3 years was the hardest. I cried many times knowing the color of my skin would get me nowhere in this company. Yael never looked at me. She would walk pass [sic] me and never spoke to me. But would tell white associates that they were pretty. I once went to visit the shop after a couple of years gone and a new black associate asked me if I honestly thought there was a chance for black people to move up in the company. And I said if you’re asking this 2 years after I left, then [sic] the answer was and will always be no. This story goes deeper and I’ve always been afraid to tell it. But no more fear from me.”
Immediately, Reformation President Hali Borenstein replied to Santiago and asked her to discuss her experience over the phone, a request that Santiago declined. “After a lot of heavy thought I’ve decided to decline your 10min phone conversation but rather hope you take 5min to read this as I do not want to give you the opportunity to hear without listening,” she wrote to Borenstein in a public post.
Santiago also furthers her statement by qualifying Aflalo’s actions as “systematic racism.” “Her mentality is why the leadership table at Reformation has always looked like it has and has always treated black and non-black poc the way it has,” Santiago alleged.
After the accusation came to light on May 30, Aflalo rushed to Instagram to try to fix the crisis. “I’ve failed,” reads a statement on the Reformation account. Here, the businesswoman admitted her lack of leadership by writing: “Our mission is to bring sustainability to everyone, and part of sustainability is treating people equally. I realize that I have failed all of you in that regard — especially the Black community. I’m sorry. Unfortunately, the way we have practiced diversity in the past has been through a ‘White gaze’ that falls too close to ignorance. After asking and listening to our team members, especially those who identify as BIPOC — I see that now. I am so angry at myself for not seeing it sooner. As a company, we have not leveraged our platform, our voice, and our content to combat the racism and injustice that pervades our country, and that will change, starting now. I was not a very good leader when it came to our team, which is why I stepped back two years ago,” she wrote in her statement.
“When former team members make accusations that I ignored them in the past, I know that this is true. I am so sad and regretful for it. This is inexcusable in itself, but when I hear Black colleagues who felt that I avoided them because of the color of their skin, I burn inside thinking about the sadness I inflicted. Please know that for me this was not about the color of your skin, it’s about my shortcomings as a person. The new leaders at Reformation are smart, supportive, caring individuals. They don’t deserve your criticism, I do.”
Aflalo added her company will start taking inclusion seriously. “We will be launching a Diversity and Inclusion Board, composed of team members and external advisors, to direct our plans along the way. We will update our quarterly Sustainability Report to include goals and metrics on diversity and inclusion and publish it. We will put more emphasis on working with Black creators throughout the creative process and we will strive for authentic diversity in our imagery, partnerships, and voice.”
Aflalo concluded, “We know this isn’t everything and it won’t all happen overnight, but we are committed to using our brand to promote anti-racism, using our voice to stand for equality and justice, and using our platform to end systemic racism.”