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Does The CFDA's Trump-Backing Board Member Contradict Its Own Mission?

Channing Hargrove

It’s become impossible — for citizens, brands and organizations — to stay politically neutral in America 2019. Jewelry designer and Council of Fashion Designers member Dana Lorenz offered a striking reminder of this last Saturday. After learning that CFDA board member Kara Ross had planned and co-hosted (with husband, billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross) a Trump fundraiser in the Hamptons, Lorenz canceled her membership.

“I will no longer participate if a woman that funds the current administration remains on the board,” Lorenz (of the label Fallon) posted on her brand’s Instagram on Saturday. “I will no longer be a part of what seems to be allowing a pay for play, money over merit arrangement with someone that clearly wants to advance an agenda that is hurting many businesses large and small with this trade war,” she wrote. Held at their Southhampton estate, the Rosses’ talked-about event raised $12 million for Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. The jewelry designer’s statement also addressed the Trump administration’s immigration policies. “Yesterday, while Mrs. Ross was putting finishing touches on her Trump fundraiser, I was making sure my sobbing housekeeper had her entire family’s documents in order, a woman with 3 years citizenship living in fear,” she wrote. “It’s not enough to post rainbows on your Instagram feed. Do something.”

Lorenz tells Refinery29 she decided to do something and speak out against the CFDA because she felt dismissed when she reached out to Steven Kolb, the CFDA’S president and CEO, to ask if other designers had expressed any concerns about Ross's affiliation to Trump. “This indifference was all I needed to remove myself,” she says. Since posting her statement to Instagram, Lorenz says the supportive, positive response has been overwhelming. “I know there is a huge population watching fashion very closely to what CEOs and leaders do and stand for in these times. They are looking for leaders to take lead. To be the voice. To be an ally. Cate Blanchett wore my earrings last night simply because her stylist was inspired to support.”

Indeed, her letter poses compelling questions. How much transparency should we expect from the brands and organizations we trust, if any at all? And in the case of the CFDA, does Ross’ presence on its board keep the organization from fulfilling its mission?

Stephen Ross is the owner of the Miami Dolphins, Equinox, and SoulCycle, and he is the chairman and majority owner for The Related Companies, which developed the recently opened shopping complex Hudson Yards. As previously reported, when the news broke of Ross's fundraiser, there were immediate cries of protest. People across the country cancelled their Equinox memberships and vowed to never visit SoulCycle again. Designer Prabal Gurung revealed he’d been in talks with Hudson Yards to host the 10th anniversary of his fashion brand, but he will no longer work with the company.

"Steve Ross got into a little bit of trouble this week. I said, 'Steve, welcome to the world of politics!" Trump told the crowd at his Southhampton Ross hosted, according to the New York Post.

For Lorenz, it's about demanding transparency. “I hope designers and leaders in this industry would find the strength to speak out,” she explains to Refinery29. “The problem is people are so shackled by their investors and partners that one cannot speak unless they are in line with their beliefs. There is too much at stake to stay silent.”

A Trump affiliation is now arguably more than a political stance or Right-vs.-Left preference, because his policies are becoming a human rights issue. “People will be scrutinized on both sides because this is such a divisive political time,” Lorenz further explains. “But only one [CFDA board member] thus far opened their home to the most dangerous president in history, but did so with the intention of raising 12 million dollars to continue this nightmare in 2020.”

When Refinery29 reached out to the CFDA for comment on the matter, a spokesperson for the council sent the statement below from Steven Kolb (that was previously given to WWD):

“We are sorry that Dana Lorenz has made the decision to leave the CFDA. As a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization in the United States, the CFDA does not participate in political campaigns and is legally restricted to do so. As ever, through its nearly 500 members and countless programs, the CFDA remains steadfastly committed to diversity and inclusion, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, fair immigration policy and sustainability in the fashion industry. The organization does not discriminate by race, gender, religion or political affiliation.”

But is the CFDA truly able to reach the goals mentioned in its statement with Ross on its board? The mission statement atop of the CFDA's about page reads: “Our mission to strengthen the impact of American fashion in the global economy.” Ross is helping to re-elect Trump, a man who is prepared for an all-out trade war. In March 2018, President Trump threatened to move forward with his plan to implement tariffs, or taxes, on steel and aluminum. As a response, the European Union is threatening to tax some 10 pages full of American-made products including cigarettes, lipstick, and jeans. The latter isn’t even one of America’s biggest exports.

Last year, when the EU responded to Trump, Matt Gold, adjunct professor of law at Fordham University and a former U.S. trade official under President Barack Obama, told GQ that he thought the EU’s decision to tax a brand like Levi’s is a strategic move, one that's more for political gain than financial. As he put it, the brand resonates with “rugged individualist Americans in rural areas, which are in turn associated with Trump’s constituents.” What’s more American than a pair of blue jeans?

At the time this story was published, the CFDA had yet to respond to Lorenz. We’ve reached out to Kara Ross for comment and will update this story if/when we hear back.

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