"Unfortunately, the way we have practiced diversity in the past has been through a "White gaze" that falls too close to ignorance," the fashion mogul wrote on Instagram. "After asking and listening to our team members, especially those who identify as BIPOC — I see that now."

By Hanna Flanagan
June 08, 2020 02:09 PM
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David Livingston/Getty

Reformation founder Yael Aflalo has apologized — and promised positive change — following accusations that her company perpetuates systematic racism and workplace discrimination.

On Sunday, Aflalo shared a statement on the LA-based sustainable fashion brand’s Instagram account, admitting that she has not treated members of the Reformation community equally and approached the concept of diversity through a “white gaze” since founding the millennial-loved label in 2009.

“I’ve failed,” the fashion mogul captioned the six-slide post, which comes amid nation-wide protests and social unrest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota police officer.

"I am so angry at myself for not seeing it sooner,” Aflalo wrote, adding that Reformation will leverage its large platform to speak out against racial injustice moving forward.

“I was not a very good leader when it came to our team, which is why I stepped back two years ago,” Aflalo, who is now the Chief Executive Officer while Hali Borenstein acts as President, said. “When former team members make accusations that I ignored them in the past, I know that is the truth. 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," she said. "The new leaders at Reformation are smart, supportive, caring individuals. They don’t deserve your criticism, I do."

Aflalo’s statement is a response to accusations that started circulating around social media last week, including several from Elle Satiago, former assistant manager of the Reformation flagship store in New York City’s Soho neighborhood.

The former Reformation employee was quick to call out the brand after it publicly showed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, announcing donations to organizations like the NAACP and Black Visions Collective in an Instagram post on May 31.

“Working for Reformation deeply traumatized me,” Santiago wrote in the comment section. “Being overlooked and under valued as a woman of color who worked & managed their flagship store for 3 years was the hardest.”

She continued, “I cried many times knowing the color of my skin would get me no where in this company. Yael never looked at me. She would walk pass 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 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," Santiago said. "And i said if you're asking this 2yrs after I left, than the answer was and will always be no. This story goes deeper and Ive always been afraid to tell it. But no more fear from me.”

Reformation did not immediately responded to PEOPLE's request for further comment.

The comment sparked outrage online, with many social media users slamming Reformation and encouraging Santiago to share her full story — a week later, she did exactly that.

On Friday, Santiago shared a lengthy statement on her personal Instagram account detailing her experience at Reformation (after declining Borenstein’s request to speak over the phone) explaining, “we all deserve better than what we have been given and it is only up to us to refuse anything less than the respect, recognition and retribution we are owed" in the caption.

In the post, Santiago accused Reformation of hiring white women to fill senior positions instead of promoting her from assistant manager (despite her work ethic and tenure with the brand). Santiago added, “To this day you have [People of Color] workers working important titles you refuse to let them actually have.”

She went on to call out Aflalo directly, saying that if the brand wants to implement real change, it should start with the founder: “[Aflalo’s] mentality is why the leadership table at Ref has always looked like it has and has always treated Black & non-Black POC the way it has,” she wrote. “Systematic racism.”

Santiago also claimed that the Reformation founder said “we’re not ready for that yet” when given the option to cast Black models. And when Philando Castile, a Black cafeteria worker, was fatally shot during a traffic stop by Minnesota police in summer 2016, Santiago recalled a lack of sympathy from her white counterparts.

“You didn’t care then,” she wrote. “Many of you still sitting at that big table right now were sitting there then and did nothing.”

Santiago's detailed account of her experience as a Reformation employee has since gone viral, amassing more than 56,000 likes and attracting the attention of fashion watchdog Diet Prada.

The popular Instagram account shared Santiago's post, along with other screenshots and videos pointing to discrimination within the company.

"Sounds like it’s time for @Reformation to make some reparations," Diet Prada captioned the post. "The LA-based cult fave brand for “cool girls” has been put on blast by a former employee for a racist corporate culture... Her story is an all-too-common example of the direct and indirect racism POC face at the workplace, especially in the fashion industry."

Diet Prada was also able to verify one of Santiago's concerning claims by digging up an old screenshot — current VP of Wholesale Elana Rosenblatt posted a photo of her and a friend eating fried chicken in 2014 with the caption, “Happy black history month!!” several years ago.

"It caused a scandal, yet the woman involved has since been promoted to VP of wholesale," Diet Prada said alongside the Instagram screenshot. According to multiple reports, Rosenblatt publicly apologized on Facebook a few days after posting the racially insensitive photo.

In her apology note, Aflalo said that Reformation has spent the past week listening to team members and announced it is launching an independent investigation into "workplace concerns that have been raised."

The brand launched a Diversity and Inclusion Board composed of employees and external advisors and plans to update its quarterly Sustainability Report to include "goals and metrics on diversity and inclusion."

Aflalo also promised that Reformation will partner with more Black creatives and announced that she will personally donate $500,000 to organizations fighting racial injustice.

Many Reformation customers seem hesitant to accept Aflalo's apology in the comment section, with some even calling for the fashion industry to "cancel" the brand. While others appreciate Reformation's new commitment to diversity, but asked for transparency on progress in the coming months.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

•Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

•National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.