Tapestry CEO Jide Zeitlin Says 'We Can Replace Windows, But We Cannot Bring Back George Floyd'
The CEO of Tapestry (which owns Kate Spade New York, Coach and Stuart Weitzman) shared a message about racial inequality and the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement in a letter to employees after stores were reportedly damaged during protests
Jide Zeitlin, the chairmain and CEO of Tapestry, the parent company to Kate Spade New York, Coach and Stuart Weitzman, stood in support of the Black Lives Matters movement in a powerful letter penned to the company.
As unrest continues to grow and protests occur in all 50 states throughout the country following the killing of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis on May 25 while in police custody, Zeitlin spoke out about racial inequality. "I sat down several times to write this letter, but stopped each time. My eyes welling up with tears. This is personal," the executive started the letter, which he also shared on his LinkedIn page. "Over this weekend, over this last week, over a lifetime punctuated by sweltering summers of discontent."
Zeitlin shared that during the Black Lives Matter protests, he received reports that company stores had been damaged in Bellevue, Washington, Charleston, South Carolina, New York City, San Francisco, Scottsdale, Arizona and Washington D.C. "My first thought was to our people," he said. "Thankfully all of our teams are safe."
Then, Zeitlin took a moment to think about the protesters who smashed their windows to take handbags, shoes and dresses. "What was going through their minds as they acted? Has our society truly left them with little to lose and few other ways to force the rest of us to come to the negotiating table?" he asked.
But in this moment, the stores and stolen merchandise aren't Zeitlin's biggest concern. "We can replace our windows and handbags, but we cannot bring back George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, and too many others. Each of these black lives matter," he wrote.
"Our three brands — Coach, Kate Spade, Stuart Weitzman — were each founded in New York City. They were formed in part by this city’s diversity," Zeitlin continued. "We understand that we are better together when different life experiences and perspectives allow us to develop ideas and products that none of us could have come up with on our own. What I’ve heard very clearly from so many of you is the visceral importance of inclusion to you. The belief that inclusion makes you better by allowing you to fully show up at work as yourself. And that inclusion makes us better as we tap into a greater depth of your experience and perspectives."
Now Zeitlin is working with the leadership team at Tapestry to ensure positive change is made. "Over this past week, leaders across our organization came together to think through how we can contribute to change. We are working through a plan that we look forward to sharing with you," he said.
"We want to convene a number of social justice, legal and corporate entities to formulate a longer-term plan for addressing systemic inequality. Inequality in health, economic opportunity, public safety and other sectors. We hope to join with government, but events of this past week make it clear that we cannot wait," he added.
The current state of the country reminded Zeitlin of a trip he took to apartheid South Africa in his early 20s where he witnessed racial discrimination and violence first-hand.
"This was three years before Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I went to join with a labor research group, hoping to bring my business training to the work of labor unions. I thought I could help them carve out a larger share of the economic pie for disenfranchised African workers, largely miners. A week after leaving Harvard’s beautifully manicured campus, I found myself in a church in Khayelitsha, a black township on the outskirts of Cape Town, where most homes were flimsy sheets of plastic stretched across stray pipes and drift wood," Zeitlin said.
He explained that what simply started as a political gathering quickly escalated when "the church was surrounded by armored vehicles, manned by teenage conscripts who in Afrikaans ordered us to break up." Zeitlin continued: "The orders, over bullhorns, turned into tear gas and eventually rubber bullets. The lessons learned that summer have remained with me for a lifetime."
Following last week's killing of Floyd in Minneapolis, protests against police brutality and systemic racism have occurred across the country. More than 30 major cities across all 50 states, including New York City, Los Angeles and Atlanta, have seen protests that erupted into violence and looting.
In the wake of George's death, his brother Terrence Floyd condemned the violence and looting in an interview on Good Morning America, saying it is "overshadowing what's going on."
"He was about peace, he was about unity," he said of George. "But the thing's that's transpiring now, yeah they may call it unity, but it's destructive unity. That's not what my brother was about."
"He would motivate you to channel — if you're angry it's okay to be angry — but channel your anger to do something positive or make a change another way," Terrence said. "We've been down this road already. He would want to seek justice the way we are, the way we're trying to do. But channel it another way. The anger, damaging your hometown, it's not the way he'd want."
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.