In late July, Tirado was hired by Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzarri to be the global head of diversity, equity, and inclusion, a first-time appointment in the brand’s 98-year history. The position was created as part of a company-wide initiative that Bizzarri first put into action in January 2019 and then in February, after Gucci came under fire for producing a balaclava sweater that shoppers claimed to resemble blackface. Someone tweeted the image, called out the brand, and the controversy went viral. The company subsequently issued an apology and pulled the sweater off the market. Then in March Bizzarri announced a new programme called Gucci Changemakers, which includes an internal volunteering initiative to help get Gucci employees into their local communities, a scholarship programme, and a grant programme for community non-profits. All of this is overseen by a Changemakers council, which Tirado is leading.
“I am one of very few people in the diversity, equity, and inclusion discipline that is directly reporting to the CEO of the company,” Tirado says. “Some companies have had diversity and inclusion departments for 10, 15 years, but more often than not, this department is sitting in another space, in another building.” She adds, “The fact that Marco said, ‘No, no, you are going to report to me,’ I mean, that’s a game-changing conversation for diversity, equity, and inclusion. He wants me engaged, he wants me at the table.”
Tirado says Bizzarri wanted her precisely because she had absolutely nothing to do with the fashion industry. She grew up in Brooklyn’s Gowanus projects to Puerto Rican parents, graduated from Rutgers University School of Law, and practiced intellectual property law in Harlem before going to work at AIG and the male-dominated Major League Baseball corporation. While at MLB, Tirado was charged with launching the Take The Field initiative, which helped women seek out operational positions as coaches, umpires, and scouts. “Marco said to me, ‘I need you because you’re not in fashion, you’re an outside thinker and I need a different perspective in the room.’”
Tirado says, “I didn’t always feel like Gucci spoke to me personally when I was just a casual consumer. Before Alessandro Michele, the house’s creative director, and Marco were hired, Gucci was something you wanted to have aspirationally, but sometimes it was hard because you didn’t always see yourself reflected in the stores or the advertisements.” Now she sees Gucci as a leader around the issues of diversity and inclusion. “They hired Dapper Dan [after Michele was accused of copying the Harlem designer], they gave him a bigger platform to create. They responded immediately and pulled the blackface sweater. They’ve been inclusive on their runways and they’ve redefined the parameters of beauty.”
That said, Tirado insists, “there’s still work to do; there’s always work to do.” She’s eager to put strategies in place to better ensure that the Changemaker money is being allocated with real, lasting purpose and that more investment, both financially and in terms of corporate culture, is provided to create forward-thinking shifts at Gucci and in the communities that are influenced by the brand.
Today, in fact, Gucci has announced that it is now accepting applications for the scholarship and grant programmes, which are open to all eligible students within (or applying to) a four-year university or college in the United States. Gucci has pledged to distribute $1.5 million (£1.2 million) over four years across two programmes specifically: the Gucci Changemakers Scholars and Gucci Changemakers x CFDA Scholars by Design. In addition to the scholarships, Gucci Changemakers is also calling on non-profits to apply for the Impact Fund, which will award grant funding to community-based organisations focused on social justice and equity, arts and culture, and education.
Internally, Tirado says, “I would love to see some more developmental opportunities for the talent we already have here.” She added, “You’d be surprised at how diverse Gucci already is, but like a lot of companies, as you go up the food chain, the diversity kind of drops off. That’s not unique to Gucci, that’s across the board. So what I would like to see – no, not what I’d like to see, what I’d like to develop and invest in, is really figuring out how do we assess the talent we already have, invest in them appropriately, and provide a real developmental track and treat them like the future leaders of the company?”
Tirado wants to encourage Gucci employees from the retail level on up to work towards a high-powered, high-paying job within the company. “I say fish where the fish are,” she says. “And we have a pretty full pond right here, we just have to look at how we’re defining and assessing talent, and sometimes we have to get out of our own way. We tend to lean into what we know and what’s familiar to us, and we’re always moving so quickly. I think it’s a matter of slowing down to speed up.” One of her first tasks is to hone in on strategies across the markets that Gucci has a presence in, namely Asia, which is an entirely new challenge for her as a diversity, equity, and inclusion professional. Her work at AIG and MLB was mostly domestic and sometimes based in Europe. “We need to see how we can help the brand stay relevant as our consumers are changing. We have to make sure that we’re speaking to those communities both actualised and those that are potential future buyers, so that we make sure Gucci stays here for another 100 years.”
The photographer at the August photo shoot is Richie Shazam Khan. She is a queer model, designer, photographer, and self-made Renaissance woman who is Guyanese and grew up in Queens. As Khan worked behind the lens, she and Tirado talked about how much New York has changed and the constraints that a surge of incoming wealth has put on the indie arts and design communities that foster young creatives. Khan went from studying art history and international relations (Tirado studied the latter too as an undergrad) to building up a name for herself as a fashion star and activist on social media, walking the runway for Vivienne Westwood, shooting for Vogue and other major publications and, most recently, appearing in Rihanna’s epic Savage X Fenty lingerie show. American Dream realised? It’s the kind of success story that Tirado wants to replicate within the logoed halls of Gucci.