Lori Spicer Robertson: “Equity is recognizing everyone didn't start in the same place.” (Courtesy photo)

by Jennifer L. Sharp —

Luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue has named Memphian Lori Spicer Robertson as its first vice president of diversity and inclusion. Robertson will be responsible for creating and leading strategic initiatives that foster a culture of equity, diversity and inclusion.

Robertson plans to spend time listening to employees, customers and partners before taking on the task of creating a strategy that aligns with the overall business goals and an action plan.

The mainstream fashion industry has been widely criticized for its lack of diversity and underrepresentation of designers and models of color. In an email exchange, Robertson said that is an issue she is prepared to take on.

“I hope to foster a more diverse workforce; establish a workplace where all employees are seen, heard and valued; institute a space where Black and Brown designers become mainstream with our brand; develop cutting-edge ways to be more equitable and inclusive in luxury fashion; and create a marketplace where underrepresented and gender fluid designers/creatives are synonymous with our brand, and have an active footprint in the communities where our company is located,” Robertson wrote.

Fashion designers and retailers, which have struggled to reflect the country’s growing diversity, have made a number of very public cultural missteps in recent years.

Gucci and Katy Perry’s fashion line had to pull products from shelves after critics claimed they resembled blackface. In Gucci’s case, it was $890 turtleneck sweater designed to be pulled up over the face; the black collar had large red lips.

Perry’s line pulled two types of shoes, both featuring protruding eyes, nose and lips.

Gucci’s very public cultural misstep was an $890 turtleneck sweater.

Five months after the outcry, Gucci hired Black executive Renée Tirado, an attorney, to head its global office of diversity, equity and inclusion. In July, Tirado announced she had resigned her full-time position at Gucci but would continue to work with the Italian luxury brand as a consultant.

Saks has joined in the march toward inclusion. Honored, humbled and grateful to venture into this unexpected opportunity, Robertson has both a personal and professional passion for diversity and inclusion, which enables her to champion underrepresented voices and monitor how customers are treated.

“Diversity is celebrating the unique differences and similarities in individuals from varying backgrounds, ages, races, religion, socioeconomic status, etc.; equity is recognizing everyone didn’t start in the same place, but actively creating and sustaining a system that gives them the right resources to propel forward; and inclusion is making everyone feel valued with a genuine sense of connection to your purpose and brand,” she explained.

Robertson will not be required to relocate, so she and her family will remain in Memphis as she transitions into this new role, with some travel once the pandemic is under control. “My husband and I are so entrenched in seeing Memphis thrive that it was important to have that level of flexibility,” she said.

At Saks, Robertson reports to Sarah Garber, Saks’ chief people officer, who told WWD.com, a global fashion authority, this was “a pivotal time for driving change.”

“We have been focused on expanding our diversity and inclusion initiatives at Saks Fifth Avenue, which includes developing the right strategies for each function of our business so that D&I is threaded throughout the entire company,” Garber said in a statement.

“Lori’s leadership and deep expertise in the Diversity and Inclusion space across a number of sectors will help accelerate this work to ensure we’re creating a culture of equity, diversity and inclusion for all of our associates, customers and partners. This is a pivotal time for driving change.”

Robertson, who had been serving as the chief communications and engagement officer of the United Way of the Mid-South, has worked in Memphis to expand economic, social and cultural opportunities throughout the city.

Her latest project, Wundher, is a “community for renaissance women and moms” that seeks to build connections and empower women.

In February 2013, she chaired the inaugural Modern Day Women’s Conference for the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, attended by over 150 women. She also has hosted the citywide Memphis Prom Closet, which offers financially challenged teenage girls a chance to get a dress and attend prom. Additionally, she launched Brown Girl Dreams, a self-awareness program that she developed for high school girls that aims to increase self-esteem, promote leadership skills and cultivate volunteerism in our youth through programming and community service.

In addition to community work, Robertson has held positions at the Greater Memphis Chamber, Regional One Health, and First Horizon.