Fashion Industry Lends Voice to High-Skilled Immigration Debate

As the Trump administration tightens rules around H-1B visas, voices outside the technology sector are helping to boost discussion around the issue. The Council of Fashion Designers of America—whose longtime president is an immigrant, a well-known celebrity, and an American success story—is the latest to speak up.

Technology is driving much of the conversation around H-1B visa policies under the Trump administration, but an industry group from a completely different world—the world of fashion—has some thoughts on the issue, too.

And the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which is lending its advocacy voice to the issue, has a name speaking up that’s just as big as the Mark Zuckerbergs and Elon Musks of the world: Diane von Furstenberg, a Belgian immigrant who is not only one of the world’s foremost authorities on fashion but also CFDA’s president.

Taking part in an event Monday led by CFDA and the Zuckerberg-backed immigration advocacy group FWD.us, von Furstenberg told her story of how she came to the United States and built a successful American company.

The event featured research from the two groups [PDF] on immigration and how recent changes affect the fashion industry—particularly the desire to gain access to talented employees, to retain them, and to simplify the process of working through the modern-day immigration system.

Of course, von Furstenberg is a shining example of what’s possible when everything clicks. While some of the elements of her story are unique—she came to the United States after divorcing Prince Egon of Furstenberg, a member of a prominent German noble family—she nonetheless found success in the United States on her own terms after popularizing the wrap dress in the 1970s.

“I left Europe and arrived in New York with a baby in my belly and a suitcase full of little dresses made in Italy. With these dresses, I lived an American dream,“ she said at the event, according to Vanity Fair. “Young people from all over the world come to America in search of those same opportunities, and young people with limitless talent and potential will continue building and innovating in our industry as long as we put in place immigration policies that allow the U.S. to remain a magnet for them.”

CFDA CEO Steven Kolb noted that when high-skilled immigrants like von Furstenberg are allowed to work in the United States, they often help create jobs.

“If the United States wants to lead the world in fashion innovation, we need immigration policies that embrace the talented foreigners who come here to build and grow,” Kolb said, according to Footwear News.

The event featured a variety of voices making the case for a robust immigration policy—including New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, FWD.us President Todd Schulte, and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Each helped double down on the importance of immigration to fashion.

“Immigrants have been the heart of our industry—they have built the largest fashion houses in America,” von Furstenberg said, according to Footwear News. “… Just listen to the mosaic of languages in showrooms and backstage at fashion shows: Immigrants are American fashion.”

(David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!