A little over a year ago, I found myself, like many others across the globe, jobless, with no clear vision of when or how I would work again. The instructions were simple: Stay at home and only leave for the vital essentials. The thought of a break from the hustle and bustle of my professional life initially felt like a great idea. The isolation and solitude provided the rare chance to sit with myself and reflect on what I was contributing to society through my work. Soon this proved to be a daunting task, because although there were many accomplishments to be proud of, there were also several areas that needed improvement.
Similarly, a slow tempo allowed me to reflect on the work done by my peers and the fashion industry overall. As it went through periods of hiatus, the industry status quo, structures and models of work that we had come to take for granted were suddenly seen in a new light; for me, this was truly illuminating and I knew this would be a point of no return. In a time where we all could allow ourselves to slow down and pay attention, our eyes inevitably opened even more to injustice, systemic racism, underrepresentation, and vulnerability that people of color and minorities still endure.
Pushed by this reflective impetus, I went back to my academic roots. I started to write again, to address some pertinent issues pervading the fashion and entertainment industries. I spoke about my personal experiences within fashion and entertainment; I critically revisited moments when I had been exposed to microaggressions and contacted the individuals who had inflicted them. My purpose, whilst I had a rare captive audience, was to hold people accountable for their actions and give them the opportunity and space to do better.
THE MANY FACES OF CHANGE
Immediately following the gruesome death of George Floyd, black squares started littering all my social feeds. I was surprised by many of the corporations and brands that vowed their solidarity in support of the #BLM movement, because this support for the most part, although called out many times before, had never been a priority for these institutions. This was PR at its best — the type of campaign content that works well on so many occasions. Many of us, however, saw right through the smoke and mirrors of it all. At first glance, this unanimous show of support created the impression that minority voices, Black voices, were finally being heard. A quick look deeper beneath the surface of these politically charged posts and it was clear that reality did not correspond to the rhetoric.
The same institutions claiming to be inclusive either lacked entirely top-level minority staff, or had no pre-established relationships with Black talent or the artists responsible for creating their image. Allyship, community, rallying behind the struggles of minorities were thus largely performative acts.
A truly leveled playing field requires relinquishing of power, releasing of space, so that disenfranchised minorities may find a way to gain agency. Nominally supporting minorities but maintaining the status quo that generated their powerlessness is essentially an empty gesture. Sadly, it’s a route many have chosen to take, the easy way out; the having and eating of the proverbial cake.
As the dust is settling on all the empowering movements backing and supporting minorities, it’s becoming very clear whose efforts are truly supporting the cause for the foreseeable future, and whose are tokenistic and performative. Coming to terms with this is not easy, and it requires honesty and openness. It is by no means an overnight fix, but seeds of progress must be planted now.
A NEW NOW
As the world slowly began to open back up and remote styling gigs became a new work model, I returned to my career on my own terms. I could no longer stand idly and continue to work in the old ways of doing things; the point of no return had been left behind.
There was a moment where I wanted to hang up the styling kit and go back to being a perennial student; studying for a doctorate degree became something I strongly considered, because I wasn’t sure how I could continue to work and be a part of an industry that often thrives on and benefits from all the things I firmly stand against — racism, sexism, ageism, all of the -isms that distance us from what it means to be human.
Thankfully, 2020 brought me the opportunity to partner with fellow stylist Sarah Edmiston, whose work ethos and moral outlook match my own. It was clear to me that Sarah’s approach to styling and the relationships she builds with clients complement my vision of what our work should entail. Our partnership is built on a dedication to dismantle the power hierarchies that our industry inherited, and to contribute to the design of more diverse, inclusive, and sustainable formats within the fashion world.
However, it is incredibly tough constantly beating the drum for diversity, inclusion and equal representation; consistently challenging the status quo and those at the top. The fashion and entertainment industries have a way of sucking you into their vortex; they operate their own morality that oftentimes normalizes and condones destructive activity and behavior. Yet it is through the work that we do every day that the world changes. And change can indeed be seen, as forward-thinking and dynamic agencies with young leadership start to shift the ecosystem.
Amber Muotto, who is the founder of AMPR, based in London, is an example of someone pivoting what the role of a publicist looks like today. As a Black publicist Muotto noted, “I was always interested in personal PR, but it wasn’t always that accessible. There aren’t any Black publicists in the film and entertainment spaces in the U.K. There was no one for me to look up to, someone with a similar journey.”
Muotto, whose clients include Bukky Bakray and Kosar Ali, both actresses who created buzz after the film they starred in, “Rocks,” was nominated across several categories for this year’s BAFTAs, believes change in the PR space should start with the hiring of more Black publicists at the junior level, who can then progress into senior level positions. “It’s important to have a diverse team with different points of view so that you’re tuned into the wider conversation of the world. It’s time that we implement new models of communication, and overall dismantle and rethink the way the industry operates,” Muotto said.
So, what is the takeaway? How has a year of global insecurity, vulnerability, and crucial systemic shifts impacted my trajectory as a stylist? I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that first and foremost it is my trajectory as a human being that has been dramatically impacted — and isn’t it there, at the core of what makes us human, that we find the drive for solidarity, the strength for a good fight, and the love for one another that will actually make the world a better place?