When you are evolving in the fashion industry, it comes a time when you assess what you’ve done so far, if your actions fit your principles and where you want to go from here. This reality-check can be hard to initiate and elaborate. However, at some point it feels like a necessity and I feel that – as many other creatives – I am at this stage. Perhaps the context we currently live in contributes to amplify this need. Whatever is the cause, pursue principles appear as indispensable.
So far, the fashion industry has shown me that it needs deep transformations to fit to my principles. Our path into this industry can be scattered by issues that we have to overcome in order to find our places in this strange and unstable dynamic. At the beginning of my relationship with fashion, the only memory that I have is the feeling of not being enough nor welcomed. The list of discriminative mechanisms I experienced in this industry is very long. Don’t get me wrong, I have a real fascination for the fashion industry, its social and cultural symbolisms and mechanisms. As any artistic or creative discipline, I do think fashion has a role to play in societies. It is not an indispensable needs, but it is wanted for clear and rational reasons. What I rather blame is the Western fashion system, that has spread around the world – as a norm or an ideal to pursue. Nothing is natural in that. Nor is interesting. It is a suffocating situation that I – as an Afro creative from the diaspora – have a hard time to deal with.
Little are the things I find right or aligned to my principles when I think about today’s fashion industry. Even though it would be easier to just forget about this, it won’t make my experience in the field any better. Numbness is rarely the answer, isn’t it? At the opposite of numbness is awareness. Connecting your heart to your mind can be a relevant way to evaluate if your actions align with your ethics. I cannot judge anyone that does not choose to follow this path. I am just saying, as an individual and according to my experiences, I cannot take this option.
Between tokenism, weird messages from editors and common microaggressions, the path of an Afro writer and trend researcher in the fashion industry can be filled with despair, loneliness and injustices. Consequences on your mental health and self-esteem can be irreversible. To the point where you just want to quit and isolate yourself on a farm to raise a flock of sheep and be auto-sufficient. I truly believe that not only Afro communities can relate to this feeling and experience. I am certain a lot of sub-groups can identify with this situation. The dominant and current model of the fashion industry has imposed a very selective standards to include in its narrative. As a result, the feeling of not being represented goes beyond social groups. This sentiment is intergenerational and common to different communities.
I believe our strength lies in this simple fact. We share the same feelings, so why not join our labour to make it fit our principles and ethics. I didn’t start in the industry by thinking like this. Like many of us, growing up in European society while having “foreign” heritage brought by our parents was a very challenging journey. The French culture has one way to approach the integration of non-white persons. Their goal is to totally inhibit and erase any external cultural behaviours, habits and beliefs by treating them as not valuable, primitive or any negative judgements. Hence, as the non-enlightened teen I was, I hardly tried to fit into the mass by doing what was asked: forget all my specificities and look at them as my flaws that desperately needed to disappear.
It worked for a time, but early in my 20s, the reality came back brutally to me. There was no way the actual western system would ever genuinely accept my position nor my community. The past few years just confirmed that we are not at the point where the traditional model will include us without asking for a sacrifice. Even though you are not aware of making a sacrifice, you are bending to their rules. Take tokenism for instance. One could feel accomplished or accepted by having the validation from western institutions. However, the reality is that the person doesn’t contribute to improving the well-being of the whole community by having this position. Some might say it is progress, but at the end of the day, the token will always be the only one. Such practices do not open gates, they just give the impression to be accessible through meticulous regulations.
In such a context, there is no way for us to blossom according to our terms and our principles. I stop believing that we need to get some sort of validation. On the contrary, we need to initiate our own structures in order to enable them to fit our ethics. It sort of refers to the “create your reality” philosophy. I don’t think by wasting time hoping to get accepted we will be able to improve our situation as a community. Hence, all the things we feel deeply lacking in the actual fashion system can be integrated through alternative collective actions and projects. The sum of actions will help shape the industry according to our intentions, principles and ethics. Moreover, it could allow the emergence of interesting approach to work. Although it can sound simple, it is a laborious journey. However, I’m always wondering what are we supposed to do if we are not trying to escape this toxic circle? What are we suppose to do if we are not trying to align the industry to our principles and realities?