Every time I opened the conversation about my experience — as a young black African woman — in the [French] Fashion scene, I was often scared to sound like a militant, when it actually is the single expression of my point of view, as a person of color in a very elitist industry.
When reading an excerpt of my first article to a friend last week, sharing his thoughts on the piece, he said he could tell hands down I wrote it, as combining Digital, Commerce and, of course, Diversity : topics that all play a key part in the spectrum I see things through when it comes to fashion, diversity being first.
It is honest to say where a white editor will solely [have to] focus on the details, styling and wearability of a collection, I would — also — pay attention to the bigger picture ; counting the number of black girls who would have made the cut, analyzing the campaign, and approaching things with a marketing aspect ; as with the ongoing debate about a more realistic representation, I am always trying to find out if I am also perceived and considered as a potential customer beyond my fashionable editor status.
Last fall, after conducting focus groups with over 3000 women from diverse backgrounds, Dr Ben Barry, an associate professor of equity, diversity and inclusion at Ryerson University School of Fashion, stated in an Op-ed that his latest survey resulted on a statement from Black women « being more likely to purchase a fashion product advertised by a black model, and subsequently feeling connected and inspired to celebrate their beauty by shopping from that brand ».
Not that we would all run towards the latest it-bag only because it is modeled by Liya or Jourdan, but when for so long labels mainly addressed the global market with caucasian models, it only makes sense for diversity to have some kind of measurable impact on the sales in fashion advertising — and content.
When I launched my first magazine [Ghubar] seven years ago, my purpose was to showcase what all the publications I used to purchase were lacking of at that time, and the most difficult part was for a world who likes to put everything and everyone in boxes, to understand and accept, that being black, I could and was doing something that would not only include, but represent everyone.
“Making it” in the fashion industry with an online platform and succeeding in working with luxury brands, then implied showing diversity through my digital pages — but [their] way.
And after hearing many « it’s not diverse enough » for a magazine that was showcasing Arabic, Asian, Black and Caucasian beauty [hashtag Real Diversity], I stopped fighting to include people that weren’t willing to include me at the first place.
Ironic much, the Internet shook the dynamic, and brands and publications had to face the rising voices of the minorities they had long ignored ; this unknown and untapped market that could potentially buy.
Everything revolving around the business, the question then was : how do we sell [to them]?
Where a translator can fail, a language native never does, so what is best than including someone who speaks, and reflects the market you want to tap into?
Until not so long ago, from beauty to fashion pages, things were for long one-sided, leading for that matter to several editorial incidents that could have been avoided.
And at times when the virality of a color-related-gate is costly and image-damaging, where white editors would likely miss the mark on specific or potentially sensitive subjects revolving around color, black editors don’t, because before diversity even became a topic, we had to do and work with the only point of view things were always seen from — knowing by default there was more.
When given a spot on a visible platform, a black editor is just an editor to the eyes of the one who doesn’t see color through the pen – but a voice to the community that rallies behind ; it is the beginning of a conversation, an invitation for a larger audience to the depths of a misunderstood culture and aesthetic, but also the regulation of a monochromatic landscape having hard time to draw the line between inspiration and cultural appropriation, comparison and offense, statement and knowledge.
For the ones who choose and are allowed to freely express their point of view and raise awareness, comes a certain sense of duty to also push their peers — black designers, black models, and black culture — to the eyes of the world, at the expense sometimes, of a little fight.
Supported by the expansion of streetstyle and social media, the worldwide exposure of black fashion insiders also propelled some of them to the rank of style icons, and inspiration to a younger crowd who more than before dreams a job they fancy only the best part. A status the publications they work for are well aware of, and know how to capitalize on.
As a witness of this ever fascinating show, I have processed that in an industry that has been successfully running for decades setting its own rules and participants, newcomers have to bring something to the table that will consequently benefit the play, and the latest to arrive, offer something appealing to make it bigger — and better.
And far from being reduced to a single voice for a market, or a door for a new customer, the black editor is the voice that resonates within heads with the feeling of hearing their own, and seeing themselves where before him, or her, they didn’t ; let’s call it empowerment.