Not too long ago I went out to dinner with a girlfriend, we got chatting over starters, catching up on what we had both been doing. The conversation then turned to business, in particular how was my work in the arena of fashion?
I replied “getting there, one stitch at a time” to which we both laughed, I then said “I am still learning that when you are running a business, especially in fashion, it bears no semblance to the theories I’ve read of running a business”
My friend then asked ‘do I think its a good idea to have black models on my website, along with pictures of myself, don’t I think I am alienating some of my audience’?
OK, so I know for some of you reading this, who knows me, you may be thinking, this is incredulous right? Did I leap across the table and force her to eat a piece of garlic bread, or try and put the garnish in her ears, aren’t I offended?!
“No” – why not? Because my friend is one of the loveliest people I know, I also knew there was no malice or ill intent from the conversation. What was disturbing is that my friend, whilst we are from different cultures, we are both daughters of immigrants whose parents came from their respective countries in the late 50’s to England.
I had to dig deeper to learn the thinking behind this, as well as being mindful what I ate, I didn’t want to choke on what she would say next, as I played the detective for fashion’s social consciousness (yes, I just made that title up, it has a nice ring to it), anyway…
I then asked “what you said, is that something you actually believe; that my background and colour is a hindrance to my career as a fashion designer”?
To which she replied “but isn’t that what the fashion industry says, I mean how many black female designers of your calibre are there in the UK, they don’t represent you”?
OK, so to some extent she had a point; I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have read from renown fashion magazines ‘as soon as we put the face of a black woman on the cover of our magazines, our sales plummet’ wow! I thought that the people who were buying the magazines were doing so for the fashion (hence the industry title), alongside the thought provoking articles for female empowerment. The sisterhood of women, which they claim we are all a part of; that being said what does it say about their target audience, aren’t you now insulting those whose loyalty is based on the article content for which they buy the magazines and not the cover?
How therefore can we talk about equality, women supporting women, and yet pay only lip service to diversity?
I know my fashion is not for everybody, it’s not meant to be, I design and make small collections of ready to wear one-of-a-kind pieces and bespoke, no world fashion domination going on here. That’s why the saying ‘variety is the spice of life’ makes so much sense. There is a huge array of male and female designers of colour who are vastly under-represented here in the UK; I know of a few renowned male fashion designers, however for women I can’t say the same thing, why is that?!
So why did I choose to write this article?
- Firstly, to deny who I am, is to deny two of the greatest people I have the privilege and blessing to know, and share this planet with, my mum and dad. They were both born in Jamaica and proud of the fact; as with all of the West Indian islands, these countries have landscapes that celebrates the colour of nature, sunsets and sunrises, that even with the best camera you still can’t capture the word ‘breathtaking’.
- Secondly, March 8th 2017 is International Women’s Day, a celebration for women throughout the world, hence the word ‘international’. If we are not going to support each other, especially in an industry that is female dominated, we can’t complain when others do the same!
- Thirdly, and you may think this one a bit strange, there’s the amazing people I have come into conversation with on Instagram. Through this social media platform, which I tentatively dipped my toe into, a small following of individuals from all walks of life celebrate Coral Turner Couture; they give thumbs up and likes for the content, the fashion images, and photos of models and clients who also come from varying backgrounds.
- Finally, last but not least, my dear friend who started the conversation; I thank her for having the boldness of heart to share with me her mindset, based on her understanding of the fashion industry.
We have a duty to make the most of our talents and choices, yes there will be those that fall by the wayside, I totally understand that. For my last photo-shoot there were 4 models booked but only 2 showed up, it was their ability to model the garments, injecting some fun and life into the clothes which was the criteria, and not the colour of their skin.
Ralph Waldo Emerson says “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment” as I see it we are either part of the solution, or part of the problem, it’s up to us to decide which.
That said, it’s time I get back to my sewing machine, I’ve got dresses to make http://www.coralturner.com.