Smashing an Ace at the Ace Hotel. An Op-Ed by Fiona Carter
True to Fashion Roundtable’s style, their first workshop on Fashion Politics and Empowerment was presented on the 7th floor of London’s fashionable Ace Hotel surrounded by spectacular vistas of the city.
Eunice Olumide MBE, opens the event, a stunning black model starts to speak and I am captivated by her clear warm voice, and more specifically her strong identifying accent, Scottish. From a visual perspective she clearly is of African origin but from her voice there is no escape she is as much a Scot as a black woman. For Eunice, this unusual mix made her feel the outsider until she was discovered at the age of 15 to become a model – something she did not think of as a ‘proper job’ at the time.
Tamara Cincik, Fashion Roundtable’s CEO probes her more on this. Eunice explained that she felt unattractive after being rejected in multiple castings, until a casting in Paris where she was told she was ‘beautiful just too dark for this campaign’. This was a great boost to her self-esteem as she realised she was not the right look for the brand, rather than her being unattractive. Her experience in modelling and in life led her to formulate a view that we are born perfect, and then learn to discriminate. She exemplified this when confronted by an EDL member who told her “you are black pretty and bright, I’ve not seen that before”. The situation would be offensive for some, but she believed she had changed their biased preconceptions about what a young black women should be.
Seeking to understand her own history, Eunice studied an MA on colonialism, which overlooked the fact that black cultures had royalty and equality long before slavery. Using her public persona and her curiosity in the power and influence of the media, Eunice encourages open discussion and clearer communication between opposing groups to strengthen understanding and integration.
The Q&A with Eunice was followed by Navjot Lehl, the first speaker of the Workshop. Nav has been working for the Think Tank UK in A Changing Europe since 2015, specialising in all things Brexit. In uncomplicated language she gave insight to the twists, turns, nuances and peculiarities of British politics and Brexit. The week was a very eventful one for Brexit, and Nav noted that her presentation was very different to the one she had planned at the beginning of the week, referring to the familiar quote ‘a week is a long time in politics’.
In a very hard nutshell, the Prime Minister is in power with a small majority, which has been eroded away during the Brexit process to the point where she is in office but no longer has power in the House or within her party. This is evidenced by the introduction of Indicative Votes, which had not been seen for centuries, and show just how divided the country is. The uncomfortable truth at this point is: a No Deal situation is likely, and a 2nd extension unlikely. Reiterating the speed of how things change, this position has now changed since last week with Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May now in negotiations, we are all keeping our fingers crossed!
Around the tables workshop conversations were prompted by Tamara, Nav and Rafealla as to what the impact of Brexit might have on us individually or professionally. Needless to say there was not much optimism and a lot of concern over how to adapt to the fallout when it happens. A young model on my table expressed concern that she would not be able to travel freely across Europe, for work in the way she has done.
Time was tight so conversations were curtailed so that we could get through the packed program, but we had a chance to continue our discussions with a drink or snack at the Rooftop bar during the break.
Policy is a familiar word but its understanding and interpretation can be nebulous. The soft Brazilian tones of Rafaella de Freitas, policy research assistant at Fashion Roundtable, explained what it is and how it impacts us. Simple things like confectionary and free plastic bags being removed from Supermarket checkouts were enforced by government through effective policy.
The EU and UN are major policy makers for workers’ rights, conditions, diversity, equality in the workplace and sustainability. Both these organisations were created after WWII for peace and trade in both Europe and the globe respectively. Once again through workshop discussion our views were garnered as to how we view our relationship with EU and UN, our perceptions and beliefs of both. Some felt closer and more aligned to the EU, whereas the UN was more distant, more of a peacemaker than economic partner.
Tamara’s presentation was full of well-researched facts and statistics. The McGregor Smith study exposed the problem of gender pay gaps particularly for women in art and design as well as representation of BAME. It only emphasised the need for further research to encourage change for better representation and policy. If your name is David, Ian, Mark or Andrew you are 5 times more likely to be in a position of leadership than a woman. Asked “What are we going to do about it?” stimulated discussions on many of these issues. Some of the key points raised were changes to standard 9 to 5 working hours to support parents and that your salary should reflect your value and worth regardless of gender.
The workshop closed with Sara Ali, Fashion Roundtable’s Luxury Business Expert. Sara gave her best tips for dressing professionally and comfortably, and emphasised the importance of understanding how our public persona is different from our personal one. Sara gave us guidance on how to feel comfortable in new and challenging situations with fashion: when we enter a new professional situation how do we deal with feeling an imposter and overcome that? Tips like wearing one colour head-to-toe gives authority, wearing one statement piece of jewellery not to be too distracting and Blue Eye Dew drops enhance the white of your eyes so you look and feel your best. We also looked at how culture, religion, politics, and values are all intertwined through what we wear. When Jacinda Ardern, NZ PM wore a head scarf it was a clear but powerful non-verbal message showing respect for Muslims in the wake of the recent anti-Islamic attacks, and encompasses all these points.
With a better understanding of what is going on in the political landscape and how that impacts our personal and professional lives, we left with tools to increase our agency and feel more empowered, via policy and via fashion. #FrontRowtoFrontBench is Fashion Roundtable’s rallying cry for the fashion industry to be heard seen and properly represented. So get involved through following on social media, attending events and signing up for their regular newsletters.