Brown Girls In Fashion
Serendipity. Isn’t it a delightful word? Even phonetically, it sounds like something sweet. Last night I was watching Joseph Campbell And The Power Of Myth on Netflix. It was about the Heroes Journey and archetypes. Something that is closely linked to the work I do as a Brand Director. In his interview Joseph Campbell shared the etymology of the word serendipity. And it’s really something magical. Swarna Dweepa ('Svarnadvipa') is the original Sanskrit word (सुवर्णद्वीप), meaning the Golden Island, an old name for Ceylon or Sri Lanka as we now know it. Some trace the etymology of serendipity to Sanskrit 'Simhadvipa' which literally translates to 'Island of Lions'. The word was first introduced into the English language by Horace Walpole (1717-1797). He first used the word 'serendipity' in a letter dated 28th January 1754 to Horace Mann. Walpole said that he had formed the word from a Persian Fairy Tale called 'The Three Princes of Serendip'. The hero of the book was constantly making discoveries 'by accident and sagacity and chancing upon things they were not in quest of' and Warpole's word 'serendipity' entered the dictionary with this meaning.
I quite like the antics of semantics and I’m a fan of serendipity too. So, as all of November came and went and today on the last day of the month, things I’ve been thinking about when it comes to Style and Fashion and sima says all happily collided. First, I woke up to the news that Priyanka Chopra is the cover girl for US Vogue’s January 2019 issue. This delighted me to no end to know we would be starting the new year with an Indian woman gracing the most coveted cover of all fashion publications. It feels like a win for all South Asians in fashion.
”Be Whoever You Want”
- Priyanka Chopra
On the flip side of this fashion win, is a fashion loss. Today, November 30th 2018, a restraining order imposed by the Bangladesh high court comes into effect, forcing the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to close its Dhaka office. This means the ability to inspect thousands of factories supplying clothes for brand inclusive of but not limited to H&M, Primark and Esprit become grossly limited. In a nutshell, this means thousands of lives of South Asian Women who work below the living wage, is put at risk. Ejecting the Accord from Bangladesh puts 1450 covered in the agreement at risk for safety upgrades. The Accord is a safety agreement that was established after the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in 2013. With an estimated 1134 deaths resulting from the collapse, it has often been referred to as a ‘mass industrial homicide’. The government in Bangladesh said it’s time for the Accord to leave the country and it is ready and capable of self-regulating. One visit to the Instagram page of tells another story. Workers feel the Bangladesh Accord is directly linked to increase their level of safety and don’t feel confident these levels will be maintained if the Accord is kicked out of Dhaka today.
Over 200 brands signed the Accord agreement, but MANY well known brands did not. A list of the brands that didn’t sign the agreement can be found here. Where we win with Priyanka’s. cover - which will be released in December 2018 and on the stands for barely a month, we lose with the Accord being booted from Bangladesh.
I awoke this morning and saw both these pieces of news on my social feeds as a clear indicator that I must action something I’ve been thinking about since launching sima says. I receive a lot of messages via Instagram and this blog asking when I’ll be posting ‘style’ content. A fair question when I launch and say that ‘style’ is one of my four pillars for the blog.
As the months following the blog going live have passed and I’ve continued to skip any content around style, it’s because I have been seriously mulling over what content can I truly get behind which is aligned with my values NOW, not what they used to be or what people associate with me in my former career as a fashion stylist. It’s become crystal clear to me I want to focus on being part of making the fashion industry more sustainable and explore a more natural relationship with beauty as women age. This requires so much exploration, education, research and sitting down and learning. Mostly learning my own contributions to the mess and getting really comfortable with how uncomfortable that feels. Looking at my personal choices at many times seems like dismantling a bomb I’ve been living with for years. It’s tricky and complicated.
Beyond sustainability and figuring out why women are more than willing to put an average of 157 chemicals on our body daily (yep, no lie!) to pursue feeling and looking beautiful, healthy, vital, I’ve been looking at my own career. I am someone who has enjoyed a long and varied career in fashion yet I still don’t see brown girls in fashion being championed, celebrated, featured in the space. Not the way I see European beauty ideals being pushed into every space we look or how black girls who fiercely and beautifully are pushing their #blackgirlmagic front and centre. It got me thinking, is it something we are brought up with? So deeply ingrained into our being that we are an entire group of girls who are some of the worlds most talented, skilled, hard-working and beautiful humans yet still so grossly under-represented? I also went through my emails and started distilling who is writing and reaching out to me. A lot of South Asian girls are reaching out. Asking for help. Asking for a way to be seen and for their voices to be heard. As a Fijian Indian who never worked with or saw anyone who came from where I come from as I negotiated the tricky terrain of the fashion industry, which was absolutely terrifying, I am finally creating something for the brown girls. It is simply called Brown Girls In Fashion.
After years of travelling and attending hundreds of industry events from Fashion Week in London, New York, Milan and Paris, Cannes Film Festival, Cannes Lions, DeCoded, events at Facebook, Vogue, going to wellness events, women in business events, and women in the creative industries industries events - I still don’t see enough of the mega talented South Asian girls who are carving out their space in the fashion industry. And it seems neither do other South Asian girls. Be it as Stylists, Creative Directors, Art Directors, Editors, Brand Directors, Photographers, Producers, Illustrators, Data Scientists, PR, Designers, Product Designers, Founders, Account Managers, Consultants, Journalists, Content Creators, Makeup Artists, Moving Image Directors, DJ’s, Marketers or Makers of any and all kinds in fashion - in ONE space talking about the challenges, creating and sharing opportunities and championing & challenging collectively. As a South Asian girl, I know there are distinct challenges within the system that we face specifically. I also know that we face cultural challenges of how to speak to our families and go about pursuing our dreams. This is one aspect I was so fortunate never to have. It doesn’t mean I’m naive to the fact it exists and it’s HARD for so many of you. It’s what 50% of my DM’s from South Asian girls are about on Instagram. Regardless of what you’re doing or where you’re doing it - if you are a BROWN GIRL IN FASHION, let’s get to know each other. Let’s co-create a global community to have equal representation, equal opportunity and equal opportunity for the work we do in the industry we love. This has percolating within me for a couple of years and today - on the last day of November - the two key pieces of news of South Asians winning and losing in fashion - is what has prompted me on a packed and busy day - to officially launch BROWN GIRLS IN FASHION. A community open to anyone who identifies as female and is of South Asian heritage which is anyone from India, Pakistan, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan. If your roots go back to South Asia and you are working in the fashion industry, looking to work in the fashion industry but can’t figure out what or how, are working and slaying it, or are doing your own thing in the fashion industry - join me. I want to learn what challenges you’re facing, what walls you’re hitting, what fears you’re hiding, what work you’re excelling at, what milestones you’re reaching and the amazing work you’re doing. You can live anywhere on planet earth. Let’s action some positive change in the industry together. No more “brown girl, brown girl, turn your shit down”.
Joseph Campbell said “follow your bliss”. Creating a community for girls like me is my bliss. I’m open to learning you, sharing me and inviting you to build something beautiful together. Community. Collaboration. Co-creation. What is our specific narrative? What do you feel is constantly missing from the narrative where you leave feeling inclusion is still not including you. Share it with me, share it with each other so we can create positive change and share it with the world. The website is coming soon but you can join on IG @browngirlsinfashion and on Twitter @globalbgif now. I’m so looking for.ward to meeting you and becoming friends!