#RepresentationMatters And Other Thoughts
On the 18th January I shared on my Instagram stories my feelings towards the lack of diversity on the slow fashion brand Sondeflor on both their website and their Instagram feed. It’s not the first time I’ve had an outburst of emotion on Instagram stories. I had a similar experience in Sept 2018 when challenging the silence I was met with when talking about race.
The original stories from two weeks ago are saved on my Instagram Story Highlights, there you can see where I finally snapped, and finished my outburst with a short-sharp “wake the fuck up”. My expectation was that I would be talking into a void once more. To my suprise that did not happen…
But why did I “snap”? What was it that made me do the the virtual equivalent of grabbing someone by the shoulders to shake them out of stupor? You see the Instagram circle that I move in for the large part is fairly progressive, and we all claim to be feminists right? Yet time again I see failure to recognise the intersections in that very same circle. White women from that same community twirling in the sondeflor dresses, which are super pretty don’t get me wrong, but it grated on me that they didn’t see it. They didn’t see how exclusive it was. How it reinforced a certain “standard”. I was genuinely interested in adding something to my wardrobe but nope, there wasn’t a single black or brown person I could see, and I was scrolling and scrolling and scrolling... I remember discussing my disappointment about Sondeflor as a brand with Rida @beforeandagain just to see if I wasn’t the only one who felt like that. Weeks passed and I probably would have stayed quiet except I kept seeing my friends and peers twirling about, clearly oblivious. So sure enough I’d had it and had to say something. Should I have stayed quiet? Would there have been a different outcome if I had approached one of my friends and said “hey, you know that dress brand you’re with? I find it such a shame that they aren’t more diverse with the models and sizes on both their IG and website” Would that have kicked anything into action, or would that have resulted in some kind of performative words of consolation, or down right defensiveness? Who knows, because I didn't choose that course. I don’t think I was particularly scathing with my words, but what happened next was both joyous, and annoying in equal measure.
It’s really important for me to just pause here for a moment to say that this fire has been going for some time, that all I did was add my voice an existing issue. I may have called out this particular brand, but I am not the first, nor do I believe the last in calling bullshit. Adding their voices with me were Rida @beforeandagain_ Lucy @lucylucraft , @kateosullivan , @ajabarber and countless voices of support, allies and friends.
What happened next feels quite blurry. There was a lot of noise. The noise in my inbox was largely supportive, there were some that did miss the mark when it came to grasping the issue, and there was the standard silent response too. Some offered to send me their dresses. I politely skirted (get it?!) around that, it wasn’t the dress really - it was the lack of representation, and why it matters. Some suggested I pitch to them for a collaboration because Sondeflor may not have realised there are people who have brown and black skin, and I could be helping them by pointing that out to them and offering to collaborate with them. I ignored that comment for a while because again the point wasn’t a collaboration or the dress, it was the lack of representation, and why it matters. Also why the fuck should I have to do the labour both emotionally and physically to point that out to them? I’m already so tired. It was never about the clothes per se. It was about harnessing what power I had to see if I could disrupt an age old narrative of what is deemed acceptable. It’s always about the lack of representation, and why it matters.
Simple question. Why do you think there is a lack of diversity in your favourite clothing brand, the members of your company exec board, the friends you keep, the literature you read, the education curriculum etc? Why? It’s because the very systems and structures that uphold our society favour white people, and they are also in fact the “gatekeepers” - who hold the power. Privilege is power, and you can exercise that power to build a world you want to live in, for good or for ill - I hope good.
I want to take this part of the post of to acknowledge the womxn who shared their stories with me these past few weeks, for those who like me have felt marginalised, all from different lived experiences. Beautifully different. Every time I got a DM it was what kept me going when I just wanted to hide. I’m sorry if I didn't get time to fully respond but know that I read each message, and I’m always here holding space for you.
The thing I did not forsee, perhaps naively, was how quickly things turned from nonchalant dismissive of BIPOC emotions in defense of the brand, which made way for the more sinister far right neo nazi types. It soon became incredibly unsafe, and it wasn’t long until the queer, and black womxn among the community were targeted with abuse. Everytime there is room made for a lack of diversity, it becomes fair game to those far right white supremacist groups. Those womxn who were on the sharp end of the abuse are still hurting, in more ways than one - and yet people are still commenting that we who raise our voices are the ones harassing and bullying.
What the experience has done for me personally is that it has got me thinking about where I am on my own journey of learning. What it means to give grace, but also what it means to step into space and fully occupy it without compromising any part of me. If I can can make space for myself, then I can help others to find their voice to make their space. Unapologetically so. The experience also brought me sisters. Womxn that I think I will always have the honour of calling friends.
I also want to take this moment now to acknowledge the allyship. You guys came THROUGH. For amplifying, for using your voice, taking action, for listening and learning. Keep going ♥️ Sondeflor have issued various apologies, and it remains to be seen what their marketing policies and strategies will be.
The real point to this post wasn’t to give a blow by blow account of what happened but to recognise that this thing we all experienced is an opportunity to identify where you are in your learning, so that you can move forwards to keep learning and growing. I’m not saying let’s be activists but what can you do within your realms to bring change? These are the conversations that do not necessarily need to take place in online, they can be with family members, colleagues, friends. If we’re all saying we are feminists then we have to learn about the intersections too, that way we can shape the world we want live in, not just for us but for the next generation too.
Finally, there were a lot of womxn who used their time and effort in order to help bring about change, I’m going to leave their links below so you can check them out but also if you are able to, please pay them.
Kate O’ Sullivan - https://www.kateosullivan.org/
Aja Barber - https://www.patreon.com/AjaBarber
Rida Suleri-Johnson - https://beforeandagain.co.uk/
Lucy Lucraft - https://lucylucraft.com/
Big thanks to Gemma @thequietheart - for providing those measured words used to challenge a brand when I was all out.
There so much more I can say on the matter about how it feels to have your emotions dismissed in favour of a brand, about power dynamics, about losing friends, free labour, the victim/villain narrative… so much, but I’m going to leave it there for now. It’s Sunday, Rafe is watching Ice Age for the 9873823 time and right at this very moment, I feel full of gratitude that I can to do this. Thank you for listening.