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An open conversation with Venetia Williams

Fashion Lifestyle Influencer @champersandpacifiers

We can all do better, listening learning and not staying silent. In order to do better ourselves we asked Venetia, one of our long standing brand ambassadors, how she feels about the current situation, experiences she has had as a BAME in the fashion industry and what we can do going forward…

How do you feel about the current events?

It has been a very emotive few weeks. I have not been able to sleep, eat, and have a constant knot in my back through the stress of current affairs. I am so incensed and heartbroken by the events that have taken place and I know so many others feel the same.

Tell us about your back ground

I am a grandchild from the Windrush generation. My grandparents were asked to come over from Jamaica to help rebuild the British economy because there was a labor shortage.

Remember Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus? My grandad was the Forman for that build and I feel so proud, I spent so much of my teens there hanging out with my friends!

Who has ever travelled on the 38 bus from Clapton Pond to Victoria station? Well my other grandad drove that bus for many years and could tell you about every bus route in London off by heart. He received an award because he never had an accident during all the years of his service driving the busses.

I am forever grateful and indebted to my grandparents for their hard work, bravery and determination despite everything that they had faced. The streets of England were not paved with gold as they were told. But instead, they were faced with major discrimination and it was an absolute shock to their system. Imagine what it must have been like to be turned away from every house that you wanted to rent with a sign outside stating; No Irish, No dogs and No blacks!

My parents are British born and grew up in Highbury and Hackney in 1960’s during the time that Enoch Powel the British politician gave his famous  inflammatory and divisive speech ‘Rivers of Blood’.

That was then, and sadly, history seems to be repeating itself. I can’t believe we are still having to deal with the same thing now in 2020!

How did you become a fashion influencer?

I really don’t see myself as an influencer, but that is the label I am given and it really did happen by chance. I am a mother and obviously most of our time is spent with the children. We love our children more than anything but sometimes motherhood can be a lonely existence especially when the kiddies are younger. So, I came up with the idea of organising events for mums. A friend suggested that I start an Instagram page. I really didn’t like the idea of that at first but gave it a try and here I am! Things have then evolved from there. I noticed that people were really interested in my family lifestyle in general. Of course I like fashion, but I have so much love and passion for interiors and travel. I think this is reflected in my page on Instagram.

I think people are also intrigued with the fact that I am a black woman who was raised in Shoreditch and Hackney but now lives in the countryside, in a village, and absolutely loving it.

How did you feel on Black out Tuesday with all the extra coverage, particularly from Fashion Brands?

It was great to see so many people’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The original movement started in 2013.

It has been heartwarming to see some posting about ‘standing’ up and being supportive etc etc. We need to see more of this for sure.
But, there are quite a few that I know are posting about it because it’s ‘trendy’ and they are following like sheep. I can tell that it’s very fake and this I find insulting because of how they have been towards me in the past.

Can you explain more about this?

So on the 2nd June, I was surprised to see #BlackoutTuesday supported by many influencers and brands on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. As I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I was astounded to see so many people that have shown little actual support for a movement in the past all of a sudden jumping on the bandwagon. People who don’t have a diverse friendship group, those who have businesses and don’t have a diverse workforce, and brands who show little or zero diversity on their social media platforms.

For example, I had followed a curated Instagram feed featuring fashionable Parisian women because it is a beautiful feed and I love that French girl style. I had noticed their lack of diversity on their feed previously and they had not supported or represented any black women for as long as the account had been going. That is until recent events when they posted ONE picture of a black, American celebrity followed by the black out Tuesday post.

It annoyed me to see that they had the audacity to post a black square. My blood was boiling. It seemed disingenuous as though they were following a “trend”. It was at this point I had to comment on the post. Unsurprisingly I didn’t get a response. But then, No response is a response !

There are many beautiful, black women in Paris, I still do not understand why they are not being represented on a feed which celebrates beautiful, fashionable Parisian women.

Have you had any other experiences within your role as an influencer that have caused you to feel like this?

I have not just seen this happening amongst brands. It also exists amongst influencers too. I noticed on black out Tuesday that as one influencer posted a black square and hashtag, there then seemed to be a flurry of black squares and hashtags popping up one after the other!

As influencers, we are in a unique position to educate and speak up against racism and to be inclusive.

In the past, there have been many bloggers events and brand launches, again with little or no black representation. I have had the experience of going to some events where I am the only black woman or one of two, often to be left standing alone or blatantly excluded from group conversations. Even amongst the biggest bloggers on social media there seems to be what I call ‘social media indirect racist classism’, meaning that they are only interested in following and socialising with you as a black person if you have some sort of affiliation with the ‘fashion elite.’

I have received clothes from brands as part of their promotional strategy  they reposted my photo on their  Instagram stories but purposely would not put me on their page instead reposting every other white woman. In one instance I noticed this brand repeatedly reposted the same black woman on their page because she was a model and had associations with media/tv. I had enough and unfollowed them because I saw through what they were doing, then suddenly I received a message from them stating that they had put my picture up on their page. This was not a coincidence.

What drives you to continue in an industry where you are treated like this?

Although there is still a lot of work to be done, there are brands who are setting the right example and paving the way regarding inclusiveness and diversity. One being your brand, Ethereal London. I still remember when you contacted me to say that you wanted me to be one of the first bloggers to wear and model your dresses. This also spoke volumes to me about the person behind the brand. The fact that you had asked me first, as a black woman, did not go unnoticed and by others as was expressed to you by followers of the brand and the positive impact this had on them

Not everything regarding Instagram is negative, quite the opposite. Although there have been occasions where we have been made to feel uncomfortable. And I just want to push for more diversity across this platform and industry. I have met some incredible people/brands of all ethnicity along the way on my Instagram journey who have actually become genuine friends. Instagram is also a place of inspiration for me.

I try to look past the negative aspects and see the good and focus on those that are trying and doing the right thing. And if at times it all gets a bit too much I just take a couple of days out to reflect and regroup myself. Above all, my moto is always Be Kind.

How can brands that have not been inclusive in the past start and avoid looking insincere?

I think it is as simple as employing a diverse workforce and having a diverse team. And then making sure that people of colour are seen, and represented in your brand whether it’s on your social media page, websites, in shows and at events. This will all show that they are sincere. It is also a long term commitment and change and not just to show now while it is trending.

What can we as brands do better?

For me, it’s not about the black square. It’s just about standing up for what is right. It could be any photo with ‘ racism is wrong’.

I read a post where someone stated; “There is no point in posting black squares to be performative or because it is a fashion trend, if you are not doing the real work of self reflecting, educating and working to support black lives”. I couldn’t agree more with this statement. More awareness and care has to be taken.

Moving forward, we want to see change and consistency. We hope that outside of social media those who want to be educated, learn and those who want to listen, hear. Let’s come together in solidarity against racial injustice of all kinds in the long term rather than it just being a fad or fleeting fashion trend.

Venetia wears Ophelia Dark Midi, Viola Print Maxi and Portia Print Maxi 

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