At Summit21, Alex Wolf taught us how to capitalize on our blackness and reminded us how much black culture influences different industries, including fashion. With all the influence black culture serves in these spaces, there is still a lack of black leadership and decision-makers in the "big" rooms.
Shelby Ivey Christie, media manager at L’Oréal USA and creator of "Girl with the Bamboo Earring Podcast," recognizes the need for more voices of color to be heard in this capacity and decided to create her own lane.
PHOTO: For Women To Women
21Ninety caught up with Christie to get the inside scoop in her podcast, her personal experiences in the fashion industry and how she thinks we can "move the needle forward."
21NINETY: You recently launched your new podcast "Girl With The Bamboo Earring." Tell us more about the title and how you settled on it for your podcast?
SHELBY IVEY CHRISTIE: Yes! Podcasting is a whole new territory for me. However, I’ve been sharing fashion content via my social platforms for some time, and I felt like the content deserved a space where it could be dissected and discussed in depth.
The name came about as I was scrolling through Instagram and discovered a piece of artwork by an amazing black artist named Awol Erizku, that was a reimagining of the famous painting "Girl with the Pearl Earring." The story of the original "Girl with the Pearl Earring" is about how the painter, Johannes Vermeer, used his house servant as the subject. He lent her pearl earrings and fancy gown to pose in. It is widely admired as a piece of stunning artwork and a standard for European beauty — so much so that there are films and books about the story of the servant girl.
Awol’s recreation of the painting featured a beautiful black woman with a single bamboo earring in her ear. I thought it was a perfect image to speak to the message behind my podcast. Much like that servant who ironically became a standard for European beauty, black people, who were once enslaved, have long been the driving force behind much of American beauty, fashion and popular culture.
21N: Your podcast focuses on black fashion in terms of its history as well as black contributions to the fashion world and beauty landscapes. What made you want to create a space like this?
SIB: I’ve gained much of my professional experience in fashion, as it is a strong passion of mine. I’ve interned and worked for a number of fashion publications. Early on in my career, there weren’t many POC or black people in these spaces. I also didn’t see any reverence for black contributions like I did for the YSLs and the Cindy Crawfords. Where were our Bethann Hardisons and our Misa Hyltons in these documentations of fashion history? Since I didn’t see it, I decided to do it myself.
This podcast is a way for me to document black contributions to fashion. Especially while our legends are still alive. We need to hear their stories told by them, we need to document it and share it so that the truth is always there — no matter who or what tries to sweep it under the rug.
21N: In the first episode, you bring along Tommy Atkins and Toi Bly, who both formerly worked at Vogue with you during your time there. Why was it important to you to bring in other voices for your first episode?
SIN: It was super important to bring in other voices for the "Black Vogue" episode because blackness is so varied. The goal of the first episode was to discuss the current climate of blackness in fashion. Blackness is not "one-note." Black people come from different backgrounds, have varied experiences and a multitude of differing walks, not only professionally, but personally. I never want to present a one-sided view of the black experience. I didn’t want my opinion to be the only one heard. I wanted listeners to be able to identify a bit of themselves in the conversation. They may not have connected with my perspective but perhaps Tommy or Toi had an experience similar to their own. Variety.
21N: One thing we loved about the first episode is that none of you held back. You talked a lot about inclusion in the fashion/beauty industry seeming like more of a trend than a genuine move towards celebrating diversity. You discussed this a bit, but for our readers, what do you believe needs to be done to promote a genuine shift in the industry?
SIB: I think that more black people and POCs should be in the rooms where the decisions are made. Not only decisions about consumer-facing initiatives like model castings and marketing campaigns, but in the rooms where decisions that are strategic in nature get made. The things we don’t see but feel the effects of. I’d like to see more diversity on the business side of fashion. Like VPs of HR, not just VPs of Diversity and Inclusion, because I think that in order to have a more diverse workforce you need someone who truly understands the importance and the intricacies of that.
I think Vanessa Kingori’s appointment as British Vogue’s Publisher and Stephanie Horton’s appointment as CSO at Alexander Wang are definitely steps in the right direction. We need more diversity in the boardrooms, not just on the runways and in the marketing campaigns.
21N: Another topic you all brought up was the business side of fashion. How has working on this side of fashion shaped you, and what do you hope others learn from you sharing those experiences?
SIB: Working on the business side of fashion has afforded me a very holistic view of the industry. I understand what business decisions have to be made behind the scenes to make the creative pieces of fashion happen. It has helped me be a more strategic and calculated marketer because I am able to see a strategy or campaign through from the conceptualization of a very corporate, high-level, business goal onto its final form as a marketing campaign or luxury product.
My hope is that people see that there are also opportunities in the business sector of fashion. Yes, there are runway shows, stylists and editors but there are also accountants, marketers, attorneys and website coders. I want more POC to know that fashion has a corporate side as well that is heavily lacking diversity and in need of their talent.
21N: We don’t want to give too much of episode one away for those who have not listened yet, but you also mentioned your discomfort in talking about the things you were passionate about while working at Vogue. Was that discomfort rooted in fear? And if so, fear of what?
SIB: It was not rooted in fear. It stemmed from a lack of awareness. Vogue demands a certain level of excellence, as it should. That excellence demanded a majority of my time and my attention. I was so inundated with the grind that I didn’t even realize that talking about fashion was something I wanted to do or even had time to dedicate to. At that time my life was centered on work.
21N: Now that you are creating your own lane, what are your hopes for the future in terms of your podcast?
SIB: My hope is that people learn from each episode. My goal is always to teach, and that is at the heart of this podcast. I hope to continue to start meaningful dialogues around blackness in fashion that move the needle forward. I want these discussions on the podcast to not only start conversation but to evoke action. Action doesn’t have to be some uprising. If after hearing an episode, just one black person in fashion feels more empowered, takes away knowledge and has learned strategies for how to better navigate or contribute to the industry, then I’d be happy!
21N: Any inside scoops on future episode guests?
SIB: I’m a strong believer in not speaking on anything until it’s done. However, I can tell you that excellent guests are on the agenda! I’m going to have to suppress the strong urge to stan in their presence lol.
21N: When people listen to "Girl with the Bamboo Earring," what do you hope they take away from it?
SIB: I hope they take away a sense of pride! Learning about the rich legacy and innovations that black people have contributed to fashion, beauty and the world as a whole has unlocked so much pride in myself. I mean, when you’re uncovering all of the amazing contributions of stylish, intelligent, driven people who look like you, how can you not feel proud?
21N: And lastly, for Shelby, why is fashion such an area of passion and what’s next for you in this realm?
SIB: Blackness and its influence on society and culture has long been a passion of mine. Even as a kid I can remember doing a Black History Month project on Ebony magazine. I was fascinated by all the beautiful black models and was excited to see the designer garments draped over black bodies.
I actually earned a degree in Race, Class and Culture from North Carolina A&T State University, an HBCU. I love these topics so much that I studied them. After uncovering so much of black people’s contributions to fashion I feel a strong urge to share it. I want to make sure the narrative comes from us. I want to ensure we are telling our story and that it’s not being reframed. Because when other people tell our stories cornrows become boxer braids. Owning our story and hearing it told in 1st person protects our legacy. It helps makes sure they get it right in the history books.
21N: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
SIB: I’d love for your readers to engage with me! I not only discuss black fashion on my podcast but I do history lessons on my IG Stories weekly. Let’s connect on social. Send me some topics you’d like discussed on the podcast or just say hello ☺ @bronze_BombSHEL
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