How important is diversity when it comes to sustainable fashion? Steve Wyatt discusses below.
I’m an alien. No, seriously, according to the US authorities, I’m officially labeled as a “legal alien”. Not due to my misshapen head or collection of well-polished probes but due to the fact I’m British. I spend Monday to Friday with my American colleagues and forget that I’m “different.” Then, my difference creeps up on me with a surprise attack in the form of being mocked for unconsciously using an English term or pronunciation. Of course, this experience of harmless prejudice is a mere drop in the ocean of serious social stigma that many others have to face every day.
(This is the point where I seamlessly weave my words to discuss the real point of this blog entry) So, what was it like at the shoot for our “We all Walk in Different Shoes” campaign? (See, seamless.)
When we thought of the campaign we all felt excited, but there was an 800-pound gorilla in the room walking a fine line between responsibility and exploitation. We began brainstorming about what types of people we wanted in the campaign to illustrate our message. We wanted provocative but also wanted to keep our integrity as much as theirs. After many inappropriate discussions, that would make our H.R. department add 50 chapters to the Code of Conduct manual, we had our final wish list: an H.I.V. positive woman; a lesbian couple with a baby; an undocumented immigrant; a Sikh; a paralympic athlete; a gay Republican; a wheelchair rugby player; a heavily tattooed woman; a war veteran; and collaborating Palestinian and Israeli film directors.
The casting guru, Jennifer Starr, worked her magic. Terry Richardson shared his “always interesting” opinion. Kenneth gave us his final direction and we were ready. The next couple of days added up to be the most inspiring experience of my life. There, I’ve said it. Sounds a bit cheesy, right? Almost a bit Lifetime Channel. Sorry, I can’t help it because it’s true. My cynical self didn’t foresee the tidal wave of human endeavor that was about to hit me.
As a writer at a fashion shoot, I’m usually more redundant than Jamie Lynn Spears’ contraceptive pharmacist, but not this time. My job was to welcome our cast, explain about the events of the day and to help guide the interviews to be used on our web site. Each person was a bit nervous about the day and a little wary of the campaign. And understandably so, considering that many of our cast spent most of their lives just trying to be accepted for what society dictates as “normal”, and there we were putting them on a stage to highlight the very differences that most of them didn’t want to be defined by. Fortunately for us, and them, we had cast a fine bunch of intelligent individuals who were willing to display themselves in the hope that their image in a fashion magazine might chip away at the social prejudices they had to endure.
Take Aimee Mullins, the Paralympic athlete, for example. With experience as a model and an actress, she was quite at home with her surroundings and she knew that whatever happened, she was not going to do anything that encroached on her sense of self. This became quite obvious when we all wondered why Aimee hadn’t brought her prosthetic legs she used for running? Due to their graphic nature and to be more visually arresting we had envisioned her wearing those legs in the shot. But to Aimee, those legs were for running or for athletic wear shoots. This was a fashion campaign; therefore she would wear the finely-sculpted legs that would fit her look. Makes sense. In fact, the shot turned out to be even better and is my personal favorite in the campaign. It has the perfect balance of what makes this campaign so effective. We aimed for the viewer to see the image as fashion first and then on a second look, notice something different about the model. Granted, it was impossible to achieve this with all of the shots but fortunately, some of the shots actually worked well by being more in your face.
Terry did what Terry’s amazing at and everyone enjoyed the shoot, but for me, the most inspiring experiences of the two days were the interviews. I was actually worried that each person might feel uncomfortable talking about his or her personal daily challenges. Stupid me. Sean Leman, the director from Rehab, expertly made everyone feel at ease, and then each person opened their hearts and minds which humbled me in a way I’ve never felt before: their positive attitudes; their achievements; their successes against the odds. This was what embracing humanity was all about. I realized then that I, and so many others, take life for granted. These people don’t. This sounds a bit movie matinee “hero-esque”, but they really do laugh in the face of adversity and just get on with living.
I’d like to thank everyone who touched upon, and were touched by this campaign. Thank you for the education. It’s been emotional.