Last Thursday, I had the privilege of being part of a panel bought together by Cicely Blain Consulting, to talk about diversity and sustainability in the fashion industry.

This experience was really powerful for me, as it allowed space to talk about my story. And, it kinda surprised me that people actually wanted to know!

Warm fuzzies all around.

The panel consisted of Lydia Okello, a model, a writer and stylist; Selina Ho, a sustainability activist, and myself. Our host was the incredible Cicely Blain.

So, my spiel went a little something like this…

I was over in the UK last week, and it struck me just how much the population of this city contrasts with so many multicultural cities around the world.
In that it lacks diversity.

I was at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery when I heard these words.
Words that were a part of an exhibition regarding diversity.
At the time, I thought these words were thought provoking and profound.

“Diversity – It’s trendy now, but do you think it will last?”

These words were spoken by a white woman. With green ombre hair and 2 nose piercings.

I thought these words profound. Profound enough that I took out my notebook and wrote them down.

A couple of hours later I took my notebook back out and re-read her words and they kinda made me angry.

Diversity is trendy for her right now. It works for her. Like her hair. Give it 6 months and it may not be so trendy.

She can dye her hair back to its natural colour. She can remove her nose piercings. And all that will be left is a couple of extra holes in her nose. That will grow over soon enough.

But for some of us, whose diversity is also trendy now, this is who we are.
I can’t get rid of my brown skin, but nor do I want to.
My natural hair is here to stay, no matter what treatment I put it through. And I love it as is.

And for me, this comes down to representation. What is represented to us as a beauty ideal? And who decides what a trend is? (a future blog post I feel!)

What is considered normal and beautiful in our society?
Who and what are we shown on a daily basis to instil this ideal in our minds?

I remember as a young child, maybe around 8 years of age, and I came home from school and asked my Mum, ‘What am I?’ She asked me what I meant by that, and I replied something along the lines of ‘I know I’m not Maori (who are the indigenous people of NZ), but what am I?’ She looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You are one of my children.’

And that satisfied me. I was totally happy with that answer.
I felt safe because my Mum had told me where I belonged.

As I grew up, I was known as the shy, quiet girl. A watcher.
And today I still am.
I love to watch people.
To see what we wear, how we speak to one another, how we treat one another and how we create our own identity.
But now I have also found my voice.

I didn’t have a fashion icon to look up to as a kid.

And even now, I choose to not have an icon.

What I do have, is a love of people watching. In crowded cities. Multicultural cities. Places where people feel free to express themselves as they want, without repercussion.

And this is a big driving force behind kate&frances.

So, another love is clothing.
I love how we can express ourselves with what we wear.
We control how the world sees us.

kate&frances is my way of expressing myself to the world.

And have it as a representation of me. Of people that look like me. Out in this world for all to see. For the young me, back in the 80’s and 90’s when I was growing up.

Social media has been instrumental in creating representation for mixed race persons.
And I am loving it.
Loving it so much that I want to join the party.
And it is a party. It’s a celebration.

It’s not a trend.
But we need to keep this conversation alive and active.

That’s what I’m here to do. To find like minded souls and create community. I want to tell your stories. Our stories.

And ideally you’ll be dressed in kate&frances!

But it’s not a prerequisite.

(cue laughter)

If you are willing to share your story, come find me after the talk, and let’s talk! The more stories we have out there, the louder our conversation. The more inclusive we can be.

kate&frances is built on identity. Part of that identity is also sustainability.

kate&frances garments are timeless and can be styled in a multitude of different ways. It’s up to each person to wear it their way.
The patterning of the styles uses minimal seams. It is in this way that I create the best possible usage of my fabric and therefore less waste.
The waste fabric pieces are not thrown away, but recycled into pillow filling.
Garments are made as the orders come in, so there is no stock pile that I need to ‘put on sale’ each season. I make what I sell.
Therefore, no excess garments.

Challenges faced in the industry come from under representation. There are just not enough women in leadership positions, let alone women of colour.
And this is slowly changing. The more time I spend in corporate companies, the more I see the shift. New people, bring in different perspectives and ideas. New inspiration and life are fed into the company because of the diversity and the culture starts to shift.

It’s exciting to see, but it also takes a lot of grit and determination. And this is where sharing of stories can help.
Storytelling helps to create the connection between us. And we all have commonalities. We all have similar experiences that can inspire others.

We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.
I can’t remember where I read this, but I love it. Because it’s the truth.
Not only our blood ancestors, but ancestors who stood for the same causes we are still fighting for now.
We are united.
And it’s an amazing feeling to know that you have people to back you up. Whether they are close to you physically, or half a world away, or passed from this life.

And so we need to continue this conversation. No one person can do it alone.

Come find me after this talk. Either in person, or online.

I may be a loather of small talk, but I love, love, love, a deep and meaningful chat.

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