I have always been that girl– tiniest in the school yard, but defender of the underdog.
I could remember so well when Anna kept looking at Vindira and laughing at her, making Vindira feel super self conscious and small. We were all maybe 8 years old, at Curepe Presbyterian school, and while they both probably have no recollection of the incident, there are moments like these that have stained my memory, reminding me of who I am meant to be in this world. I intercepted and told Vindira to to turn it around; told her to say to Anna “Yes, Feast your eyes”. She did this, and while Anna didn’t understand what she meant and continued poking fun, it gave Vindira back her power, and that made me feel good.
Flash forward to July 2017. I have committed myself to slow fashion, championing those who go against the tide to create something beautiful, sustainable and ethical in a world of narcissism, lies and cruelty. Fashion is beautiful, but it’s not that sort of inside-out beauty we talk about when we refer to Emma Watson. Fashion is fun and gorgeous to look at, but it has an ugly side. There are Bloggers and Stylists like myself, who choose to highlight the brands that are more transparent and morally sound, but trust that they are few, and they are struggling. Fast fashion is just easier–uglier–but easier.
I have many close friends in fashion, particularly in Trinidad and Tobago. The small fashion market there allows creatives to practice ethical production and marketing, as the scale of the business does not require sweat shop labour and other fashion victims. I am proud to represent Caribbean fashion because of this first, and secondly because of the unique vision our creatives have when it comes to colour, technique and silhouette. So if anyone is doing anything that causes me to raise an eyebrow, I’m going to have to question it, despite our personal relationships.
I felt really uncomfortable when I saw an Instagram post from boss babe duo, Tobye and Shoma. It was a video of Shoma sketching and painting an illustration of their Carnival Costume design for 2018. The video implied that Shoma was the illustrator, when I know for a fact it was actually Leighton Starr, who I referred to them for the job. Now, I get that he was commissioned to create the artwork, and even may have agreed to have it used in a way that stripped him of his rights to it, but I still feel bothered by the whole thing. I’m reading the comments of congratulations and awe over the piece and I can’t help but wonder how Leighton must feel, and how Tobye and Shoma feel too. While they never state outright who did the piece, the video strongly suggests that it was one of the girls. How is this okay? How much money would you accept to have someone claim your work as their own?
Art is not a normal job where you simply perform a service for monetary exchange. Creators empty parts of themselves into their work. Talent actually does exist and is real. Everyone is not born with the same gifts. Some of us shine in places other do not, while they are busy shining in another area. You cannot learn true art. You can learn to paint, sure. But you cannot learn uniqueness. You cannot teach someone their passion, or how to be who they are. At 7 years old I sat in front of the television every Saturday morning to catch runway shows on Fashion File, and obsessively would draw women in skirts blowing behind them like they did on the catwalk. 23 years later I’m still driven by this imagery. If I styled a look, or wrote a piece, I can’t say that any cheque would make me comfortable enough about someone saying it was their work. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m overreacting.
I wonder if Leighton truly understands the value of his work, or if Tobye and Shoma feel any guilt at all about misguiding their followers to think they actually did the piece. All three involved are people I consider friends, and it’s not easy for me to write about this, knowing that they will read it and feel some type of way. But you know what, I feel some type of way. Even if all parties involved are perfectly fine with the arrangement (which they are; I know because I spoke to them about it) it rubs me so wrong. I wouldn’t be an ethical fashion advocate if I didn’t speak up.
I think about the women with amazing voices who weren’t attractive enough to be put on album covers, and provided the vocals for a prettier girl to lip-sync. I think about the seamstresses who create and cut the patterns from scratch, when “designers” bring them an inspiration image and ideas. Copying is one thing, but claiming someone else’s works as your own just feels dirty to me. I understand that business is business, but can we be so cash-cold when our heart is supposed to be in it?