What Battling Discrimination in Fashion Taught Me About Reinvention

What Battling Discrimination in Fashion Taught Me About Reinvention

As we enter fashion week and I pen a new book, I am inspired to share a deeply personal experience that changed the course of my life. Some fights are always going to be worth taking a stance on. Although, amid battle, you can sometimes wonder if you have lost your mind. In the end, my experience allowed me to reinvent my life. After 30 years of running from my past, reinvention is something I have learned a lot about and now help others learn to do.

First, let's embrace the reinvention of fashion. Diversity has taken root and shows no sign of slowing down. It has undergone a profound transformation, and change deserves celebration. Kudos to those who have helped evolve one of our most creative industries.

As someone who has worked in fashion for the best of 20 years, I have watched this shift with great anticipation. I learned from first-hand experience how big a battle this would be. In 2007, prejudice, sexism, racism, classism, and religious discrimination were rampant in the luxury industry. That was about to change. 2007 would be my year to take an ethical stance on these issues.

Several executives at the couture brand I worked for put me under intense pressure to dress only light-eyed blond celebrities (white women). I had already had an absurd number of conversations with fellow executives who thought my qualifications should have included being a blue-blooded socialite that was blond-haired. I found the conversations bizarre and laughable. I thought it was an anomaly. It was a sign of a much deeper problem. I took great pride in getting promoted twice that year as a brown-eyed brunette from the South.

As the face of the brand and head of marketing and PR for the US, which heavily influences celebrity dressing success globally, I was responsible for garnering growth and awareness through the icons I styled for the red carpet. I did too good of a job. The program became too successful.

I soon found myself battling to continue to dress who I felt was a good fit, a diverse and talented woman. When the CEO gave me a spreadsheet that scored celebrities as dressable or not, I should have known that something was rotten. At my start, I noted that the scoring sheet needed more diversity.

I got creative and decided if they weren't listed on the sheet with a negative score, how could I get in trouble? That only became a problem when the program I built set the brand on fire. Suddenly everyone in power wanted to control the work I was doing.

I was given new mandates. The rules were crystal clear. Only blonds with blue eyes, preferably natural blonds. The celebrities I chose to work with would have been shocked by the conversations I was forced to endure. I would only work with women I admired!

It all came to a head when I refused to publicize photos of starving Indian beaders to promote our fancy design process. One executive, in particular, made his dislike of me blatantly obvious. He sneered whenever we spoke. After I questioned him on how much we were paying the beaders to make extravagant gowns, he took me to his office for the most offensive conversation I have ever had.

He railed at me for a long time. Much to my shock, he knew about my secret childhood in foster care and an orphanage. His spit hit my face as he told me he would ruin my career if I didn't begin only to dress blue-eyed blonds. He dragged my childhood out, knowing I was pregnant and had just lost my mother.

He even took issue with whether the two women I had invited to an event were Scientologists. So, now we were talking about faith discrimination. How the hell would I know? I didn't feel anyone's faith was my business.

Anyway, I refused to do what was being asked of me. I stuck to who I wanted to work with and soon found him setting fire to my entire life.

Do I regret doing it? Hell no. It was one of the most critical moments of my life.

I needed to change. I needed to wake up to how much our world needed to change. I needed to heal and become unashamed of my past.

I needed to stop running. I had been running from a stalker and my less-than-ideal childhood for decades.

What I needed was a bitch-slap from the universe. I got one.

What did I learn about reinvention?

Being your authentic self is much more fun.

The people who care about you will stay by your side no matter what. The people who don't care will fall away.

Stuff only matters to people who don't matter.

You take yourself wherever you go. Make sure you like yourself.

Finally, your most challenging experiences give you a unique selling proposition. Own those experiences and share your truth unapologetically. They are far more important than the clothes you wear.

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