“THE PUPIL” – 2021
“The reflection of a person is seen in the black pupil of the eye.” In other words, the “pupil of the eye” is a mirror of social reality.”- Abdu’l Baha
“The reflection of a person is seen in the black pupil of the eye.” In other words, the “pupil of the eye” is a mirror of social reality.”- Abdu’l Baha
The lack of diversity and representation in the fashion industry is quite surprising. It seems like there still aren’t enough of “us”. I find I get asked to contribute on projects more than I can possibly handle rather than spreading the spotlight around. I don’t actually like it because it’s more tokenizing. There are plenty of black and brown voices out there that simply aren’t getting enough shine. If I could do anything to change things for the future it would be to make brands actually listen to people of color instead of just using us in their marketing campaigns. If people of color had the necessary amount of power, the entire landscape of fashion would look entirely different.
My name is Donna-Marie & I am half of the Photography & Directing duo ‘The Masons.
With over 15 years experience in photography, advertising, TV and Film, we create work that captures complexity of characters and real emotion in dramatic and bold style making brands and their subjects stand out from the crowd. Inspired by people who break boundaries and are not afraid to lead the change, we explore diversity, equality and creativity in a timeless style with an edge. The most shocking thing about diversity and inclusion in this particular industry is that it still doesn’t exist, there is still tokenism, however it now needs to be integrated within the system & there definitely needs to be more diversity and inclusion in the rooms where the big decisions are being made. Since the death of George Floyd there has been a slight shift in the industry. Brands, magazines & advertisers have been wanting to be more accountable especially in America. We have a lot of our commissions coming from America at the moment, these companies are now consciously making decisions to hire a more diverse team, i.e. black, female, lgbtq photographers or directors based here in the UK. The UK however are much slower on the uptake, eventually they will have no choice but to follow suit. The narrative is slowly changing. As you will see from our work I have always had a strong voice and a powerful story to tell, when it comes to diversity and inclusion. If I could go back I wouldn’t change a thing, moving forward I will continue to create work that I can be proud of and continue to push for more equality and inclusivity.
The lack of black people in the Japanese fashion is not really surprising, it is something that I have noticed change within the last 8yrs of me living here. Something I still find shocking is that some people show up to conversations with preconceived notions of what African countries are like, they tend to generalize all African countries. The shocking thing with this is that when you tell them otherwise, they sometimes act as if they know better than you. Leaving a legacy is something that I have always and still very much aim for in everything I do. After completing my graduate studies in Kyoto, I wasn’t exactly sure what direction I wanted to go. I could either return to Canada and work in the finance industry like many of my friends did, or I could follow the path that I felt had been calling to me since my first trip to Japan, the entrepreneurial path. Though I wouldn’t necessarily call myself one, it’s a term many of my friends seem to use. Embarking on the journey to start Awa`Tori, all I knew was that I needed to do everything possible to bring the idea to life… that I wanted to leave a legacy, a platform that allows African creatives access to the Japanese market, in all aspect of the supply chain, as well as for Japanese creatives on the flip side. After much reflection, I made the decision to move to Japan to start this journey. I can’t say much has changed, other than my resolve that anything is possible with the right resolve and team. I would say that I am still changing, still growing, and still have a long way to go. I try to live by the motto of “living a life with no regrets”, which means only making decisions where I am OK with the possibility of failure, and always having a plan B in mind. So, it’s kind of hard to think of what I would change for a better future because everything I’ve done, I have gone into knowing that I would be OK with whatever happens. I would like to dedicate more attention to building Awa`Tori as a company and the platform to strengthen the work we do with African brands.
It’s surprising to me that it has taken a long while to accept that plus size women are a representation of style and beauty when generally speaking most women in our community are plus, that lack of representation was utterly shocking. Constantly being overlooked for projects in the fashion industry when I started out as a content creator was quite demoralizing. A lot has changed now, for instance, many brands are including plus-size models and influencers in their campaigns. Every body type is being represented…..not fully but it’s a start. In addition to this, more plus-size content creators are emerging, I’m so happy about this. Seeing women loving and embracing their bodies fully, giving hope to others in the same field. It’s beautiful. The only thing I would change or urge others to change is to include a wide range of all body types, let everyone be represented in this industry, I want to see more representation, even those who are physically disabled must be included. This is the only way.
A part of my work involves the diplomatic world – I would say in as much as it is diverse, given you’re dealing with countries from all over the globe, inclusion is in a way only at certain levels. The mere fact that some countries have a say in the general wellbeing of others and how their economy is run, how their leaders should rule amongst so many other aspects shows the lack of inclusion in pertinent discussions. It doesn’t matter how many countries are around the table at high-level dialogues, at the end of the day what matters is how powerful you are and what connections you have to impact decisions. Not to mention the lack of women seated around such tables. Women having to do twice if not thrice as much as a man would in order to be able to take part in such discussions and be considered an equal voice. Female ambassadors or diplomats being mistaken for secretaries or assistants when they arrive at events. Or people asking me where my superior is even though my card says “In Charge of Cultural Affairs.” In the world of fashion/retail, it is quite common to use black models as the face of a brand but going into stores or even at the headquarters, you would be shocked to find out that there are few to no black or biracial employees. Recruitment companies immediately shelve applications from biracial or black applicants, certain companies prefer hiring men rather than women or allowing women to occupy only certain positions at their companies – adopting the “add one and stir” approach, meaning they create a diverse team so as to check the “diversity” box. The question now is even with this “diverse” team, how much say do any of these employees have an actual say in anything that goes on in the company. Japan is where I have had a longer experience professionally and if there is one thing I can say has changed since I started a career here is seeing women increasingly present in jobs normally coined as “male jobs” or jobs for men. There has also been an increase in female entrepreneurs and women speaking up for themselves and filling up spaces – doing their best in their own ways to overcome the stigma of women being alive just to get married, bear children, mind their husbands and their households. They are understanding how vital they are for the economy and what roles they can play to change certain stereotypes that date from past times. Change really happens when it starts from within and from us. It is easy (also such cowardice) pointing the finger at others or blaming situations on others rather than trying to see what role we played and what we can change. I’m continuing to work on myself. Understanding that I am never fully set or perfect. There is absolutely no way we will be capable of building a better future when we are incapable of bettering ourselves.
The most shocking fact in the fashion industry is that diversity and inclusion are still the hot topics of conversation. In an industry that is supported by all creeds and colours when it comes to the factory staff who produce the goods and the consumer who buys the finished goods, their failure to reflect that diversity in the design development and management teams is frustrating but not surprising. It’s important to show representation across the board otherwise ignorant mistakes will continue to be made. However, it isn’t good enough to just employ a diverse team and then exclude them by not valuing their contribution, respecting them and making them feel welcome. When I started out in fashion I immediately set up my first label on graduation. I was in the lucky position of being able to do my own thing and wasn’t ever employed by fashion companies in a traditional sense. However, I was the only black student in my year at university and when I stepped out into the fashion industry and dealt with the press and buyers the idea of even seeing diverse representation was novel. Whenever I freelance in companies the first thing I do is to scan the employees’ faces checking for people who share my skin tone and invariably I’m disappointed. I produce learning resources in my company, Pattern Cutting Deconstructed and I collaborate with institutions. At my first meeting at one of them, my contact bemoaned the appalling lack of diversity at practically every level, and how it was important to her to address the imbalance in her department. I’m part of a new community of Fashion Academics Creating Equality (FACE). Our aim is to challenge Higher Education, Further Education and the Fashion Industry to be more inclusive, unified and equal. We are specifically working with issues concerning race, colour and ethnicity. We will amplify voices, challenge the status quo and embrace change. We exist because while things may be changing moderately the pace is far too slow. If I could do anything differently to change the future I would make sure that the CIC Diversity Charter was signed by every fashion company and upheld.
The most shocking thing about diversity and inclusion is that it is pretty much non-existent! Maybe that’s not very shocking but it is very, very real. There has been a push to see more diversity of influencers that brands work with or simply have these brands create more spaces for inclusion within their communities, but it has ended up being very in-authentic or seemed forced. However, I am not going to let that hold me back from trying to carve out space on my end for people who do crave that sense of diversity and inclusion. The one thing I have seen as a big change more and more is that people are using their own personal agency to step up and speak out about injustices that are going on within their own niches. And I think this is so important because for a long time the influencing world was all about beautiful pictures and perfection. It is evolving more into this authentic and unique digital space. There are a lot of things I would like to do differently. Right now I feel like my purpose is to spread love and positivity. My hope is that this energy can move people to do something amazing with themselves, that it can inspire them to get up, get moving and change something in the world in a positive way.
The most shocking fact about diversity and inclusion in the media industry is that men are still paid more than women for doing the same job. A woman will be doing the same job or even have more seniority and get paid less than her male counterpart. Things have changed a little bit though, there are more women being included in the media field for jobs essentially considered male like camera work and technical engineering. If I could do anything differently to change things for a better future, I would create a new man who is not afraid of what being a woman represents. Most men in our society are taught from an early age that emotion is for women and that women are beneath them. If we do not change how we are educating our boys the cycle of exclusivity will never end.
I think that the state of diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry reflects society in general. Therefore, nothing really shocks me. However, I do know that the industry has the power and influence to change the global mindset toward diversity and inclusion in a positive and impactful way. Things have changed from a PR/Outward facing perspective. You see more people of color represented in advertising and more models on catwalks. However up until the recent scandals involving luxury brands and the racial reckoning in the United States that occurred this past Spring and Summer, calls to bring about significant inclusion in the industry from within were more or less met with a deaf ear. I think it is critical for BIPOC people to maintain the momentum started this Spring by amplifying stories from our communities, the work of activists championing inclusion, and staying united to realize true equity in every area of the industry.
The quote that inspired this collection is a reflection on Oneness and its importance in social justice and inclusion. The pupil of the eye is essential for light, so without the pupil functioning a person would be blind. You need the darkness of the Pupil to reflect light and the clarity of the cornea to shield and protect the eyes from harmful matter; they must work as One for a person to achieve full sight. Oneness acts as a catalyst in advancing our communities even as the pupil does for the eye. I’m launching this collection through a campaign that features 9 women of colour who are based around the world. I asked each woman to send photographs of themselves taken in the comfort of their homes or studio and then dressed them in virtual 3D digital garments from my collection. As part of the campaign for “The Pupil”, I asked each woman to answer three questions;
These dynamic women include; Monisola Omotoso, a multi-talented creative with a 20-year portfolio career amassed from working in the fashion industry as a fashion designer, lecturer and creative pattern cutter/draper whose career has seen her work as a pattern maker for clients such as Alexander McQueen; Aja Barber, a writer, personal stylist and style consultant living in South East London whose work focuses on sustainability, ethics, intersectional feminism, racism and all the ways systems of power affect our buying habits; Tamu McPherson, a Jamaican born, New York raised author and Founder of digital Magazine “All the Pretty Birds” currently residing in Milan. She’s a street style photographer, former Editor In Chief of Grazia Italia, editor of magazines such as Harpers Bazaar US, Glamour US, Refinery 29 and Metro; The Japan based duo of Bukky Adejobi and Seiko Mbako who are founders of Awatori, a platform bridging the gap between African Designers and the Japanese market having been the first duo to bring African fashion designers to Tokyo Fashion Week in partnership with the Ethical Fashion Initiative; Nyawira Mumenya, a Kenyan content creator and body positivity advocate; Trinidad born Donna-Marie Mason, one half of a top London based photography and film making duo specialising in editorial, advertising, portraiture and moving images with a cross section of clients ranging from celebrities to fashion and luxury industries; Achieng Agutu, a Boston based Kenyan content creator who’s currently a Masters student at Hull International Business School specialising in Marketing and Digital Analytics and Kalekye Mumo, a Kenyan media personality, strategic marketing professional and Founder of KM Network.
This collection features bold prints inspired by Swahili architecture on the Kenyan Coast, more specifically “Zidaka” niches, which are signature wall carvings traditionally used to display lamps and ornamental objects in Swahili Architecture. I partnered with Berlin based digital artist Yifan Pu, who I began a collaboration with during Helsinki Fashion Week as part of my designer residency. At this residency, I also collaborated with a second artist, Paola Pinna who created my digital Avatar twin, which I have used to model some pieces from my collection. A selection of my 3D digital garments will also be available on Digital Village, a network which allows users to purchase digital garments through a fashion focused blockchain platform where owners can use the digital assets anywhere in future, whether they choose to dress their own Avatars or use them in a VR experience and video games. I’m making clothing even more accessible and size inclusive to customers through an AI powered digital tailor App developed by one of my partners Size Me Up. The App will help consumers select the right sizes by taking their measurements virtually with an option to have each garment customised for larger sizes.
“Human Family” is a collection that honors the differences we carry in our physical existence in the world. The name is inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem of the same title, which notes our obvious differences as we all come from various backgrounds yet in essence we share the same desire for love, unity and peace. What affects humanity in one part of the world inadvertently affects people in other parts. The main themes that all these traditional symbols carry are Freedom, Strength, Resilience, Love, Equality and ultimately a celebration of all our differences whilst remaining conscious of the continuous exploitation of under-served members of our global human family. I used the 70’s era and the American show the “Soul Train”, a show where soul music from legends such as Aretha Franklin would play, while men and women alike, adorned in big afros and wide leg pants danced to the rhythm of their own beat. Dance, poetry and music are just a few ways I chose to express the theme of what it means to be a part of the Human Family. Dance connects us, Poetry Connects Us, Music connects us and so does fashion!
I designed two prints this season. “The first print with the hummingbird symbol is a continuation of patterns that I created last season. This time round, revisited my scarification patterns juxtapositioned with the hummingbird motif. Hummingbirds are meant to bring love to everyone that encounters these magical birds. Body scarification patterns are often used by African tribes as a map of history and civilisation, as well as a form of healing the physical body. The second print is inspired by the “Kondo Udo”, a traditional feather hat worn by Warriors and Dancers from the Dholuo Tribe from my village. I revisited this print after my first, real life encounter with the dancers wearing this hat during my grandmother’s funeral in May this year, where the dancers came to perform and to pay their last respects to my grandmother.
I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.
Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.
The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.
I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.
I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.
Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.
We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.
We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
Universal love – that magnet which renders existence eternal, attracts realities and infuses life with infinite joy. Phonology is the study of systematic organization of sounds and how they are used in languages. This collection features “The sound of love” print, which has been fashioned from sound-waves of the words “I LOVE YOU” recorded in 25 languages. 10 of these languages are collected from the major tribes of Kenya; the remaining 15 are recorded in languages of places I have visited around the world, from Thai and Mauritian Creole to French and Spanish. The sound of love connects us all- as humans, we should all aspire to permeate our lives with more compassion and love.
The second print- the newspaper hummingbird print with the “Free As A Human” slogan- draws inspiration from a childhood riddle, “what’s black and white and red all over?” In this case, the answer is newspaper! This is a statement to illustrate how the exploitation of human beings and modern slavery IS still happening even when we claim to have evolved from this primitive practice. Free As A Human is an anti-human trafficking initiative I founded, rallying-fashion to combat modern slavery and advocate for sustainable practices within the manufacturing supply chain and play my part as a designer to end the use of child and forced labor. Free As A Human donates profits of sale from items to support Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) Kenya, an NGO that works with young female victims of human trafficking to end this massive problem. The hummingbird used in this print symbolizes love, enjoyment of life and lightness of being. The delicate hummingbird invites us to enjoy life’s sweetness, lift oneself out of negativity whenever it creeps in, and express love more wholly in our quotidian endeavors. By making more room for love and lightness into our lives, we CAN work collectively to end modern slavery. Love manifests itself in different areas in our lives, be it at a wedding or when a mother first meets her newborn. The Phonology Collection is a manifestation of love in the various spaces of our lives, from romance to a smile shared by two strangers.
The 2018 Collection “Literary Disenthrallment” is a collection about the emancipation of women who remain free from old social limitations and customs. The Collection is inspired by a voyage I took to Lamu Island. On my first day in Lamu, I stumbled upon a dragonfly on the kitchen floor and it inspired one of the prints I designed for this collection. Symbolically, female dragonflies go to great lengths to avoid mating with aggressive male counterparts by faking their own death. They assert their own freedom by this very act. Lamu is Kenya’s oldest continually inhabited region, and was one of the original Swahili settlements along coastal East Africa. The period from the late 17th century to early 19th century marks the town’s golden age, when Lamu was a center of poetry, politics, arts and crafts as well as trade. Many of the buildings of the town were constructed during this period in a distinct classical style with intricate carvings on walls and doors.
Aside from its thriving arts and crafts trading, Lamu became a literary and scholastic center. One particular poet who stands out is Mwana Kupona, a pioneer 19th Century woman who was famed for her poem Utendi wa Mwana Kupona (“The Book of Mwana Kupona”), which is one of the most well-known works of early Swahili Literature, on an Island that thrived on the slave trade until it’s abolition in 1907. She was the widow of the influential and famous Sheikh Mataka bin Mbaraka, known for waging war against the Sultan of Zanzibar. She enjoyed a higher status and greater freedom in Lamu than was the convention in Kenya during that time. In anticipation of her death, she wrote a poem for her 14 year old daughter Mwana Heshima, to guide her through life as she learned about love and marriage. It later became a book that talks about this secular subject on women whilst also remaining religious and to some point mysterious using archaic Swahili words and quoting the Islamic Calendar. “Utendi Wa Kupona” by Mwana Kupona Binti Sham is one of the most popular poems in Swahili Literature .
“Take this amulet
tie it with cord and caring
I’ll make you a chain of coral and pearl
to glow on your neck. I’ll dress you nobly.
A gold clasp too – fine, without flaw
to keep with you always.
When you bathe, sprinkle perfume, and weave your hair in braids
string jasmine for the counterpane.
Wear your clothes like a bride,
for your feet anklets, bracelets for your arms…
Don’t forget rosewater,
don’t forget henna for the palms of your hands.”
Poem: Excerpt from Utendi wa Mwana Kupona by Mwana Kupona Binti Sham (Pate Island -1858)
Translated from Swahili by J.W. Allen, Adapted by Deidre Bashgari
The prints from this collection are adapted from actual scarification patterns from various tribes across Africa such as the Akan people of the Congo basin in West Africa, the Toposa people from South Sudan and the Bodi from the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. This collection explores various ways of promoting a positive body image for all women, who at various stages in their lives wear both visible and invisible scars. Rather than hiding them, these scars must be celebrated as a mark of beauty and strength.
The Kondo Udo collection is inspired by the traditional headdress worn by tribal warriors and dancers from Anyango’s Luo tribe from Kenya. The ostrich in Luo culture is viewed as a symbol of great beauty and strength. The headdress, which is made of ostrich feathers, is used as a way of charming individuals who encounter the wearer.