How old are you?
Old enough to query the relevance and necessity of this question!
Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in Birmingham, UK to Jamaican parents. I studied dance and art and have always been a creative person in one way or another. In Birmingham I used to make and sell jewellery out of old leather bags. I was in a dance company called Ads Hoc in Manchester. After university I moved to London to pursue a career in dance and became a dance teacher. I have since been teaching in all manner of subjects within the field of the arts for the past 13 years.
What drew you to fashion?
All my foremothers sewed and made clothes, I suppose it could be viewed as a tradition but no one ever called it that. The ability to sew developed out of poverty and a necessity for clothing therefore there were always bits of fabric at my grandmothers or my mother’s house. Sewing machines, pins, and dressmakers dummies were just as natural and everyday to me as tables and chairs. Growing up in and around this environment meant that studying clothing and fashion would have been a natural step but the attitude and behaviour of fashion people I encountered and the industry put me off! So I did my own type of fashion, designed my own things, made my own clothes and started my own label without really knowing what I was doing. I was just doing what felt right and fun!
Why did you join this MA?
I now run an organisation called the Costume Institute of the African Diaspora (CIAD) which looks at clothing and adornment from across Africa and the African Diaspora. I realised I didn’t have any particular understanding of the importance of dress history or how it related to social theory and therefore the work I am doing with CIAD was unlikely to be taken seriously by others. I had been researching and thinking about doing this MA for 2 years before I did it. It doesn’t give me everything I need but it has been useful and I have learnt a lot.
What extra-curricular activities have you been involved with in the past few months?
The CIAD team puts an event together every season called CIAD Exchange where we gather people from the industry to discuss a particular theme or topic in front of an audience. There are very few public forums which discuss fashion and clothing from an African Diaspora perspective and so we provide a platform for this. We have just had our spring exchange where the topic was beauty through dress and adornment. This year CIAD is also launching their first major project about the influence tartan has had on fabrics used across Africa and the African Diaspora. The development of this project takes an incredible amount of work and so we have been partially busy with that. The project involves an exhibition a documentary about the project development and a dance performance as well as various workshops around London. The exhibition is at Craft Central and runs from 5th – 30th August 2014!
Where do you hope to be two years from now?
I hope to have CIAD’s first two courses up and running successfully within the next two years. This will also help to establish CIAD a bit more and spread the word about the organisation. I also hope to have made stronger links with other groups and organisations across the Diaspora. For myself I hope to be on my way to becoming an “expert” in dress and adornment from the African Diaspora and being able to teach on this subject.