Emotional Baggage - Unpacking the psychology of fashion with Shakaila Forbes-Bell

Sunday, July 08, 2018

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On July 19, 2016, Shakaila Forbes-Bell made history by becoming the first black woman in the world to earn a master's in Fashion Psychology. The daughter of a Jamaican father and Trinidadian mother, Forbes-Bell has a deep interest in the intersection of where race and clothing meet. “In the final year of my undergraduate degree in psychology at University College London, I did a project on how black boys are perceived when they are wearing hoodies,” said Forbes-Bell. “I've always been interested in how minorities are perceived by the clothes that they wear.”

This interest led Forbes-Bell to become a part of the first cohort of students graduating with an MSc in Applied Psychology in Fashion at the London College of Fashion — a programme that is accredited by the British Psychological Society.

While doing her research, Forbes-Bell had difficulty in finding resources that allowed her to fully “explore the inner workings of psychology as it relates to fashion”. This dearth of resources inspired her to start cataloguing, which turned into The Psychology of Fashion Blog™. I'm a big believer that knowledge should be free,” she shared.

During the global economic crisis of 2008, international cosmetic brands such as L'Oréal and Shiseido saw a significant uptick in sales. Economists call this the Lipstick Effect, and despite being used to gauge economic activity, it's rooted in evolutionary psychology.

The Psychology of Fashion Blog™ explored the Lipstick Effect in a May 24th article. “Coined by Leonard Lauder (emeritus chairman of Estée Lauder), the Lipstick Effect or the Lipstick Index was the idea that, during economic turmoil, consumers are more inclined to purchase relatively inexpensive luxury items,” writes Lauren Drabwell, risk analyst, Deloitte UK, and MSc student in Behaviour Change. Forbes-Bell explains that “during times of crisis people have a desire to spend, as consumption brings joy”. She is quick to note that an extreme response to this joy can manifest in the development of a shopping addiction, a topic that she's doing further research on.

On the day of her graduation, Forbes-Bell posted a picture of herself in a graduation cap with a raised fist and a confident smile. “Today, I became the first black woman in the world to be awarded with a Master's in Psychology for Fashion. I have always and will always fight for the inclusion and positive representation of black and minority ethnic women worldwide. It is pivotal that the marks we leave on this world are visible for all to see so that future generations of little black girls know that their achievements are boundless.”

Shakaila Forbes-Bell hasn't monetised The Psychology of Fashion Blog™. However, she conducts workshops in England that she's looking at taking global. She regularly gets e-mails from people all over the world congratulating her on her achievements and asking how they too can also study fashion psychology. “I want to help to produce as many fashion psychologists as possible,” she added.

In the aforementioned Instagram post she also wrote: “With this small step and the many steps I hope to take in the future, I hope to further the narrative of black girls being powerful, beautiful, intelligent and of course – magic!” SO2 sees Forbes-Bell as all of those things as well as a rising force in the global fashion industry and definitely one to watch.

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