Rock, Fashion & StyleSunday, October 10, 2021
Things are creeping ever so slowly back to normal. So much so that the act of sitting on our sofas, in our most comfortable soft clothes, judging red carpets and fashion week runways has returned. Though we continue to battle misformation and public opinion gleaned from “Facebook University,” we can again discuss beauty, fashion, theatre, and art — things that enrich culture — without being out of touch and feeling out of place. With that in mind, and guided by the mantra of “staying ahead,” the Jamaica Observer hosted a style webinar, Tuesday last, with fashion designer Samantha Black (aka Sammy B) and Instyle.com Senior Beauty Editor Kayla Greaves.
Moderated by Novia McDonald-Whyte, senior associate editor, lifestyle and social content, Jamaica Observer Limited, and powered by Sagicor Bank, the webinar Rock, Fashion & Style was a thrilling two-hour discussion about the numerous issues that intersect with beauty and fashion.
The virtual event kicked off with Greaves discussing her upbringing, being born to Jamaican parents in Canada, summers in Jamaica, often being the only black person in spaces, her foray into journalism, and the move to the US to advance her career. The decision to make beauty journalism her career was intentional, spurred early on by the perception of her hair being seen as “bad”. Greaves' career has seen her do freelance work for the Huffington Post Canada and Bustle in NYC before being recruited by InStyle. As Rock-born Canadian philanthropist Donette Chin-Loy said in the comment section: “Canada incubates, and the world benefits.”
Greaves has interviewed many celebrities at InStyle, including Halle Berry, Chaka Khan, Gabrielle Union, Dionne Warwick, JLo, and Naomi Campbell. She has, too, used her influence to create innovative programmes, such as All Natural by Instyle, that celebrate natural hair. Since its inception, the platform has appealed to women and men at various stages of the natural hair journey, and advertisers have clamoured to participate.
Fashion designer Sammy B's name is no stranger here on The Rock and in the US. Her designs have graced the bodies of Halle Berry, Gabrielle Union, Wendy Williams, Elaine Welteroth, Beyoncé, and Gayle King. Black's SS22 collection Small But We Tallawah created a buzz among fashion editors at the most recent staging of New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Black further gave editors an immersive Jamaican experience by hosting an event at Omar's Kitchen — the Jamaican restaurant located in the East Village — where she shot the collection's lookbook.
A memorable portion of the webinar addressed meeting parental expectations vs self-fulfilment. As Jamaican creatives, early in their careers, both women faced opposition from their immediate families. When Black announced that she would be attending art school at the prestigious Pratt Institute, she was met with disbelief. How could such a bright young woman go to school to learn “to draw?” Greaves, meanwhile, was expected to enrol in law school but opted for a communications degree from McMaster University.
Silencing external negativity, especially while concurrently battling one's inner saboteur, is, in a word, exhausting. It's tough when the support you need cannot be found within your immediate family. Leading up to her first showing at NYFW, Black had to cease communicating with her family (her brother chimed in saying the showcase was a waste of money) so she could focus on completing the collection. This is what is meant by radical self-care. Black put herself and her mental health first and silenced the noise. When her family arrived on the night of the runway show, seeing 900 people anxiously waiting to view Black's work, that's when the lightbulb went on for them. As Greaves astutely put it: “Regardless of what we do, our parents just want us to be successful.” And as we know, for many Jamaican parents, success is tethered to public praise.
Identity was another big topic addressed by the webinar's esteemed guests. From personal experiences to the importance of black dolls, this was an exciting moment in the session. The topic of dolls came up as Black recently collaborated with Mattel's American Girl dolls to dress one of the characters — Evette Peeters — for the company's recently launched World by Us line. Greaves took viewers down memory lane when she discussed how wildly successful the Brandy doll was for Mattel upon its 1999 release, with her braids and real black features, to boot.
Both Greaves and Black are unapologetic about their heritage and blackness. In the words of Netflix CMO Bozeman St John, they bring their “whole self to work”. Authenticity is the fuel that powers their success. Greaves, for instance, does not water down stories by black writers so that they immediately appeal to white readers. “I've always inserted my culture into my collections,” said Black and this has not only set her apart but gained her a loyal following. Being a black woman in business, especially in the United States, comes with a particular set of issues that can be seen as unnavigable. But, if you want something done correctly, you really have to ask a black woman. “When black women are trusted to do their jobs and are put in positions of power, they are successful,” said Greaves.
The influence of blackness on beauty and fashion was also discussed. The global beauty industry is worth US$ 511 billion, and in the US, black and Hispanic people have the highest share of the local beauty market. Rihanna's Fenty Beauty launch silenced naysayers and proved that make-up for dark skin is a lucrative business. As a result of Fenty Beauty, other brands quickly clamoured to create dark shades, many of which should have spent more time in the lab before hitting shelves, to secure a piece of the pie than they have historically ignored. This “40 shade effect” created a seismic shift in beauty and, in one fell swoop, revealed which demographic really had the spending power.
Both women also use their respective platforms to uplift others. From her appearance on Project Runway season 11 (2013) and Project Runway All-Stars season four (2014) to running a brand, Black loves teaching and showing budding Black designers that they can bank on heritage and strong cultural identity being, among other things, financially rewarding. From where she sits, Greaves doesn't have to defend her decisions. She uses her power and makes it a point of duty to amplify the voices of underrepresented writers.
When logging on to social media requires a deep breath and abandoning the need to enlighten the darkness, Rock, Fashion & Style was an erudite discussion that was, too, a bit of good news. It was great to see two fabulous daughters of Jamaica celebrated by the places they call home, and the people considered family.