Living as a young black woman can sometimes seem like I am a walking threat. I am automatically "too much" for most when I walk into a room before I even speak a word. My existence alone is seen as intimidating. With all of that weight on my shoulders, it makes it extremely hard to show up and even harder to take up space.
To take up space is to acknowledge and accept your right to be, to exist, to have an opinion, to speak up, to simply be a body no matter what that looks like. But how can I live in all of that when I am inundated with society's definition of who I am? It's not easy but the defining factor is your choice to just be. My mom always told me, "Never dim your light for others because it's shining in their eyes." She didn't know it but she was telling me to take up space.
To take up space to some degree also means that you make room for others; by letting your light shine you empower others to do the same. The creatives on this list have made themselves responsible for telling our stories while also building more tables and more seats for others.
Ebonee Davis, Model & Activist
This top model has chosen to use her platform to be an unapologetic black girl which is no small feat in fashion. Ebonee Davis is a strong believer that fashion artists and creatives are the literal embodiment of free speech and they have a responsibility to use it wisely. In her powerful essay for Harper's Bazaar, she revealed some raw details about her upbringing. Being raised by drug addicts was one of the toughest things she had to overcome:
"Seeing my parents struggle pushed me to live beyond the status quo. Instead of living out my life as a product of my environment, I decided it was my job to break the chains of poverty, addiction and abuse; to rewrite my family history and live according to my own narrative. When I look back on my time in fashion, I realize that if it were not for my mistreatment as a Black model, I would not have the platform to inspire other young women of color to be their authentic selves, and to love themselves despite living in a society that constantly reaffirms our inadequacy."
When you see Ebonee on any red carpet or prime time event, she is representing the culture in ways little black girls must see. She had a wake up call in 2016 that catapulted her vision as a model. She started rocking her natural hair once she sat with herself and realized she had some subconscious beliefs tied to eurocentric beauty norms.
In a conversation with ESSENCE, she said:
"It just changed the way that I moved through spaces and now that I have access to spaces that aren't typically occupied by people who look like me, I feel like I have a duty to be outspoken. I am opening the door and I am leaving it open for people that are coming after me."
Kerby Jean-Raymond, Fashion Designer & Founder of Pyer Moss
Kerby Jean-Raymond founded the ultra-stylish and wildly woke brand, Pyer Moss, in 2013 as an art project. Little did he know that his art project would blossom into one of the biggest, most thought-provoking fashion houses in the game. With collections produced in New York, Italy and Portugal, Pyer Moss aims to use its voice and platform to challenge social narratives and evoke dialogue.
Noted for his "They Have Names" shirt featured on Colin Kaepernick, his "Stop Calling 911 on The Culture" design during the SS19 collection debuted at one of the country's first free black communities and every single moment during the SS20 collection at King's Theater this past September.
If you aren't hip to his magical designs and productions, then I am sure you may have recently seen his read on a major fashion publication. Business of Fashion has been naming 500 of the most innovative creatives for the past seven years and, this year, while the Haitian-American designer was a part of the list, he wasn't here for BoF's tomfoolery after a long list of hell nahs. Kerby took to Medium to pen a thoughtful yet truthful letter to the world.
My favorite excerpt:
"In short, fuck that list and fuck that publication. I take no ownership of choirs, Christianity or curating safe spaces for black people. That's a 'We' thing. Homage without empathy and representation is appropriation. Instead, explore your own culture, religion and origins. By replicating ours and excluding us — you prove to us that you see us as a trend. Like, we gonna die black, are you?"
Our boy could teach a whole class on taking up space because not only does he create spaces to tell our stories but he corrects those who frame it as such but only want to keep the culture as a fad.
Lindsey Peoples-Wagner, Editor-In-Chief of Teen Vogue
It's no secret I am obsessed with this human. Not many Editor-In-Chiefs have made it their business to show up for many underrepresented communities. At 29 years young, she is the youngest EIC at a major publication and that fact isn't lost on her as she continues to bring new and fresh perspectives to fashion.
Last year, we had the amazing opportunity to chop it up with her and she shared that she never thought that she would evolve from an assistant to an EIC. "I never thought it would happen but I'm so grateful that I am! I am really passionate about what I do, and I'm looking forward to using this platform to further conversations on inclusivity, diversity, and the future of fashion." Lindsay has always been a proponent of having larger conversations in fashion and not just focusing on trend reports.
In our exclusive interview she also shared, "I was always interested in fashion and beauty, but I think as a Black woman it just took time for me to really develop the lens in which I talk about those things. I've had a lot of conversations with mentors over the past couple years about who I want to be when I 'grow up', and I realized there were bits and pieces of a lot of different people and career paths that I wanted to mold into one, even if it didn't exist already."
Lindsay has always been open about what it means to have a seat at the table because it's more than pretty clothes. She believes that if you're at the fashion table, it's your obligation to move past the "gratitude" and move into the capacity to speak up and be the voice for those who have not yet made it to the table.
Melina Matsoukas, Visionary
Some call her the provocateur behind Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Issa Rae since she is responsible for some of our favorite visuals like "Formation", "We Found Love" and episodes of her hit show Insecure. Traditionally, Melina holds titles as a director of music videos and television shows. She began her journey snapping photos of her friends decked out in African garb. That led her to study film at New York University and cinematography in the graduate program at the American Film Institute. Her full circle moment happened this year when she was awarded the Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal from AFI.
Most recently, with the talented Lena Waithe, she produced Queen & Slim, a film chronicling the journey of a black couple who go on the run after killing a police officer in self-defense. She told Variety.
"It's a story that I'm excited to tell because it challenges the idea of black love as well as the status quo. Lena and I hope that it sparks a dialogue and challenges people's views. I couldn't have made it through this process without Lena. On 'Master of None,' she trusted me with her personal story. Now I get to do this film with her — my soul sister."
As a creator, Melina finds power in documenting our stories in the most authentic ways. Most of all, her work is true to life. She never squanders an opportunity to bring light to injustices. For example, during the ELLE 2019 Women in Hollywood event, she dedicated her speech to Atatiana Jefferson by saying:
"I was up late last night trying to write my speech, trying to show my appreciation for the opportunities and the love and support I've been given."
"Trying to use my breath and my voice to create change and inspire on this stage today, but all I could think of were those whose breath was taken from us. All I could think of were my sisters who are not here, who could no longer speak, love, or thrive solely because of their existence as black woman. [Jefferson] was killed in her own bedroom, which is meant to be a safe haven for a person. She was murdered by someone meant to protect and to serve her. She was murdered because she was black."
Candace Marie, Social at Prada
She's the unapologetic black AF force behind Prada's social media and a constant street style killa. During an exclusive interview with us, she told us about her thoughts on inclusivity in fashion, "They can do way better. So much is hidden and deep-rooted that they don't realize what it is. I could be sitting in a board meeting and I question why am I the only black person out of 45 people that are here?"
She went on to say that she doesn't want to be the Bible for all things black but also realizes that there needs to be a shift and a change. "I honestly noticed it more as I started to travel and go to Fashion Weeks. You're not seeing any other women of color at the shows especially going into the luxury space. I remember a photographer told me he was shooting me because he wanted to make the street style some type of diverse. It's not their fault. Women of color are not being invited to these shows therefore you can't capture what's not there so it's like this domino effect."
That's why the Arkansas native pops out at international fashion weeks. To show up and take up space in her best cultured getups and hairstyles. She's leaving her foot print all over the fashion industry and we love that she's not afraid to be the first that looks like her to bring up topics and conversations outside of fabrics and designs.
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Featured image by Lindsay Peoples Wagner/Instagram