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Meet The Unapologetically Black Creative Force Behind PRADA's Social Game

Beauty & Fashion

The moment Candace Marie Stewart took her first trip to New York City, she understood why her life in Arkansas didn't make sense. While southern girls have a unique perception of style and flair, Candace felt a soul tie to the Big Apple that she couldn't ignore. Ever since she made the fashion capital of the US her home, this social media maven has been creating a name for herself despite the status quo. We all know that behind every dope Instagram account is a super lit black woman.

The Arkansas native found a way to marry her two loves: fashion and social media. With brands like ESSENCE, Vogue, People and Lucky on her badass resume, it's hard not to root for Candace. She is wildly known for bringing the culture to international Fashion Weeks where she might be the only woman of color in the space. Not only is she a certified street style killa, she has brains to match, holding a MBA in finance.

Candace Marie can't be put in a box because she's too much of a creative soul. When we asked her how she describes her style, she said, "I can never put it in a box because I can appreciate so many different types of style. I love that you can create a character depending on what place you're going. I can create myself and be anything that I want to be and it really can be different. It could be t-shirt jeans or it could be super fabulous over-the-top designer couture. I like to play both sides where it doesn't have to necessarily be in this statement of 'this is what it is' or one word."

The creative force to be reckoned with recently leveled up and traded her time as the creative mind behind Barney's social to the role of social media manager for PRADA. Yes, the PRADA. We had the chance to kiki with the boss babe about how she feels about inclusivity in fashion, what's next for her and the biggest lessons she's learned from holding her own in these major domains.

Do you remember the moment you fell in love with fashion?

Photo Courtesy of Candace Marie

It always felt internal but the thing that I can pinpoint was in middle school and I tried to find myself like with any other teenager in high school or growing up. You're trying to find yourself in a lot of ways and you express yourself through the way you dress. I never felt like I could find anything that I really, really liked and then the internet became more popular where you could see things but not too much. I remember always being on ASOS because it was one of those few places. I remember taking one of my mother's silk scarves and there was a really, pretty orange and pink scarf so I thought, "I can tie this and make it to a shirt and wear my denim jacket over it."

My mother saw me on the way out and she didn't say much but then I'm in class and I hear, " Candace to the front office," over the intercom. I get there and my dad said, "Hey, I'm checking you out for the day." I was thinking something had happened and he tells me that my mom told him to come pick me up and make me change. So my dad took me to this sewing place and he told me to pick out a sewing machine. He said, "The next time you want to wear something make it yourself." I ended up teaching myself how to sew and seeing different designs I even made my own prom dress. I kind of want to get back into that world because my mother knew how to sew as well and anything that she knew she taught me. That's the first memory I have of like actually putting it into motion.

​You've worked with big brands, like ESSENCE, Vogue, People and Lucky. What was the biggest lesson you learned from being in those major domains?

Hard work. I would look at my peers and then compare myself because we started off interning together then we did freelance together and we worked here and here. You go back and start measuring yourself up to what everyone's doing right now.

I always said, "You’re u don't have to be the smartest in the room or the most clever person but a hardworking person will outlast anyone because you have to be consistent."

The thing in the fashion industry and other industries, is hearing alot of no's. Hearing 'no' a thousand times can make you feel this industry is not for you. I've had alot of friends that felt it got too hard and they decided to take another route. I never felt like just because you didn't get the 'yes' that you thought that you wanted or thought that it should be, doesn't mean you weren't meant to be in the industry.

How do you feel about the state of inclusivity and fashion?

Photo Courtesy of Candace Marie

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? I'm analyzing it in my head; there's not one other person of color in the room. I've had conversations with peers who are black or a minority and we don't want to be the Bible for all things black. It 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.

Also, it was a goal for me to not even try to fit in because I like to rock braids and cornrows; this is how I feel. I'm looking different than every single person. It starts internally at these companies with the people that are behind the closed doors. Not the models. They're not thinking about us because people are normally thinking about who they're similar to naturally because you're going to pick someone's beauty standards who look like you. With that in mind, you need to have other people of various diversities, religion, etc because you're going to naturally be biased. And I said that so many times on my own team. I'm like, "Listen, I keep on picking black women. Can y'all give me somebody else because I'm always going to be attracted to the dope black girl." But again, it starts behind closed doors.

​If you had to choose the best and worst parts of your job. What would they be?

Photo Courtesy of Candace Marie

The best part is that it's ever-creative and fast paced. I love that because I'm creating it as I go. From the videographers I work with to the talent, I've always been able to try new things without having stipulations. Just because, again, it's a newer industry. Honestly, a lot of times people don't even know themselves what they want so it's nice to be able to try different things and bring the diversity factor from the talent to the photographer to the space. Like, how does that look? I would say the worst part is…two things.

The fashion industry is already crazy, but social media is 24 hours so I never have a break and I need a vacation. I need to chill.

I have to constantly remind myself that I need to take care of my body because I haven't been to the doctor the entire year. I need to keep up with myself and the older I get, I'm putting what is important in perspective and what is not. Also, the other worst thing is that because social media is very on display, from a company standpoint, I always say imagine if every email that you sent was displayed to your entire company every time you send it because everyone has an opinion on it from a company standpoint. Everyone thinks they know how to do it. So you get a lot of opinions about your job. At the end of the day, I love to do recaps and reports stating this is why we did what we did.

​With you saying you have to remind yourself to take care of yourself, how do you make time for Candace? How do you do self-care?

Family time. All of my family is still back in Arkansas but I literally FaceTime somebody from my family every single day whether it's an aunt or my nieces. Just hearing the kids laugh on the phone is good for me. I'm consistently on the phone with my siblings and my parents because those are the people that are going to love me regardless. They could care less about the fashion industry. They can care less because they don't understand it and that's such a breath of fresh air to step away from it. Also, I always take a bubble bath every single day just because it makes me stop and say, "This is my time."

I can disconnect and separate myself and put things back into perspective.

I just started working out again after I fractured my foot last year. I was rushing to work and fractured my foot. And I thought, this is crazy. Work is never that important. Your physical health is more important than all of this. I am my number one priority, everything else comes second. I am starting with a new company and I told them I needed a week off before I start. They asked if I could start Monday and I said, "No, I need a week off." I have to be at my best to give you my best. If I am empty, I can't give you anything. Thank

​As a woman of color, what do you find the most intriguing about us magical beings?

I would probably say our hair but it is more like our creativity. Because we are so creative and I posted a meme I found where the woman changes her hair every week to a different hairstyle. It was so me and I can never keep the same style for long. That creativity comes out in my job as well. At work, they always ask what I think because I always give the most out of the box ideas.

That's what people don't see. When you hire us, you are getting so much creativity.

When I look on social media, from dancing to jokes, my friends and I talk about how only black people can create this type of magic. We are really so bomb. I was watching Beyonce's Homecoming and I think she said some of these things that we can do isn't normal and that's the thing, our creativity is not normal. I am in awe of how we can take something so basic and make it so creative.

You've already made a huge impact on fashion and social media, what's next for you?

Photo Courtesy of Candace Marie

I'm coming more into my own, if that makes any sense. I'm becoming more comfortable being in such an industry. Sometimes people feel like it's such a juxtaposition for black people to exist in luxurious spaces but we do it and we are seeing it with collaborations like Dapper Dan and Gucci. And with that, there were still some underlying things that were like taking place. For me, I just want that next step to include me bridging the gap.

We belong in this space and we can own this space and we deserve job opportunities, from modeling to photography to being invited to these shows.

My next step is going to really start to intertwine that. Social media will always be there too because that's a passion of mine. I love doing it for friends and different businesses and things of that nature, but I do want to see that gap close up where you don't have to second-guess yourself [as a person of color] or I don't have to worry about being the only black person in a space. Am I going to see anyone else that looks like me in this space? I feel that my next step will allow me to own that better because I feel like a lot of what I did at Barney's was me laying the foundation and seeing a lot of those fruits from my labor happen. As much as I love social media, I'll always be a black woman. There's no separation from that.

Keep up with Candace on social.

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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