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BOSS UP

Kandace Banks Talks Surviving The Toxic Side Of Fashion To Launching Her Own One-Woman Show

The internet has been a global platform for undiscovered artists and entertainers to freely share their talents without the backing of big-budget studios. Many creators have gained Hollywood success by artfully telling their lived experiences in a way that feels relatable to millions of viewers via social media and YouTube.

It wasn’t just creativity and charm that led to their cultural popularity, but their determination to express themselves when faced with life’s difficulties that would eventually unfold into multi-million dollar empires. Witnessing the glow-up for so many online creators, if there was a designated road to success Kandace Banks is forging her own path in real time.


"Thanks, Kandace Banks" is a captivating scripted series with a unique point of view of the fashion industry that many outsiders never get the opportunity to witness. Taking on the tropes of The Devil Wears Prada, fashion stylist turned writer, director, producer, and star of her viral social media-based scripted series, Banks provides viewers with a fashionable account of how she went from aspiring intern to eventually becoming blacklisted in the New York styling scene.

Moving to the city to pursue her dream as a celebrity stylist led to internships with various industry professionals with well-to-do clients; however, we soon find out that everything that glitters isn’t gold. Her boss, Miranda, was the first she introduced to her audience, and with each episode, we witness a whirlwind of emotions, challenges, and pivots that left millions of viewers wanting more.

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Making the decision to leave New York City for Los Angeles after a series of continuous setbacks, she had no idea where her ambitions would lead her but hard work, self-evaluation, and determination have proven that trusting the process is paying off more than she ever anticipated.

Now the star of her one-woman scripted show, Banks' story resonates with not only Black women struggling to find their footing in the fashion industry but also those feeling defeated when life seemingly intercepts their dreams for reality.

​xoNecole: You experienced a real-life version of 'The Devil Wears Prada,' where did you find the courage to share your story as a Black woman in the fashion industry when it often feels taboo to speak up about negative experiences?

Kandace Banks: I was so scared, but my vision for it wouldn’t leave me alone. I told myself I couldn’t talk about it on the internet, I would get shunned or blacklisted, but I kept having visions and flashbacks of what I went through, so I was like, no, I have to do this. I was so scared to post the first episode, but I posted it, and it went viral and for me, back when “viral” meant 300,000 views.

My worst fear did happen. [The celebrity stylist] reached out to me saying, 'Take those episodes down. I have a lawyer, and they’ll be contacting you,' but I didn’t take the episodes down. She tried to say she never cursed me out or treated me badly when, literally, those episodes were taken directly from my journal. I would go home and write down word for word what those people said to me while it was fresh in my head.

So I have journal entries of fresh conversations. That’s where I got the name from, "Thanks, Kandace Banks." I would email my entries to myself, and since it was digital, I was able to access it from anywhere. I’d be on my phone writing myself and my email signature was "Thanks, Kandace Banks." So when the pandemic hit, I was going through all my journal entries and reading them, like, 'Oh my God, my life is a movie. I should turn it into a web series and call it 'Thanks, Kandace Banks.'"

xoN: ​As you’ve mentioned in episode one, you are no longer a fashion stylist because of being blacklisted, how did you know?

KB: One lady was literally like, I spoke with your references, and they said it wouldn’t be a good fit. So the girl I previously worked for was literally like, don’t hire her. I could never do that to another young Black girl trying to make it, so I don’t know how those women could do that to me. How can you not see yourself in me? I was very disappointed when that happened. I sat down and had a self-reflection, which is why I had an episode in the first season where I was playing the angel and the devil in my bedroom.

xoN: ​When did you decide to give up on your dream of being an NYC-based stylist to pursue another?

KB: Well [after being blacklisted], I got into a car accident, so I was forced to get a desk job because I couldn’t lift my arm. So while I was healing, I worked in corporate, and then I was waiting for my settlement check to come in from the accident. Guess when it came in, February of 2020. I finally got the check, my shoulder was healed, and I decided to quit my job and be a full-time stylist again. Nothing was going to stop me. 2020 was going to be my year! Who knew what was around the corner in March 2020, a worldwide pandemic? I was like, 'What the hell?' I just couldn’t catch a break. I was actually on set styling when I first heard about the shutdown.

We couldn't gather in groups of more than five, and there were tons of people on set. I was shooting with Shea Moisture, and it was a multiple-day photoshoot. They told us we couldn’t come back the next day and that production was permanently on pause. Little did we know the whole world shut down. I felt so defeated and I was questioning my styling career.

I had an identity crisis during the pandemic. That’s when I decided to move to Los Angeles. I thought, instead of chasing this styling career— because I’ve had so many setbacks— maybe that’s not what I’m meant to do with my life. Maybe I’m meant to go to Hollywood and make this into the first Black fashion television series. My web series incorporates all of it. It incorporates my eye for visuals, creativity, and I get to style myself.

xoN: ​You’ve been able to captivate your audience not only by your storytelling but the visuals are so creative, as well as your outfits. Can you share your creative process and if this was something you envisioned for yourself?

KB: I had no idea. I’ve always been a super creative person. I’ve always been a person who can figure out how to do something myself. That’s how my mom raised us, do everything yourself. So once I had the idea for a web series, I just naturally put the pieces together, figuring out how to make it work and how to make it happen as a one-woman show. I didn’t know I had this in me until I forced myself to do it, and I really surprised myself.

Setting up my tripod and filming was not easy at first, the locations were very public. I was at the Santa Monica Proper, which is a very well-known hotel, and people were staring at me like, “What’s this girl doing?” I was filming at the table and then I would run to the bathroom, put another outfit on, and do the other character. No one would be there with me. It would just be me, alone in front of all these people, filming at a restaurant.

xoN: ​That's very courageous.

KB: Yes! At first, I didn’t have locations, but then I got hired at HBO Max, and that’s where all the scenes in the office took place. The first time I went viral, that episode is at 6 million views now, and it was filmed at my office at HBO. They told me this office is open all year except on Christmas and New Year’s Day, but we’re open 24/7. It was such a blessing. I asked if I can come in on the weekends, and they said absolutely. So I would pack my suitcase, go in on the weekend, and have this huge entertainment company building all to myself.

Filming in all of the rooms and it felt like such a spiritual experience.

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xoN: ​Wow, that is perfect alignment.

KB: At first, being on camera silent-acting was really awkward for me. I’m acting things out, but I’m not talking to the camera. It's not like my voice is being recorded. I do the voice-over after the fact. So, being in those restaurants, moving my lips, and not saying anything was really weird and really awkward. I was even consulting my friends, asking if I should move my lips and match them with a voiceover, so it was a real process [of] seeing what worked the best. I finally found a groove, and it took off.

​xoN: Do you use a script when filming?

KB: Well, I outline it. I write the whole season in advance, but for each episode, I’ll do an outline of one sheet with a synopsis of the episode at the top with a location and my intentions with the episode. I think it's good to set your intentions before you do something like this. I’ll also have the scene breakdown; I need a scene with this character doing this, and I need a scene with this character doing that. Then I’ll pick out my outfits while coordinating like, if Emily is wearing this color then my character will wear another color.

xoN: ​We’re all rooting for you as viewers; however, we see you taking accountability and reflecting on your actions as an intern in the fashion industry and how you could have done better. How important are those self-check-ins when things are not going as planned?

KB: I’ve always taken accountability, I’ve always been able to admit when I'm wrong, and I’ve always sat down and asked myself why a situation happened the way it did. What could I have done differently? How could I have made this person happier? That’s always been my style. Maybe it’s because I’m a little self-deprecating, I’m hard on myself, and I’m a people-pleaser. I’ve always taken time to self-reflect, and a lot of times, I was in the right for standing up for myself because you have to. You’ll be taken advantage of, and people will walk all over you.

You have to show people how they can treat you. In my 20’s I just didn’t know how to harness my power. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. I had a ton of attitude, letting people know they can’t talk to me in any type of way.

When really, as an intern, you’re starting from the bottom, you haven't made a name for yourself, you have no projects behind you, no credibility, so I had to learn how to be humble and learn what I need to learn while taking all that knowledge and put it into my own career which is what I eventually ended up doing.

xoN: What do you envision for "Thanks Kandice Banks" in the future?

KB: I want to eventually have a whole team. I have ideas for branding and logos. I want to start doing more commercials and teasers for each episode. I want to market this as a real show. I look at Issa [Rae] as a blueprint, and that’s the No. 1 comment I get, “You’re the next Issa Rae!”

I think she and I do have similarities as far as using the internet to put out our content. I know someone is going to pick up my show, too, but fundamentally, we are completely different people. She’s not serving fashion. She’s a great storyteller. When I make it, I’m going to be serving y’all looks and editorials. I’m going to do it completely differently than she is doing it. I can’t wait to have my movies. Once I get to that point, I plan to be in my own lane.

xoN: I can see your creative growth from the first season to your current, even in the way you film. Now I see it more as she wants to be on TV! Where do you envision people watching Kandace Banks?

KB: Of course, you know I’ve really thought about this. I can see it being on a Netflix or HBO Max but Apple has phenomenal shows. I don’t know who’s running content at Apple, but they’re doing a great job. The shows there are so good. Apple, pick me up!

​xoN: We see comedies, but we don’t see shows that are fashion-focused.

KB: And Black! Where's the Black version of The Devil Wears Prada? Where’s the BlackGossip Girl or Clueless for the people? Not just Black actors but really for us. I want to be the first.

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xoN: ​Why do you feel your story needed to be told?

KB: Nobody realizes how toxic the fashion industry is. They think it's all glitz and glam. They think it's all about putting people in beautiful gowns and dresses when really there’s politics within the fashion industry. There’s no pay. The fact that I was working a restaurant job on the side, knowing I shouldn’t have been taking any orders, delivering meals. I was the worst server ever. Restaurant life was not for me, but I had to do what I had to do to make money. They [fashion internships] didn’t even pay for my subway tickets, nothing.

I feel like my story needs to be told because it’s really cut-throat, really hard, and it hasn’t been told from a Black point of view. I have such a clear vision for it in my head. I just need the funding and a team.

​xoN: What advice would you give someone pursuing a career in fashion or any other industry and not really seeing the results they anticipated?

KB: I would tell them, nothing ever goes as planned. God, laughs at plans. Keep your head down and expect the unexpected. There will be curve balls thrown constantly, but nothing worth having comes easily. Your career is worth the fight. When things get hard, you have to keep the bigger picture in mind and remember why you started, and just keep going. You also have to know when to be humble and take criticism, but you also have to know when to stand up for yourself. There's a time and place for both.

You have to expect to work really hard. I didn’t expect to work as hard as I had to. If you go in with the mentality of having to hustle and grind, unfortunately, that’s what you’re going to have to do. People are going to treat you terribly, but you have to be confident within yourself to know that you can't take anything personal. At the end of the day, you have to do your best work and give it all you got and know that you’ve tried your hardest.

​xoN: What are your thoughts on knowing when to pivot if things aren't working out as planned and being pulled in another direction?

KB: I had no idea Hollywood would be calling my name. I had no idea I would decide to be an actress, director, and producer. This new endeavor that I am on encompasses everything that I’m good at. I believe that styling was just my introduction to one thing, and God said this is just a piece of the picture, a crumb of what’s in store for you. I was so sad when styling didn’t work out, but little did I know this would be my story that's going to make it to the big screen.

You can watch seasons 1-3 of "Thanks, Kandice Banks" on Instagram @_Kandace or Tiktok @Kandace.Banks.

Featured image courtesy

 

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