Difficulties for Black Women In The Fashion Industry
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
Jade Keisha Gordon first picked up a camera back in 2010, starting properly in the later years of 2014. "I've always had an interest in fashion photography. I think I always knew that this was kind of what I wanted to go down". She soon began to grow more recognition within the Fashion and Photography industry in 2017 after a campaign she was booked for went global. "I would probably say that that was where I started to feel like okay, you know, my work is being seen."
When you attend fashion events and jobs, how were/are you treated by those around you who are not Black?
I haven't really been to many conventions, I think last January, was the first one I ever went to. It was very different. I went with a group of girls from the UK Black Female Photographers platform. 10-15% of the people [at the event] were all Black, everyone else was White. And it was interesting. When I was asking a lot of these people questions, I feel like the way they looked at me was as if I wasn't being serious or professional like them. I think with time, I feel that we have to break these and barriers down. We have to push ourselves into these positions and into these people's worlds because you'd be surprised how many talented Black photographers there are. I feel like we don't get the opportunities that maybe our White counterparts get. I'm all about trying to position myself in places that enable me to then be able to bring in people who are like me, look like me, are Black, Plus size, Female... so that they can have that opportunity, and then they can then bring someone else into it as well.
How would you compare that to the feeling you received from other Black people amongst you?
I feel like us as Black people, we have this weird thing about us. I realised that we love to see each other win, but there is a small proportion of people that don't like to see us win as much as them. They always want us to be just a little bit lower. That is something that I saw a little bit, I don't know if that is insecurities or just worries. But I've always felt that there's an element of that. But, it's not a bad thing. Overall, I feel like if we push one another, we can all win.
At the beginning of your career, within the Fashion industry did you envision a space for you there. If not, what made you unsure about your decision in taking up a career within this industry?
Oh, god, no, not really. When I started in 2010, I had my name, website, all that stuff. And I used to just shoot, so it's kind of weird how I fallen into this industry. I think at the time I didn't get an opportunity to assist anybody. Not because I didn't want to but because no one wanted to have me. Back then assisting just weren't a thing. It was weird actually. A lot of people that I did ask, they just wouldn't have it. I never particularly saw myself within fashion, so when I was shooting prior it was just because I liked what people were wearing. And then early 2015, I started working with the plus size community. It really bought me some sort of peace within what I was creating, I felt like I was creating a segment or a piece for myself too. When you're able to see yourself within what you create it makes life so much easier. And that could be anything from being Plus size, being Black, being a Female, all these things. I think shooting Plus size women gave me the confidence to know that I can do anything because people struggle to shoot Plus size, and for me, I find it so easy. So I said if I can do this, I can do anything because according to everyone else, shooting this is hard.
Tanya Compas and Kei, taken by JKG photography
Did you encounter any difficulties as a Black woman within the fashion industry? If so, can you tell us about your experience?
Yes, all the time. I just always feel like I'm having to work overtime just to get a small segment of what someone who is not Black is getting. We always have to work 10 times harder, we always have to be 10 steps ahead. Why do we always have to be so clued up every single time? If I was to go against someone that was not Black and we had practically the exact same credentials, and it was a brand looking for a photographer, 9 times out of 10 they're gonna go for her rather than me. It can be disheartening. When I first started, I found it very, very difficult to understand why I wasn't being chosen for these particular jobs. And I realised that that's not my path. God does not give us anything that we cannot handle. So, as far as I'm concerned, what is not made for me will not come. So that's how I have to look at things. I would say this year alone, even though it's been such a rubbish year, I've had many ups and so many highlights, so many. I'm extremely blessed, but it's because I've had to work, I've had to really work. I've had to put myself out there. I've had to drop those emails, email these clients and brands, just to put myself out there. Bear in mind, I've been doing this properly for years. I've been doing it since 2014. Six years is a long time, and only now am I thinking I'm being seen at my worth. You realise that the fact that your clients are coming back to you, that's enough. You don't need validation from anybody and this is something that I've learned over time. The validation should come from within, not from others because if you keep craving validation, you're never going to be honestly happy with yourself. I think we sometimes have to just create our own world and spaces. Then when we've created our own, we use that and we knock down their space in the sense that we walk in and we'd be like, okay, we're here. I don't intend to take anybody off what they do or anything like that. But I want to be seen in the same way.
How can the treatment of Black women be improved, so that experiences for those who choose to take on roles within the Fashion industry are better?
Equality. It doesn't mean we want to be more superior than our White counterparts, we just want the same opportunities, and the same advantages that they get. It's funny, being a woman in the world is hard as it is; they say to us you can't have a career and have a family. Or if you have a child your career is over. And that's just being a woman. Throw in the fact that you're Black, you're downplayed. When you're not happy with something and you discuss it, you're put across as aggressive and argumentative, so you shun away from doing that. Which means you start to accept things that you probably don't even want to accept just because you don't want to be seen as difficult. I think people need to start realising that us saying yes or no and us asking questions is not us being difficult, it is us being inquisitive and wanting to learn more. We need to know that we can walk into a space and be free to say what we need to say and not be shunned or be labelled as this aggressive person, the aggressor or a bully. They assume that because we're Black women we are hard, and we don't need protection, we need it. And in this Fashion industry, we need to be seen more. Not only just as Photographers, as Models. Models should be able to go to onset and not have to do their own hair and makeup because there is already a team that are qualified to work with Afro hair and are able to do all types of skin tones. Models shouldn't be made to feel upset because they don't have the right colour or the right shade, that's not their fault. Look at your team, how many Black people are in that team? How many Black women are in that team? Something needs to change. We're doing things like for example, like what you're doing, Nicole, you're working with different Black influencers, and brands and all these things and it's good, it's great. Even myself, I love working with my people, I love them. But then we are our own enemy sometimes too. You would realise that it will be our own community that start haggling us when it comes to payment and rates! We have to do better. If we do better within our own communities, those on the outside will see. What you see from the inside, reflects on the outside too.
Lastly, do you think a change for the treatment of Black women within fashion and the media is possible?
Of course, it's possible, of course. Think about it. If you think about the Naomi Campbell's, the Tyra Banks, the Imaans, think about what struggles they had to go through. Even though our Black models today are still going through them, think about what struggles they had to go through back then. About how many times they probably were told, we're going to need to change your hair, we're gonna need to straighten your hair, your hair doesn't fit. So if now in this day and age, we're seeing people having natural hair on adverts and stuff like that, there's change, it's happening. When it comes to Black people there's always delays, what ifs and buts, however there is a change coming. Do I know when? I don't know. I feel like every day we're changing, we need to be having discussions with our White counterparts on how they with the privilege that they have, can help us. These are the conversations we need to be having. They need to know that they have this privilege regardless, even if they don't want it, it's been given upon them since birth. Change will just take time.