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A Seat at the Table: The Black British Women Taking Centre-Stage  

a seat at the table, womanhood, feminism, diversity, LAPP The brand, Leomie anderson
Photo : Pauline De Gourcuff

 

Some of the creative industries’ most talented names discuss identity, mental health, representation and much more at A Seat at the Table, an event hosted by The Pool and 5×15. Curated by The Pool writer and the Slay in your Lane co-author, Yomi Adegoke, with speakers including body positivity activist and author, Chidera Eggerue aka The Slumflower, actress Sheila Atim, Vogue beauty editor Funmi Fetto, beauty entrepreneur Florence Adepoju, and writer/poet, Yrsa Daley-Ward, it’s an evening of recognition, representation, and most of all, celebration.   

The evening kicks off with raucous laughter and cheering as Chidera Eggerue, the award-winning blogger, discusses the importance of solitude and self-love, the overriding themes in her upcoming book What a Time to be Alone: The Slumflower’s guide to why you are already enough.  When she asks the audience to raise their hand if they have a fear of dying alone, there’s a solemn silence, interspersed with nervous laughter, as all take in the overwhelming number of hands in the air.

Photo: Pauline De Gourcuff

“For most people, being alone is being seen as rejected. I’m trying to redefine what it means to be alone. It’s important to spend as much time alone as possible,” she explains. “Everything I need is essentially in you. It’s about choosing yourself first.” She rounds off with her ever- honest advice, “Give yourself room to be a mess but understand you have the responsibility to not be a mess.”

Following up is Funmi Fetto, beauty editor and columnist at British Vogue, who talks representation and exclusion in the beauty industry. Reliving encounters of the struggles of finding products to fit her skin tone, ending up “ashy or orange” after poorly-executed makeovers at beauty counters, or having the option of one shade – “Biscuit”, Fetto’s experiences echo nearly every girl who has left beauty stores exasperated and empty-handed.

“It goes beyond finding the right foundation,” says Fetto. “It’s about equality and representation. Brands have a responsibility to make products for every skin tone. To create a line that excludes an entire race is saying that we are irrelevant, we are invisible, and we do not count.” Fortunately, Fetto will be releasing Palette: The Beauty Bible for Women of Colour in Autumn 2019, a welcome book for those who are still relying on Iman’s 2007 The Beauty of Colour for reference. “I want to use my voice and platform to effect change so that no other woman has to go through the Biscuit experience.”

Continuing the beauty conversation, founder of cruelty-free and inclusive makeup brand, MDMflow, also talks about the beauty industry’s lack of representation. ‘Women of colour will try on products that don’t work and internalise the problem, by saying “Oh I can’t wear red lipstick”, when really it’s about the formula and how the product has been made.’

Adepoju discusses the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur. After completing a Cosmetic Science degree, she worked various jobs off-and-on whilst developing her brand. From weeks when she sold no products, to selling two lipsticks a week, to raking in huge orders from big brands such as Nasty Gal, the brand owner has experienced it all. “You have to talk about failure,” Adepoju says. “Brand owners are under so much pressure.” Despite a tumultuous period, with a big order from a retailer, a YouTube channel and much more in the pipeline, Adepoju looks set to take on the world once again.

Next up is Sheila Atim, the actress and composer who recently won the coveted Olivier and Critics’ Choice awards for her role in Girl from the North Country. In conversation with Yomi Adegoke, Atim explains how rejections from Cambridge and other universities stunted her from following a Science path and led her to follow an artistic route instead. The Wac Arts alumna also talks of the importance of arts council funding; the North London arts college she attended is accessible to all children, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds.

“I felt included and it broadened my horizons,” she says, speaking fondly of her time at Wac. “I thought I was gonna be a singer-songwriter and I came wanting to be a composer for film and theatre, a singer-songwriter, an actor, a music producer, maybe even a director. Wac was the perfect place to break out of the confines of what was possible.’ Despite her accolades, the actress is remarkably humble, and talks of her surprise when fans of her work message her to tell her how she’s affected their lives. “That’s the reason I’m doing it, to try and touch you, but I can’t believe I’ve actually done it.”

Rounding off the evening is Yrsa Daley-Ward, poet, model and actor. Best known for her debut book, Bone, she treats the audience to an extract from her new novel The Terrible, which recounts her childhood spent in the north-west of England, family, relationships, mental health, sexuality and more. The room is stunned to silence after she reads moving poems True Story and Mental Health. Daley-Ward also touches on the importance of representation. “You have to be careful about who tells your story and how it is framed.”

Daley-Ward’s brutal honesty and openness about the life she’s lived, which she describes in her own words as “colourful”, is a breath of fresh air, as is her view that “there is nothing that happens in your life that can’t be turned into something beautiful.” Taking in these women’s experiences and the achievements that have stemmed from their trials and tribulations, these words have never rang truer.

 

 

 

Written by Mireille Cassandra Harper

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Written by Mireille Harper

Mireille Harper is an Editorial Assistant at Octopus Books, co-founder of creative agency Cassandra x Camille, and is a freelance writer and PR. She has written for Clash, GUAP, Push, Wordplay and more.

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