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Black History Month 2020: Róisín Cummins in conversation with Ndamulelo Malange

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Fashion digital illustration of colourful outfits on models
Fashion digital illustration of colourful outfits on models
Fashion digital illustration of colourful outfits on models
Written by
Róisín Cummins
Published date
29 October 2020

"I just want to encourage any Black creatives out there to just speak your mind and not let anything stop you. I know its frightening when you’re the only person there but don’t let things like this just skate by. Just have your say and let your voice be heard. When you see something that doesn't look right just speak out." Ndamulelo Malange.

LCF BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Technology: Womenswear alumna, Róisín Cummins, showcased her final collection on the #LCF19 show last July. Róisín has since continued to use her creative ideas as a voice for change and has joined us for LCF's Black History Month project in 2020. Róisín is in conversation with Ndamulelo Malange, a BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development graduate and they discuss all aspects of racism within the creative industries.

So tell me who are you, what should we know about you, what are you about?

I am Ndamulelo Malange but I usually go by Kairo, I’m a fashion designer that just graduated from LCF. After studying on the BA (Hons) Fashion Design Development course, I took the path of specialising in Womenswear. However, many of my pieces are also adaptable and interchangeable whilst being genderless.

What is your art form and how did it choose you?

I actually started off doing art and design, so I was an artist who focused on painting however I found my love for fashion during my first year of college. I didn't really know how to get in to it so doing an art and design course allowed me to learn more about the fashion side of things.

Would you say something or someone inspired you to pursue the creative path and why?

I feel like ever since I was young, I have always been very creative. My uncle is an artist back home in South Africa so I spent quite a lot of time around him. He is a painter and a sculptor and his work definitely inspires me, I just didn’t know that it would lead me down this path at the time.

What’s your general view of racism in the fashion industry today?

I do think the industry holds racism, sometimes underlying systemic racism compared to other times when it can be blatant. I think as an industry it is really slow to these conversations and progression. I think in the industry we talk about racism a lot and we speak about cultural appropriation and yet these kinds of systems that exist in the industry are still prominent regardless of the conversations. This is across the entire industry for example if you look at the runways, Anok Yai was the first black female model to open a run way show for Prada since 1997 - that’s 23 years ago. It’s a very slow process where we speak about inclusion and companies use it as a promotional reasons without actually changing things.

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    Ndamulelo Malange - BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development graduate 2020
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    Ndamulelo Malange - BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development graduate 2020
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    Ndamulelo Malange - BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development graduate 2020
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    Ndamulelo Malange - BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development graduate 2020
What are your thoughts on companies making public statements about fixing their own issues?

I feel that a lot of these companies that have had to make these statements, shouldn't even be making these statements. I mean, there has been so many times where these companies could have completely avoided the whole situation had there been diversity within their teams. They end up having to make these apologies and statements for things would have been easy for them to not have done in the first place. Were still in a place in 2020 where big companies are making the same mistakes instead of changes.

Has the BLM movement changed the way you look at your work or how you feel about it and what you're showcasing to the world?

In someway yes, however I wouldn’t say the BLM 2020 movement has entirely as this is something that has always been going on. Within my work I have always explored racial injustices and racial subjectivity. I tend to look at things from a historical point therefore the current movements that are happening now aren't necessarily the main things influencing my work, instead it is moments that have happened in the past because it feels like the same movement repeating it’s self just with a slightly different name.

How do you view black history month and what does it mean to you?

I grew up in south Africa and we didn't have a Black history month until I came here and I was introduced to it one October. Back home we were always taught Black history, so for me I feel like Black voices only get to be heard during Black history month which is a shame. It is something that should be happening constantly not just over a limited time period. I’m really happy we get a time to celebrate Black history and innervation. I just wish it was a daily thing instead of it feeling like were giving people/companies the excuse not to do anything and stay completely silent until this one month where they attempt to push how diverse they are.

What do you struggle with most as a you POC artist? How could others help you with this?

For me it is about being heard and understood, I struggled quite a lot in university during my first two years with getting my ideas understood and getting help on how to develop them. The fashion industry doesn’t have a great deal of Black voices and because of this, Black creatives in the industry can  sometimes lack mentorship and people that understand them whilst helping to guide or develop their work. I genuinely do not think there is enough mentorship for Black creatives as there's just not enough people who look like me being used in the right ways in the industry. It would be really great in an ideal world to have a range of Black lecturers or creatives who could have helped me through this and even now.

Do you think there's enough representation for Black/BAME creatives in the fashion industry?

No there isn’t, with big mainstream brands if they just had a little bit more diversity they could avoid all these PR messes that they find themselves in. I remember when Virgil became creative director for Louis Vuitton and it was this huge celebration. We finally have this Black man in such a high creative position just like Edward at Vogue but at the same time it’s very sad because there is such little success for Black creatives that when it does happen there has to be this giant celebration. I really wish there were so many more Black creatives making it so it was becoming a regular thing. We see the same thing with Black models on the runway, there's just not enough of them and the ones that are selected have been subjected to not having make up artists or hair stylists that can actually know how work on their features. 80% of the textile industry is women of colour and yet in the mainstream of the industry these women are not represented at all and yet they're the backbone of it all.

How do you think the industry could help the black creatives of today?

I think it is quite simple to represent people of colour at the end of the day it comes down to just a choice. I have done internships for London Fashion Week, I have been around for castings it is amazing to see there are a lot of Black models out there which is something growing up that I didn't think was the case at all. However in actually fact they're just not being chosen or represented in these shows. People can actively choose to represent black people however its not happening.

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    Ndamulelo Malange - BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development graduate 2020
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    Ndamulelo Malange - BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development graduate 2020
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Have you ever experienced any instances of racism towards you within the industry? Has anything put you off being a part of the industry?

For the most part I have had nice company whilst working in fashion however there have been a few instances where I have felt out of place or left out because of how I look. When I come into a building for an interview or something and no one looks like me it just makes me feel insecure, will I get this job, do I fit the bill? It doesn't look like they search for people who look like me. I have friends who have worked for big brands that don't have people who look like them or that they can identify with. I have felt like at times my work has been over looked as it explores race and ethnicity, sometimes I feel like it gets over looked because it intimidates people and makes some uncomfortable as it brings people face to face with our reality. I have had people feel like I am a little too much when I start to speak about race as it makes them uncomfortable.

How do you think that creative industries can be more accommodating to underrepresented people?

The industry needs to cut out cultural exploitation and tokenism. Until they do that, they wont really be able to do so. If we continue to have Black creatives being exploited with their work being taken by these big brands and being made into these commercial mess, where these black creatives don’t get any credit and they're just left to the side and this is where changes need to be made.

Do you think there are any actionable things young people could do to help create a more diverse and inclusive fashion industry?

I think young people need to have a very strong and clear voice that speaks out against racism, injustices, mis/underrepresentation and we need a voice when things like this happen. We also really need to start holding people accountable and not just accepting a half attempted apology where they do the same thing on repeat.

Do you have any advice for people who are thinking about going into design/the arts that are maybe a little intimidated because they are black or from another marginalised group?

I would say go for it, It will never be easy but I know a lot of creatives from marginalised groups feel like they wont get in because they don’t see many people like them succeeding or being accepted into these places. Work hard at your craft, unfortunately we do sometimes have to work 10 times harder than most people. I just wish Black creatives wouldn’t be put off or stop because of this. I know many Black students in universities that have completely decided to not pursue fashion and and this shouldn’t be the case after all of that work. There is an opportunity and a chance for black creatives as there some that have done just that such as Grace Wales Bonner from CSM who is doing beautiful things influenced by race.

Where do you see yourself and your art 5 years down the line, what doors would you like to see open?

My plans have been slightly derailed this year with everything going on however within the next year or two I hope to apply for the LVMH prize and hope to have a successful brand like some of the amazing black creatives that I look up to now. I think everything really comes down to choices that certain people make, I feel that if we could just get more Black creatives and influencers into departments within the industry we could change and sway decisions to create something much more representative. I have worked in places where I didn't have much influence but with the little I did have I was able to speak out about things and have my own input which I am so grateful for. I just want to encourage any black creatives out there to just speak your mind and not let anything stop you. I know its frightening when you’re the only person there but don’t let things like this just skate by just have your say and let your voice be heard. When you see something that doesn't look right just speak out.

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