Source: AAP via SBS news (click on image to link to article)
What we are currently experiencing, absorbing and processing is a moment in history, one that I hope we will look back on and see as the start of meaningful change.
I want to start by saying that Chief Studio stands with the Indigenous communities throughout Australia in calling for justice and reformation within the myriad systems that continue to oppress and segregate our First Nations peoples from the wider community. Chief Studio stands with the Black Lives Matter movement and, like you, wants to see significant systemic change both here in Australia and internationally.
This year has been a wake-up for some and a reaffirmation for others: from the bushfire crisis, to the COVID-19 pandemic, to the death of George Floyd and highlighting of culturally entrenched racism, there has been a resounding call that we must do more, be better, and not settle until we set things right. It has become apparent that the ‘small incremental changes’ were not progressing us at a fast enough rate to affect wider systemic change for equality - one where both people and the environment thrive.
This year I felt as though I couldn’t continue with my communications to you through platforms like Instagram in a ‘normal’ way, because normal simply didn’t exist anymore. I do not want that version of ‘normal’ to ever exist again though, because the normal that we live in - particularly in this digital world and especially on this very platform - is one where profits are held in higher regard than people and the environment. The truth is, people don’t even realise how complicit to this agenda they are.
The abundance of data that companies - including small brands like Chief - can access through platforms like Instagram to collect about their respective communities inherently reinforces a feedback loop of racism and racial bias, because of how the system functions within a capitalist commercial system. As poet and activist Scott Woods writes, “Racism is a complex system of social and political [and I will add here commercial] levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not.”
To put it very simply: when I run an ad of a woman who represents a Eurocentric standard of beauty, versus an ad that is representative of a more diverse standard of beauty, the latter is always a poorer performer. If I am a ‘smart business owner’, with my primary goal being to make money, I would then take this data and ensure that my marketing collateral (shoots, imagery, language) is representative of what you like. You told me through your clicks and conversions that you like to see a particular look in your ads, so…. voila: a feedback loop has been created.
This feedback loop then starts encroaching into other areas of the fashion industry and then into other connected industries, such as beauty and the media. To get your brand or company to be representative of diversity or sustainability takes a lot of time and a lot of effort - effort that, when you look at the data, doesn’t illicit any radical financial gain. We need to see systemic changes within our criminal justice system - but we also need to see change in something as simple, personal, and radical as our algorithms. And that change starts with us.
When I became aware of this feedback loop through the data that I was seeing, I struggled within myself as to how I was going to use this information - would I play in to the status quo and use it for my own gains or would I try to break it down? I now see I should have done exactly what I am doing now: being transparent with my findings. Even though it’s hard to see it or hear it, it is our responsibility to take accountability for it.
And so with transparency as the goal, since the start of the year I have felt an overwhelming need for change to the business. It was the bushfire crisis that started this unease in me: here was my world literally on fire - the air toxic to breathe, the skies permanently shrouded in sepia, and untold loss of life and property occurring as a day-to-day given - and I was faced with the ‘need’ from the fashion system to create a new collection, to deliver ‘newness’ to my customers, because they ‘needed’ it. My customers didn’t need another t-shirt. They needed a P2 face mask and more action from the government.
I am currently in the process of writing an updated strategy for Chief Studio and I look forward to sharing my vision for the New Normal in the coming weeks. Some points that I want to include are increased size range, transparent pricing and a transparent marketing strategy. I want to increase my involvement in the community, and, while I know that the responsibility is mine and the onus lies upon me to progress Chief Studio, I welcome any suggestions from people engaging with this this as to how best to do it.
I want to conclude by saying that the issues we are facing - ones of justice, equality, and racism - are complicated. If you are a white person who has experienced immense privilege like me, you will be overwhelmed, you will make mistakes, and you will be challenged - but making meaningful change isn’t easy; it’s messy and we should recognise it as such. You will feel guilty, and ask yourself ‘How did I not know? How did I not see? Why did I not do anything? Because to be honest, I have asked myself this again and again and again. But I realised that not only do I not have time for these questions, but none of us has time for these questions, because they are paralysing and they will send you in to a spiral of inaction. The questions we need to ask ourselves are ‘How can I know more? How can I see more? How can I do more? What will I do next? Because none of are are separated from racism. We are part of it, and it is our collective responsibility to take action against it, and to continue to do so, even when the black tiles from are at the bottom of our Instagram.