Shades of Noir in conversation with: Shakaila Forbes Bell.
‘I’m a proud black woman with a take it or leave it attitude.’ – Shakaila Forbes-Bell.
Shades Of Noir had the pleasure of meeting up with Shakaila Forbes-Bell, the LCF MA in Psychology for Fashion Professionals Post-graduate currently working as a PR & Marketing Manager at Kent Wang. Shakaila has made history and headlines on numerous media platforms, becoming one of the top post-graduate stories shared over social media overnight, after posting a picture of herself at graduation with this powerful caption :
Shades of Noir met up with Shakaila in Northwest London, where she grew up. To find out what she was up to only a couple of weeks after her written post on Gal-dem.
She has a warm presence and a contagious smile that made us feel instantly at ease but spoke with assertiveness about her experiences prior to and post graduation.
But First, A Bit Of Background.
Shakaila’s heritage is Caribbean (Trinidadian and Jamaican). As she describes her background and speaks about her family and her upbringing with pride she says: ‘I think in Britain, we are incredibly multicultural and I think it’s really important that we are also close to our roots.’
Shakaila expresses how diverse the area was and how that made her used to the feeling of being comfortable in her own skin: ‘I was surrounded by people that looked like me, so there is that comfort.’ She spoke of her experience at secondary school: ‘Black students were definitely not a minority, we were the majority. We were proud of who we were and where we came from. So I think my Pro-Black beliefs were instilled in me from a very young age.’
The conversation lead on to how crucial it is that young girls grow up seeing themselves reflected in toys they play with, in the media, etc and as she spoke about her childhood she mentioned: ‘My mum made it a point that she would never let us play with dolls that didn’t look like us, if she did it would always be mixed in with black dolls; she would go to the Caribbean and get them just so we could play with them. I just used to love them’; she smiles warmly and goes on to talk about the younger generation now and the contrast between our generation and theirs, mentioning that much hasn’t really changed, that there are perhaps some improvements like Barbie enhancing their range to include barbies of different races, sizes; but that more needs to be done.
Which also leads us on to discuss her thesis, during her undergraduate studies at UCL she conducted research on clothing and first impressions: ‘I was so disheartened when I heard about the so called -hoodie culture- in the media and black boys in gangs and how we are always portrayed like that, and I found within the study that police officers are more likely to shoot a black man than they are a white man. No matter what they do. No matter what the situation and that’s actually proven…’
This was the beginning of her journey into her research on social inclusion, diversity and representation of black models in fashion that she would later write about on her MA in Psychology for Fashion Professionals at UAL.
‘I’ve always been someone that will want to prove people wrong. I want to prove people wrong by doing the best I can possibly can.’
‘Learn To Be True To Yourself’.
Speaking with Shakaila about her experiences at UCL, the ‘culture shock’, the contrast of her surroundings and situations that many BAME students can relate to; we asked her about her experiences, where problematic situations arose and where –she felt like she had to stand up for or represent her race and community -. She spoke of a specific situation in a social psychology lecture, during a discussion on race and the experiment called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The results were astounding, it’s showed how a lot of people had a negative attitude towards black folk, that’s very latent. We had a huge discussion about it and I found people discussing racism, that had never experienced it. That are so removed from it, and then I felt that pressure, and I had that feeling like I have to say something profound. I really felt like I was ‘speaking for my people’. That is a lot of pressure to have.’
She went on to describe her feelings at the time and what she gradually came to learn from them on reflection: ‘I think when you are in an environment where so clearly, you are the minority, you need to learn to be true to yourself’, she affirmed.
What’s Her Advice?
We asked what advice she would give to any students who are currently in a similar situation or are starting to struggle, with zero hesitation she added: ‘I would just say, to spend as much time with your family as you can and to read, read, read there’s so many people out there like you going through what you are or are in similar situations, in different environments, in different countries and it’s good to share that online. Get out there, find the communities, find as many different people as possible that you have that connection with, contact them and get that advice and get that support. Because it is out there.’’
Shakaila mentioned in her article with Gal-dem that she suffers with EDS (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome), a connective tissue disorder, saying: ‘I’m really lucky I’m on the lower scale if it.’ and mentioning that UAL showed her the most support from an institution: ‘When I disclosed that with UAL, they provided me with a mentor, I was so grateful for UAL to be offering that to me, because it really enabled me to take everything further, it was great to have someone that reminded me that I needed to take care of myself whilst also doing these projects.’
Since her Instagram post and her story being shared on a worldwide platform, Shakaila has been approached by many asking for advice, we asked her what her thoughts were on how to support the next generation of BAME students coming into UAL: ‘Mentoring is something I would be interested in doing, anyway that I can help and support would be amazing.’
‘If I wanna be successful, I have the power to make myself successful. I have to put in the work.’
Let’s Talk About The Graduation Post.
With a big smile she describes the moment she wrote the instagram post: ‘I just felt like I was having a moment, I was like ‘Yes, Shakaila, you did it!’ She says with a sigh of relief,
explaining that because she had been made so aware of her race she knew it was a big thing for her to be the first black person on the course to graduate.
She goes on to talk about the aftermath of the post: ‘Did I expect it to get that big? No way!
I’ve always been someone to second guess myself and doubt myself, so, this time, I thought, No; I did something, I’m proud of it. I’m going to put it out there; I’m just grateful that people were supportive and proud of me as well, I didn’t expect it at all!’
What Is She Up To Now?
Shakaila is currently waiting for her research on the representation of black models in fashion to get published, ‘We can march and we can protest that ‘we need more diversity’, but are brands really going to listen unless brands really see the economic benefits of it?’.
By focusing on how diversity in magazines, in the media, in advertising affects the way BAME consumers spend she hopes to – ‘Show the industries that they are not only damaging the mindset of these young BAME men and women but they are also hurting their own pockets by not representing them as well.’
Shakaila has also just recently released the ‘Psychology Of Fashion blog’ a research-based platform; all about psychology, fashion, the industry and various sectors, alongside a few psychology students writing with her.
‘They have a huge space for sustainability in fashion and I don’t see why they couldn’t have another space dedicated to social inclusion and towards diversity because it’s such a huge part of fashion.’
Shades of Noir drew this inspiring conversation to a close, finishing with a couple of light-hearted questions we’ve included here:
SON: Do you believe in the words of Yeezy that ‘fashion can change the world’?
Shakaila: ‘I think so. The BLM hashtag, everyone is wearing that hashtag now. I have a top that says melanin poppin’ at home. Nothing get’s the message more out there than visual imagery. I think you have people that wear that slogan on their bodies and on their hearts and that message is being sent throughout the world, it’s going viral. So yeah, I think fashion can change the world if we use it in the right way.
SON: Whats your number one tune on repeat right now?
She laughs, thinks for a couple of seconds and responds: ‘I’m still on a high when I went to the carnival in Trinidad in February- the song is called ‘Ale’!’.
This concludes Shade of Noirs – in conversation with Shakaila Forbes-Bell. Check out her newly launched platform here: http://www.psychologyoffashion.co.uk/
Shakaila Forbes-Bell – We Salute You!