Power Players

Sabrina Elba On Fashion's Ongoing Fight For Inclusivity

“We all need to rally together and keep up the conversation.”

Misan Harriman / Bustle

In "Power Players," changemakers in the fashion industry tell Bustle how they're pushing boundaries and moving the culture forward, whether they're advocating for sustainability, bringing more inclusivity to the runway, or making strides in technology and innovation. Here, Sabrina Elba discusses the developments of inclusivity in the fashion industry, and how far we still have to go.

“What I love about this collection is that it keeps the conversation going,” says model and philanthropist Sabrina Elba. A year on from the death of George Floyd, which sparked a global conversation surrounding systemic racism, the fight is far from over. “As much as people were posting, rallying and supporting [a year ago], it needs to be ongoing,” she adds.

The collection of bags, shoes and accessories is a creative collaboration between Sabrina, her husband Idris, and “good friend” Christian Louboutin. Sparked from an Instagram Live that Sabrina and Idris hosted last year with Opal Tometi, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, it will support five handpicked grassroots organisations close to their hearts.

Louboutin isn’t the first to create a charitable collection, of course, nor will it be the last; but the collection – named Walk A Mile In My Shoes, after a Martin Luther King Jr. quote – is “a way to set a benchmark for brands to keep contributing and keep the conversation going,” says Sabrina. “It’s not necessarily ‘walk a mile in our shoes’, or Christian’s shoes, but instead, think about your neighbour, or the person next to you who might not have the same equality in life.”

The collection features the Walk A Mile In My Shoes moniker in Louboutin red, and a print with the freedom flower, ( also called “Mandela’s gold”) along with Christian, Sabrina and Idris’ signatures. “The freedom flower came from looking at what the positives are from the race struggle,” she tells me. “It has always been a symbol of change and progression: it symbolises a bird taking flight, and hope and freedom.”

Sabrina’s favourite piece: the Louboutin So Kate in the Freedom Flower print, exclusively designed for the collection.Courtesy of Christian Louboutin

The Elba’s input from start to finish was important to the couple, as it meant they could put words into actions, involving “people of colour throughout the whole process, from the photographers and writers, to everyone else collaborating with us.”

Beyond the collection, there are changes to address, says Sabrina. Here, she elaborates to Bustle what power means to her, and her hopes for the future of the industry.

You've always prioritised promoting equality within your philanthropy and work in fashion, why is that important to you?

As a Black Muslim woman, I've experienced racism everywhere. I wish it was as easy as taking a plane somewhere and escaping it, but that's not the truth. If we’ve learnt anything from the pandemic, it is that we have to work together. In the same way we're acting globally to fight COVID-19, we need to act as the international community for the race struggle.

How would you assess the state of equality in fashion?

The fashion industry is similar to a lot of industries in that it's making progress, but there are still a lot of conversations to be had, and attitudes to be changed. There has been a change in the narrative that holding a neutral position on subjects to protect bottom lines. Consumers want to be connected with the brands they're supporting.

I want to see companies changing internal infrastructures to better represent their consumers. It's important for voices to be considered at every level, and in the fashion industry, there is sometimes a divide between those making decisions at the top versus those put out on runways or in marketing campaigns. Although there's been a great push in one aspect, I don't feel that the other has quite caught up yet.

How do you define power? And what does it look like to you?

There are two ways to look at power: One way is an imbalance, where one person has something over another. The other is as an internal feeling, recognising the power that we have as individuals. What can you do, and how can you use your voice? That’s our most powerful tool: how we use our "conscious power".

Who do you think holds the power in fashion right now?

People underestimate the power of the consumer. They say every vote counts, well every purchase counts, too. If you want to make strides towards what you believe in, it's about looking at the companies that you support in greater depth. As long as you stick to what you believe in, you have a massive say as an individual.

What have been some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned working in fashion?

Fashion is something that should make you feel good so going with who you are and being yourself is key. If we spend time trying to appease other people, or let them influence our choices, it loses the point. For me, it's about individual expression.

How do you deal with negativity and not letting outside distractions interfere with your progress?

There will always be somebody who disagrees with you. Changing how you see disagreement is what's helped me the most. Other people might hold different values, but that doesn't take away from what's morally important to you.

What are your hopes for the future of fashion?

I want the fashion industry to be what it's always been to me: an industry that pushes change and boundaries. It’s such an important art form for how people view themselves, and how people feel about themselves. Keep pushing boundaries, keep getting rid of stereotypes and keep speaking out.

The Walk A Mile In My Shoes Christian Louboutin X The Elba’s collection is available now. 100% of proceeds will go directly to five non-profit organisations: Immediate Theatre, Purposeful, Be Rose International Foundation, Somali Hope Foundation, and Gathering for Justice.