Black Girls In Fashion Founder Debora Tonet On Making Magic By Challenging The Norm

After struggling to find fellow Black women in fashion, Tonet wanted to celebrate and uplift the industry's "silent muses."

Women at a Black Girls In Fashion Event

What do you do when you can’t see yourself being represented? Make your own space of course. Black Girls In Fashion, a growing digital media group and community, is here to put the spotlight on black women in the UK and beyond. Founded by Debora Tonet in 2018, Black Girls In Fashion offers fashion and business reporting, content creating, community events, and brand partnerships. It's a one-stop shop for uplifting and platforming Black women working within the industry and connecting young creatives with their industry counterparts.

Now more than ever, industries and brands are being held to account on their commitment to anti-racism and diversity, and the fashion industry is no exception. Being Black in fashion isn’t easy and the lack of diversity in London Fashion Week and the fashion industry at large isn’t anything new. While there’s been some historic shifts and successes like Edward Enninful becoming the first-ever Black person to be editor in chief of British Vogue, who can forget the haunting image of British Vogue editorial class of 2017 and the complete lack of Black faces? There’s still a long way to go and Black Girls In Fashion are here to centre and highlight the often overlooked work and talents of Black women. Bustle caught up with Tonet to find out more about the birth of Black Girls In Fashion, her journey into the industry, and what’s in store for the media platform dedicated to loudly celebrating Black women.

How did you first get into the fashion industry?

2021 will mark my first decade working in fashion. [I started] out my career the-old-fashioned way through internships, gaining experience and building a good rapport with brands. I went from making jewellery in the studios of Erickson Beamon, working in the basement of Somerset House for Fyodor Golan, packing my bags for New York to work with Zana Bayne, to landing a job as wholesale production coordinator for Erdem. I must say that on many occasions this girl from the estates of Rayners Lane in North West London was pinching herself in disbelief at how far my hard work and tenacity had gotten me. Not bad for a small-town Black girl living in the outskirts of Greater London.

What made you want to start Black Girls In Fashion? And when did it all begin?

Fashion Week was approaching. Buzz had already ensued on social media about prospective new designers, [with] fashion editors posting their early invites and my WhatsApp popping off with friends asking what shows I’d be applying for. As I scrolled through previous fashion week street style photos, it occurred to me that there weren’t any Black females that had been captured. This prompted me to google images of Black girls during Fashion Week and to my surprise, there were only a handful of them mostly consisting of the same fashion editors. I tried to research Black female creative directors, visual merchandisers, casting agents, fashion designers and couldn’t find any. A light bulb lit up in my mind — I decided to create a platform to visualise and represent Black girls in fashion at all levels of the industry. With only one week to go before the London’s creatives gathered for another unstoppable experience, I set upon building the first Black Girls In Fashion team that would catapult our mission.

Why do you think Black women need a space within the fashion industry?

For so long Black women have been the silent muses of the industry. Black women’s contribution has been pivotal in setting seasonal trends and elevating certain aesthetics. As a whole, the industry fails to acknowledge that fashion’s inspirations mostly come from individuals within smaller creative communities. This is why safe spaces are important to preserve unique and authentic creative expressions, especially amongst Black women whose style continues to be commercialised without credit. This space allows Black girls to celebrate each other, thrive, and connect in a way that the industry failed to provide for them.

What would you say the relationship is between Black women and fashion/style in the UK?

The relationship is shifting, it’s amazing that we Black women have cultivated a space for ourselves but it’s unfortunate that the British fashion industry seems to only recognise the same individuals making waves and put the same creatives on a pedestal. Despite there being a whirlpool of Black creative talent, this often can translate into tokenism, which results in others not being able to shine. It is vital that we recognise the positive impact Black women contribute to the industry not just from popular front-facing roles but from behind the scenes too.

What do you want to provide for your community, why is it so important?

Black Girls in Fashion is the UK's first data-driven media brand, widening the scope of industry opportunities, for women working within the fashion industry. Behind the brand, we are a collective community of Black women with broad industry experiences, using empowerment and amplification of others to transform the industry in magnetizing ways. We exist to not only collectively amplify Black powered brands but to also create discourse around challenging social topics that bring to light the plight Black people face.

The Black creative community has had enough and are making a conscious effort to redirect their talent and consumer power towards platforms and business that fully represent them.

What do you love the most about Black Girls In Fashion?

I love the community's pride in our work, in seeing themselves reflected. Our community is one of the most active in sharing our content and voicing their opinions on popular topics that affect them most. This makes our job easier when pivoting to harder-hitting conversation based on fashion, business and entrepreneurial issues, and keeps us ahead of our competition.

Do you think the fashion industry in the UK is changing, especially in light of events in 2020?

With the events of 2020, the re-ignition of Black Lives Matter Movement, brands are now being held accountable. Companies are closing overnight for the mistreatment of staff, failure to provide healthy working environments, lack of care on talent retention. The Black creative community has had enough and are making a conscious effort to redirect their talent and consumer power towards platforms and business that fully represent them.

What do you want for the future of BGIF?

Throughout my career, I rarely ever crossed paths with Black women in leadership roles that I could look up to, learn from, and relate to. The most important thing that I want for BGIF’s future is to develop and service a global community of Black women who will be the next forward-thinking generation continuing to revolutionise the way we work and study in fashion. From London to Tokyo, Black professional women and tastemakers will connect and make magic by challenging the norm in fashion, like never before.