When we see others who look like us, doing things that we aspire to, there is this unspoken communication that we too can do this.
There is a knowing that this can be accomplished, and this propels us forward with inspiration and motivation.
I was born in the city of Dunedin, situated at the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand, and grew up on the Otago Peninsula in a mixed race family.
Growing up I didn’t notice a difference between my siblings and other kids at school. The day that I realized I was different, was when two Maori boys transferred to our school and I remember it so clearly. I was in the cloakroom and they were walking into class with their backpacks on and they looked at me, and I just looked back. The youngest asked me if I was Maori as well. I said I wasn’t. He asked what I was and I replied back saying I didn’t know. I was around 7 or 8 years old. I went home that day and asked Mum what I was, to which she replied, ‘You are one of my children.’ I didn’t have the words to verbalize what I wanted to ask, mostly because I didn’t know what I was asking.
It was also around this time that I started to notice what people wore and how this would tell me more about that person. From the shoes they wore, to the brand name on their three-stripe track pants, to the tags swinging from the zip of their backpack. The only Black person that was in my life growing up, was my Dad. The family that we grew up around was Mum’s family who are white.
All my teachers were white.
All my friends were white.
Every person of authority we saw was white.
After studying Fashion and Design in my home town, I moved to the biggest city in NZ; Auckland. There is a big Pasifika community there and during Summer the city holds a huge festival where you can immerse yourself in the different island cultures, with performances, crafts and traditional foods. I was just happy to be surrounded by other Brown skinned people. It didn’t matter to me that I wasn’t Pasifika. We all had the same skin tone. I felt like I belonged.
Fast forward a few years and I’m living in London, England and although in the places where I worked there weren’t many Black faces, I loved walking around the boroughs and markets listening to different accents and being surrounded by numerous languages and faces and fashions.
I felt as though I belonged.
I felt comfortable.
I felt as though I blended in.
Travelling through Europe, the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, Spain I never felt as though I wasn’t welcome. Every time I spoke, people would be curious, as my accent didn’t match what they thought my appearance was.
Before I moved to Canada in 2013, I travelled through the Caribbean and along the east coast of the US, where I discovered a little more of my heritage and extended family. Even in the Caribbean, I felt a little out of place, but I also saw my features reflected back at me.
When I arrived in Vancouver, I was surprised at how few Black people I saw. Especially in my corporate role. Even now, 7 years later, I see more BIPoC people, however, it still surprises me how little representation we have.
KATE&FRANCES came about because I couldn’t find the style of clothing that I felt expressed my own sense of Self, in this city, let alone find Black fashion designers. Representation is sharing your story. It is connection. Representation is telling stories out loud for all to hear while maintaining your sense of Self.
Wrapped around representation is fear, judgement, courage, pride and identity.
Fear that you will not be good enough, that you won’t be seen, heard, or accepted.
Judgement of what others will think of you, your viewpoint, your culture.
Courage is speaking your mind when others may disagree with you or attack you.
Pride is that feeling that shivers down your spine, when you speak your mind, regardless of the outcome.
During design school I found an Erykah Badu cd as I was flipping through cds at a local record store and bought the album because of her style: her headwrap, chunky jewelry and Black skin. This was my inspiration for my final collection. Jill Scott, Angie Stone, Alice Smith, Morcheeba, The Roots, Kelis, Ben Harper, Lenny Kravitz, J5, Billie, Mahalia, Ella & Lena, Guru, Des’ree to name a few, also had a huge impact on my life, my style, my view of the world.
They represented what I wanted to be in this world.
They all had their own unique voice and owned their sense of self. And that’s what I am doing. KATE&FRANCES is owning my sense of self.
I want to show strong, courageous and unique people in my images. I want to show and share my story with the world, because I think it is so important to know that your story does have value, and that there will be someone, or many someone’s out in this world that need to hear it.
We know there needs to be more representation of People of Colour in positions of authority, in management within corporate companies, in creative fields, entrepreneurs, especially females of Black, Indigenous, PoC and Mixed Race ethnicities.
We will get there, by sharing our stories, by creating connection.
I wonder where I would be now, if, during my school years I had had Black or Brown managers, mentors, or co-workers. If the head of the fashion department or the SVP of the Product Team was BIPoC.
Would I be in a different head space and would I be asking these questions, and would I have started KATE&FRANCES?