Co-Founder All Walks spokesperson Debra’s career in the fashion communications industry has been long and multi-faceted. From working on projects for The Beatles, creating a UN-award-winning eco-aware hemp T-shirts, to her former role as Director of Lynne Franks PR, providing consultancy for a range of fashion and beauty clients from international designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and John Richmond to mainstream brands like Swatch and Proctor and Gamble. Debra contributed to a number of publications during the 1990’s, working as executive fashion editor to Arena and Arena Homme Plus and contributing editor to GQ Magazine. From 1992 to 2009, Debra maintained a personal commitment to experiential psychotherapy training. It was this mix of Debra’s experience in fashion communications alongside a dedication to an understand our inner worlds that acted as a catalyst to co-found All Walks Beyond the Catwalk in 2009, with Caryn Franklin and Erin O’Connor as a vehicle to inspire and empower
Questions to All Walks beyond the Catwalk
I’d worked in fashion communications, media and branding for many years, as well as training in psychotherapy. Certain psychoanalytic theories that I’d studied in the mid nighties about the damaging impact of distorted mirroring on the development of our sense of self made me feel alerted to the potential danger that a constant erosive distorted media mirror could be having too. As we shifted into digital image making by an increasingly corporatised fashion industry it felt important to discuss. More global reach, intensive on-screen engagement and a consumer product that was always marketed on the human body. Fashion designers are considered authorities on our appearance. Psychologically, it’s easy to give away our power to their viewpoint.
Today, we are bombarded with over 1500 images a day now, compared to just 500 throughout our whole teenage years, just a generation ago. Fellow All Walks co-founder Caryn Franklin, who has over 30 years experience as a prolific fashion commentator, and I had been talking about these issues for many years as friends.
In 2009, an opportunity presented itself, by way of a question from the Chief Executive of the UK’s national eating disorders charity, Beat. “Could fashion be shown on a range of inspiring bodies, rather than the one default unachievable ideal?” International model Erin O’Connor joined us and together we felt an imperative to address an unbalance. Could fashion become a mirror for well-being, affirmation and empowerment? We cemented our different experiences with a united vision to create change. Or at least a conscious conversation about fashion’s potential responsibility in a digital age.
The desire was to create a credible, fashion literate platform that championed diversity within fashion media. Diversity meaning – age, size, shape and skin tone. We wanted to challenge the industry’s dependency on telegraphing a singular, unachievable beauty and body aesthetic. It started as a one-off project, still viewable on our website – all walks.org – but the feedback was so positive that it grew from there. It soon became full time. We have worked as a volunteer unwaged campaign since.
This simple quote Marian Wright Edelman “You can’t be what you can’t see” sums up the spirit.
What are the three most significant achievements for ‘All Walks beyond the Catwalk’?
On reflection there are many…
1. Persuading Prime ministers wife, Sarah Brown, to give a keynote speech at our 2009 London Fashion Week launch event. She set an important tone for us. Sarah was hosting the 25th anniversary party, for London Fashion Week at Downing Street that evening, but regardless made a huge effort to be there. Literally half an hour before the doors to number ten opened,
2. Setting up a Diversity Network with Edinburgh College of Art in 2011. An academic hub to pioneer new methodology, such as ‘emotionally considerate design and practice’ in teaching diversity in fashion education accross Britain. We set out to educate future image-makers to consider both the power and the choices they will make in Industry. The initiative was cemented with an annual national student competition called DiversityNOW that has worked with over 30 universities nationwide accruing hundreds of positive testimonials from students.
3. The co-creation of the first Body Confidence Awards. Working with now Equalities Minister Jo Swinson, this was launched in 2012 at the Houses of Parliament to reward best practice in industry.
What is your opinion on media campaigns and initiatives like the Dove Campaign?
I’ve become a big fan of Dove. They are a founding partner of the recently launched Be Real Campaign. A campaign that All Walks are also lead ambassadors for.
Taking a more conscious position in adverting and media is a complex issue. It’s easy to pick holes in any singular campaign because there’s so much to change, but I admire any brand that has the courage and commitment to take a stance. It’s not easy as economic imperatives drive fashion or beauty companies decision making and make brands very risk averse. Change is tough, particularly in a recession.
What are the most pressing issues and how do you expect to campaign on them in 2015?
We work in Advocacy, Education and Industry initiative. Right now, we are focused on our educational initiative, DiversityNOW, our work with the Be Real campaign and looking at collaborative commercial partnerships to broaden our reach. For any Scottish readers, we are proud to have played a role in a new exhibition at the Scottish National Galleries, called Beauty By Design, that runs until May 2015.
Where do you see the fashion industry, especially runway shows, in the next two years?
Like any other sector, the Fashion Industry is not exempt from the worlds uncertain future that poses threats from vulnerable economic conditions, climate issues and quickly changing consumer behaviour. As the luxury fashion market encourages take up by new emerging markets like India, China and Brazil, issues like resource scarcity must be considered with the hope that it awakens the industry into a more sustainable approach, from luxury to high street brands. On a separate note, technology will continue to drive our industry fast-forward into new behaviours. The ‘Click Catwalk’ generation is already here. We are bound to see more live-linked, online purchasing by consumers encouraged by participating in the heightened sensation of viewing a catwalk show, or similar extravaganzas. I’m not a business specialist, but perhaps two paradoxical forces – the furious speed of technology and the slow, hard to resolve, unrelenting issues posed by real threats in our world, along with a constant drive to grow business or new markets might contribute.
Young people, even young men, are increasingly effected by images portrayed in the media. How large a health/psychological issue is this (stats please)?
Given that appearance is now the number one issue in schools for bullying, that’s surely an indicator of this issue. If we ever ask the question – how many people feel happy about their bodies? Sadly, very few have ever put their hands up. In a world where the majority of our imagery is retouched and unreal, many feel inadequate by comparison.
How could a company like People Tree reflect body diversity in marketing?
As an ethical company, that’s pioneered both Fair Trade and producing sustainable garments you are in a brilliant position to celebrate and promote the work you do. You can be confident that the marketing messages you send out are built on a solid platform of integrity that is consolidated in the fibre of your organisation. We would encourage you to simply consider creating content from a position of diversity and well-being.
From experimenting with casting a diverse range of models, to considering the language you choose. Finding messaging that celebrates individual beauty and encourages all your customers to appreciation their beauty and power of their bodies, as well as support around the fit and sizing of garments.
Some people forget that our bodies are part of the natural world. Dependant on air to breathe and clean water to live.
Our minds may know no boundaries but our bodies are vulnerable to the same high cost, toxic approaches that pollute our rivers or damage our soil. As Caryn talks about often, supporting sustainable bodies is crucial.
Questions to All Walks beyond the Catwalk