A foot in the door of the creative industries can sometimes feel like it comes with no rhyme or reason. Or opportunities for artists, creators, and designers, like flashing lights in the dark, are obscured by lack of access, networks, finance, or just being far removed from the hubs of capital cities.
Converse has long been nurturing and championing creative talent. For 2021, Converse and Dazed continue their long-term partnership to support and empower the next generation of creatives by launching Open to Change: a partnership designed to increase opportunities, education and representation within the creative industry. With a focus on creating visibility for underrepresented communities, Open To Change will leverage the industry impact of both Converse and Dazed to deliver tangible opportunities for the changemakers of tomorrow and look at what’s next for the creative industry. The Open to Change digital hub is now live on Dazed.
This year’s Converse x Dazed partnership also encompasses the Dazed 100, which offers a $30,000 grant to make a Dazed 100 creative’s proposed idea a reality, plus workshops and educational & mentorship opportunities for the class of 2021.
In a special initiative fronted by A-Cold-Wall* founder Samuel Ross, creators, designers, and artists have been chosen as the Open to Change All Stars from various creative fields for mentorship. Ross – a longterm Converse collaborator – will work with the All Stars to explore the fundamental question many next generation creatives will be thinking about; ‘how to turn a creative idea into a business?’.
“It’s important for the next generation to know that any creative idea can become a business,” Ross says. By being exposed to leaders from across the industry you develop your knowledge and start to understand there’s a red thread. All the creatives who are changing the game work hard, understand collaboration and community and never give up when they hit barriers in the road – knowing that when they started out it was down to them to shape their own futures.”
“I have invited eight budding entrepreneurs to explore these journeys with me to help show them how to develop their ideas so they can become a business reality.”
Each person will take part in a series of intimate workshops co-hosted by Ross’s network of collaborators. Themed across fashion, design, technology and food, each session will provide mentorship, inspiration, and knowledge exchange. Each will create their own film, spotlighting what they have learned from their time in the field, culminating in an educational YouTube series based on various industry challenges.
Below, we meet some of the creatives – stylist and agency head Coco Mell, visual artists Fon and Fa, designer and label founder Reece Yeboah, photographer and filmmaker Nathan Clement, artist and designer Jaimus Tailor, photographer Dijby Kebe, and environmental scientist and advocate Tiziana Zen. They talk us through their fledgling careers, staying inspired in times of uncertainty, and what’s next.
COCO MELL – STYLIST, AGENCY FOUNDER, CREATIVE CONSULTANT
Coco Mell, a fashion-focused stylist, creative consultant, content curator, and podcaster, spent a decade in fashion retail, feeling drawn to the power of dressing people. Freelance styling then, was an organic transition and the next level to reach for, and became part of a personal mission for diversity and representation in the British streetwear industry. “I felt like there wasn’t any visibility or opportunity here in the UK for a stylist specialising in streetwear,” Coco shares, “I wanted to strive to be that go-to person, so the next generation of young Black individuals have a reference for how best to navigate the fashion industry.” What that space could be for young Black women in particular, she believes, is “somewhere to feel safe enough to fail without judgement or prejudice, while having the ability to trust your own intuition when it comes to your craft.’
The passionate sneakerhead has worked with Converse and Footlocker on jubilant campaigns and styling opps. “My creativity is spurred on by things that I don’t actively see enough in my day to day,” she explains. “So, whether that is seeing a brand not working with or authentically championing women of colour on their platforms, or where I’m fortunate enough to witness a Black business owner go from strength to strength.” Outside of styling, Coco uses her creative services and consultancy work to better diversify businesses, tapping a stellar network of WoC creatives to give them exciting opportunities, negotiating fair deals and pay.
The pandemic put a freeze on much of Coco’s styling work, but gave her opportunity to explore passion projects and reflect on her career trajectory. “I’m actually coming out of things hungrier than ever!” Coco says. “I feel like not having nearly a year of styling work has spurred me on to want to strive even harder and to set my goals even higher than before! Because I’ve been fortunate enough to live through such a time, I’m taking nothing for granted, and I am actively grafting towards my outlined objectives.” Her dream industry collaborators are Black-founded streetwear and streetwear-influenced brands – Pyer Moss, Patta, Fear of God, Grace Wales Bonner, ACW.
So, in Coco’s words, how do diverse representation and opportunities for underrepresented communities speak to her own values, experiences, and ambitions? “Super loudly!” she says. “I come from a working-class family with no higher education background, and independently worked my way up the ranks. I hope in the coming period to be able to speak to and uplift young adults by letting them know that there is space for them in the creative landscape, should that be their career of choice.”
REECE YEBOAH, DESIGNER, MUSIC PRODUCER, AND LABEL FOUNDER
West London-born Reece Yeboah has his fingers in a lot of creative pies – from fashion to music, celebrity styling, brand consulting, and mentoring other young, burgeoning creatives. His contemporary menswear brand, Saint London, has co-signs from artists like Young Thug and, and since its launch in 2013 has expanded into Selfridges pop-ups, releases across the US and Asia, and a womenswear collection. With sleek drops that include embellished and 3D printed t-shirts, hoodies, caps, and sweats, Saint London takes inspiration from the exuberant 00s hip-hop era and brands like Pharrell Williams’ Billionaire Boys Club.
But it is home that most significantly impacts his creative vision and mission. “My key inspiration behind my design process and career path stems from my survivor’s guilt,” Reece shares. “Growing up around a toxic environment, learning from the vital mistakes of others who are now incarcerated or no longer here with us today.”
As a West Londoner, he has witnessed the polar opposites of the wealthy and poor living side-by-side. He was impacted greatly by the Grenfell Tower tragedy, losing friends and developing PTSD. His striking “Spirit of the Night” collection tackled the trauma that Grenfell left, and demands the world not forget. A brand built on giving back to his community, Reece also continues to mentor young people from his local youth club.
“What drives me in times of adversity is the determination of wanting to evolve into a better person, inspiring a generation of new thinkers also leaving a troubled life behind,” Reece says. Speaking of the Open to Change initiative and the platform given to him as an All Star, he adds: “I feel like opportunities like this are still rare for the less fortunate creatives such as myself. This needs to change. Having the likes of Samuel Ross becoming a spokesperson and mentor for us is the emotional push we all need to believe in the system. I intend on making a similar impact in the fashion industry.”
It comes at a much needed time for Reece and Saint London, as he readies for a complete rebrand. “My rebrand is going to surprise a lot of people in the industry,” he says. “I’ve had almost 2 years to prepare myself and ensure I take the right steps, carefully analysing the market opportunities, researching competition, flaws, consumer’s attention span and their buying habits, and understanding the importance of building a team.” In the future, he hopes to work with Converse more, as well as Riccardo Tisci, Samuel Ross, Nike, and LVMH. “Never give up, keep grinding,” he asserts.
FA AND FON – VISUAL CONTENT CREATORS, GRAPHIC DESIGNERS, ART DIRECTORS
Twin sisters and creatives Fa and Fon collaborated with Converse in a zany, nostalgic, experimental reinvention of the brand’s classic All Star Chuck Taylor. The campaign reflected the South London duo’s abundant, surrealist style, which is reflected in their work as graphic designers, art directors, and visual content creators. Their aesthetic is rich in futurism and pop culture references, all while celebrating their Asian heritage – it has made their branded work for Converse all the more striking.
“We’re inspired by many things, pop culture, music, social issues, and everything happening around us,” Fa and Fon say. “You can turn to the things you find interesting and incorporate it into your work. That’s why image making is so great because you absorb from your surroundings.”
When looking to the future and their career paths, they outline major industry misgivings that other young creatives surely feel: “It’s getting people in the industry to give you a chance and take us seriously,” they say. “We’re sure many young creatives have been rejected due to lack of experience but it’s difficult to gain it when no one would give it to you in the first place. It has made us even more determined and guided us towards the right direction.” Designing is their business, and expansive and thrilling image-making and storytelling is part and parcel.
When they emerge from Open to Change, the sisters hope to do more work for musicians. Their fun and futuristic takes on artist shots for Julietta, Ashnikko, Salwa, and more speak to their innovative style. “We would love to work more with musicians such as Rosalia and Pharell, we think their artistry is so amazing and would love to contribute to that.” And outside of the music industry, “we would also like to collaborate with a gallery to perhaps bring our digital designs to life in a physical space.”
JAIMUS TAILOR – DESIGNER, ARTIST
Jaimus Tailor’s Greater Goods is a design project born in 2018, but consistently in evolution. “I wanted to help fix the reputation of upcycled products, I personally felt that upcycled products are often perceived to be tacky or low-quality,” Tailor explains. The functional, practical, evocative brand is devoted to sustainability and innovation, creating clothing and accessories – from totes to camo trousers and colourfully knitted balaclavas – that utilise upcycling and ethical practices. Various drops have supported youth, charitable, and urgent causes, from PoC birdwatching collective Flock Together to Impact Lebanon in the wake of the Beirut explosion, and most recently youth org Kazzum Arts. Donations from Kate Moss, Damson Idris, Joy Crookes, Clara Amfo, and Little Simz were upcycled by Tailor for a recent charity raffle in aid of Kazzum.
“As a small business, I’ve made the decision to support friends and organisations I believe in and continue to support them throughout the Greater Goods journey,” Tailor says. “I was born in London, my parents are both born in Kenya, and my grandparents are all Indian.
From an early age, I have been aware of inequality despite living in a very diverse city. I played a lot of sports as a kid, and knew when I was unwelcomed in certain environments.”
Tailor kickstarted Greater Goods – and its stunning instagram – immediately after graduating from his degree in graphic design from the London College of Communication. Though his rise has been stratospheric, the creative industry is still challenging. “The jump from small designer to collaborating with big brands is often very daunting, reaching out for advice and help has and still is a big challenge,” Tailor shares.
“Seeking good advice from the right people is key, I’m very fortunate to have met some great people throughout my career and life in London. Looking back on the past year, I felt there were challenges every week, whether it was legal issues, self-doubt, or just realisations that I’ve undervalued a project.”
Amid the pandemic, which saw fast fashion and high street chains under pressure and small designers thrive in new ways, Tailor rode the shift in focus. “My output during the last year was beyond my expectations for sure,” he says. Greater Goods worked with Arc’teryx and Story MFG, and produced multiple online collections. Making a guess, he’s sure he’s passed the 500 mark for jackets he’s individually made. Looking ahead, Tailor hopes for more physical activations and retail experiences in London and beyond.
And Tailor’s best piece of advice? Trust your gut. “It’s the biggest corny bit of advice but it has really helped me from day one. I started sewing in 2019 as a new year’s resolution and I had one friend tell me to stop sewing and focus on other skills. I chose to ignore his opinion. Something just felt very correct when I was working at my desk on my little sewing machine.”
NATHAN CLEMENT – FILMMAKER, PHOTOGRAPHER
19-year-old Nathan Clement makes imagery and film that basks in the hazy, dreamy island glow of Reunion, where he’s from. Currently studying Cinema at HEAD-Genève in Geneva, Nathan’s art reflects tender themes of childhood, friendship, identity, and the power of creativity – the stunning short Transparences Acidulées follows a head-in-the-clouds teen protagonist who forgoes her smartphone addiction for a newfound love of painting, while Le Tournesol, le Chat et la Cabane, is a delicate familial lament told like a children’s story.
“I have always been a very careful observer of the things around me and I remember being really frustrated as a kid because I couldn’t communicate properly with others,” Nathan muses. “I think it’s this frustration that led me to become really involved and committed to learning the craft of visual storytelling. I have been driven to share as a means to further connect with people.”
While still considering himself a “rookie”, Nathan is aware of the challenges he faces in the creative world. “The film industry seems like a relatively unwelcoming workplace for PoC trying to build and sustain a career, and although things have moved towards diversity and inclusion, inequality still proves to be deeply rooted in the ecosystem.”
The power of film and personal connection finds affinity across Nathan’s creative work and wider life. During the first lockdown, he shot a film with his family titled La Promenade Sous Les Arbres, building a resilience and means to be creative with those close to him in a time of pandemic. “I believe this is a strength that will follow us in the future, this ability to adapt quickly and make decent things with three pieces of string,” he says. Nathan is passionate about portraying the Creole community he grew up in, and sharing the real, authentic stories of his home island to the world.
“Growing up, I haven’t seen enough people that look like me on the screen and I feel like it’s my duty to show other faces, other relationships, and attitudes in compelling stories” Nathan asserts. “I want to set a new normal – diversity in our storytelling can help us understand each other better.”
“I dream that by living each other’s lives vicariously through films, we could build a more tolerant, more empathetic world.”
DJIBY KEBE – PHOTOGRAPHER
21-year-old Djiby, who lives and works in Paris, first found a burgeoning love of photography on a trip to Mali in West Africa, capturing his striking surroundings, his travelling friends, and local community. Since then, he’s been a photographer to watch and an artist in increasing demand – showing work that’s been supported by Virgil Abloh, collaborating with Supreme, lensing SS21 at Isabel Marant’s dance extravaganza of a show, and even rubbing shoulders with Pharrell. There is a thrill and joy to his photography, whether fashion photography or intimate vignettes of friends in Paris.
“The biggest challenge for me is to stay focused in my own work and to not be stressed by other people’s work,” Kebe says. “You have to believe in yourself every day if you want to get better at what you doing.”
Pushing boundaries with his provocative, thoughtful creative ideas, Kebe made an exhilarating 2020 appearance at the Palais de Tokyo’s exhibition which invited students to respond to the 25th anniversary of Mathieu Kassovitz’s cult film La Haine. Kebe asked Abloh to lend Louis Vuitton pieces, which he then asked fashion students to create replicas of. Kebe then shot friends from the working-class Paris areas – the banlieue – in the replica pieces in their home streets, interrogating fashion’s relationship with street culture.
Kebe’s ardent way of thinking comes with some advice: “Sometimes doubt is good because it pushes you to be better,” he says thoughtfully, “but you have to stay curious.”
TIZIANA ZEN – ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTIST
As an environmental scientist and university researcher in territorial development, Tiziana Zen is striving towards a more intersectional, inclusive outlook on climate change research and justice. She does so with a multidisciplinary approach, with her modelling and creative content online, and outdoor sport adventures.
“I have always perceived the need for a change of direction – that’s why I started to look into environmental issues,” Tiziana says. “There is still a lot to be done in terms of climate justice and social justice, and to try to make my own small contribution makes me feel good… it was a very spontaneous choice, I cannot do otherwise.”
Tiziana is passionate about advocating for climate consciousness to help both individuals and brands do better, and hopes with the mentorship program to develop ideas around sustainability and fashion. As one of the most polluting industries worldwide, fashion has to make it its mission to be more sustainable and conscious, and Tiziana hopes to address that with her work. The last year has only augmented these ambitions: “The pandemic and the forced arrest helped me to look more at myself, to know my priorities, and eliminate what was superfluous. The pandemic helped me to be more focused on my future goals,” she says.
Uniformisation of models equalizes human actors and relationships, taking the dominant (mostly white, male, occidental, privileged class) as the referent. For this reason, I think that is needed a trans-disciplinary
approach in environmental analyses, as well as in fashion and in all other fields, so that a more equitable and sustainable society can exist.