You might first recognize Amy Sall as — for lack of a better word — an influencer. Having appeared in fashion campaigns for J.Crew (as well as Kenzo x H&M), Sall is a recognizable face in the fashion industry and has an addictive (and widely followed) Instagram account. But unlike many other fashion "influencers," she uses her social media cache to promote social justice pursuits, like advocating for the voices of youth from Africa and the African diaspora. (Sall is the editor and founder of a journal of African Affairs, SUNU.)
"I just think that we are in a time where you cannot be idle," Sall tells Christene Barberich, our global editor-in-chief and cofounder, in the latest episode of UnStyled. "You can't be a bystander. You can't be passive. What I noticed on certain social media accounts is that people tried to address some of the issues that we've been facing, but in a way that was almost performative. That, to me, is almost worse than just not saying anything at all. And you continue to post your vacation... People are being shot and killed in the streets. And to respond in a way that just seems like, I don't know, packaged, it doesn't feel right. It doesn't sit well with me."
Tune in below to hear how style has affected Sall's role as an activist and how it helped her find herself as a first-generation Senegalese immigrant while growing up in New York — and make sure to head to iTunes to subscribe to UnStyled.
How did your parents help to kind of lay the foundation in terms of just helping you to adapt to New York?
“They’ve always just instilled in me the importance of understanding where you come from, understanding who you are, and being proud of it. They taught me to be unwavering in my love for my culture and my country, and so that helped in being a little bit more defiant and being a little more confident. It’s not like I ever fought back [against bullying], but I always knew where I come from is a special place because my parents always drilled that into me. They knew that they came here for my education, for a better life for me. So they always wanted me to understand that perspective and understand that who I am is someone special. And no child or no one can take that away from me.”
As somebody that obviously cares about style and really takes a lot of pleasure in getting dressed, how would you say your Senegalese roots have informed your personal style?
"I’ve always been drawn to how elegant the women [in Senegal] are — especially my grandmother. My grandmother is my style icon. It’s not even about what she’s wearing. It’s kind of the way she wears it, how she holds herself. And she’s so incredibly elegant, but in a way that’s not in-your-face. It’s just very subtle. And I think most Senegalese women kind of have that innate understated elegance, which that’s what I try to incorporate."
Does it come from confidence? Like a respect or appreciation for just getting dressed?
"I don't know. I think it’s just embedded in the cultural DNA, if I can say that. Every day, women are dressed. You know, here we kind of have this culture of where, if we want, we can just wear our sweatpants. But there, the women are dressed every day, and especially on Friday where they have [jumias, or] the Friday prayer. Everyone is just dressed to the nines: the men, the women, the children. It’s the most beautiful scene every Friday. I think that’s what I’ve extracted from my Senegalese roots. I don't really wear wax prints or a lot of prints. I think people expect me to do that because I'm African. But I'm like, 'Being African is enough. Like, I don't need to emphasize my Africanness... it’s here. Here I am.' I'm just a minimalist at heart, but that sense of pride and understated elegance, and having that elegance not always exude from what you're wearing but just how you're wearing [it]."
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