"No one’s ever said hi to me at one of these things," said a content creator with about eight times more Instagram followers than me after I introduced myself at an intimate London Fashion Week presentation. Then she backtracked, admitting she doesn’t often talk to people at fashion week either, mainly out of intimidation. It was at that moment I realised why fashion week is, well, the way it is.
Generally speaking, once you’ve been to fashion week enough times you start to expect the standoffish, unfriendly vibes and the all too familiar feelings of inadequacy. Yet you come back every season, hoping something new and exciting will happen.
This past fashion week, which came to a close yesterday, was my first as a fashion editor (coincidentally during my very first week at Refinery29 – hi!) and the ultimate test of the imposter syndrome that I’ve been hit with consistently since I got my job offer.
Unlike past fashion weeks, where I’ve been an intern or a writer or a volunteer behind the scenes, this time around I was getting gifted designer pieces, invited to coveted front rows and casually coming face to face with celebs like Maya Jama and Chloe Cherry from Euphoria. Not to mention the shows! I was awestruck to be present at Foday Dumbuya's politically charged runway for Labrum London. David Koma's homage to women's football – featuring bejewelled scrum caps, crystallised referee uniforms and Jourdan Dunn closing the show – was an incredible sight to see.
I felt I'd won the golden ticket (despite working extremely hard for it, I should add) but I also realised that the first step in dialling down the fashion industry's intimidation level is to talk about the fact that just about everyone is dealing with imposter syndrome.
This industry has huge contradictions (and so does everything we do)
Starting a fashion job during fashion week sounds like a dream…and it was. I got to dress up, enjoyed tons of free food, drinks and goodies, and networked with some of the top people in the industry. It was also overwhelming, draining and physically uncomfortable (in large part due to storm Eunice).
From the first day I was honoured to be sitting next to big-time editors, influencers, actors and musicians but I couldn’t help but feel inadequate in comparison. I was flattered to be stopped by photographers for photos but I never ended up on any of the main forums, further fuelling my insecurities. Alongside a roster of embarrassing moments – falling down a flight of stairs, asking a very famous actor who he was, having my umbrella break in the middle of a downpour – it was a baptism of fire in many ways.
But I realised that as much as the fashion industry can feel unnecessarily cold, it can also be a place for growth if you let it.
Imposter syndrome never goes away
After a glamorous press dinner one evening, I rode home with a fellow fashion editor who I’d discovered was practically my next-door neighbour. I opened up about my imposter syndrome in starting this role and she shook her head at me.
"I don’t think that ever goes away," she said. "Really?" I replied. I was shocked but also relieved – maybe there wasn’t something totally wrong with me?
We lamented how a lot of fashion week was still about getting 'likes' on social media. We could be part of a new era of journalists to disrupt the industry with honesty and sincerity. If you think about it, if everyone felt a little more comfortable sharing their insecurities – feeling like we’re too big for our boots, that we’re going to get caught out for being an imposter, that we are not going to live up to everyone’s expectations – maybe we could empower each other as a result.
Change is definitely coming
That car ride wasn’t the only time at fashion week that I felt hopeful. At a talk centred around Blackness in fashion – hosted by coaching platform L8 Bloomers and a panel of Black industry professionals – I found myself in a safe space that I never thought would be possible amid the fashion week madness.
As the panellists explored the future of Black fashion post-pandemic and after 2020’s peak of Black Lives Matter, I looked around at the smiling, nodding faces and felt at home. Then I realised my imposter syndrome had been left at the door. Following a lot of cheers and contributions from the audience, the overarching sentiment was that a new generation is making its mark. The work is being recognised.
There’s still a long way to go but the last few years have laid the foundations for a much more nuanced and inclusive fashion industry. So let's get to work, shall we?