Q 1: The one everyone asks: How did All Walks Beyond The Catwalk first begin?
All Walks first began when we (Debra, Erin and Caryn -the three co-founders) realised we could could access some grant money from the London Development Agency as a result of conversations with Susan Ringwood, Chief Executive of B-eat.
Caryn had been a patron of B-eat since the 90s but Debra and Erin both had their own reasons to be interested in body image and the three of us had begun talking together about what we saw as a growing issue: the fashion industry’s promotion of aspirational imagery of very young, very thin, pale skinned women.
We saw a link between the lack of confidence, unhappiness and in some cases despair, that women felt about their bodies and the perpetual promotion of an unachievable ideal. Some people in the industry dismiss this link meanwhile others outside industry hold the fashion industry entirely to blame for eating disorders. All Walks doesn’t occupy either space. But we feel that the fashion industry does have enormous power to promote positive messages around beauty ideals and that should be investigated.
Q2: How did you decide what to do?
All Walks was born in May 2009 as a result of the three of us sitting round Debra’s kitchen table, deciding how to go forward. Caryn had pitched for funding and won it on the grounds that we would create a ‘fashion literate,’ campaign to promote young designers, we debated how to make a campaign that was positive, and something that the whole industry could feel happy with. This took a bit of crafting as you can imagine!
We decided to promote a broader range of body and beauty ideals by working with professional models who were more diverse and individual than the usual catwalk models we see and matching them to press worthy emerging designers. We wanted larger, older and racially diverse women as well as young and thin. We did the first campaign with award-winning photographer Kayt Jones and worked with i-D to create an8-page editorial. The reason why young, thin women were included as well is because they are important too, it was about broadening the imagery and being more inclusive, not about excluding anyone.
Q3: Was your desire to promote real women?
Actually it was our desire to promote all women. Catwalk models are real too.
Q4: What was it about your experience in the industry that made you feel there was a need for All Walks?
Caryn had been in the fashion industry for thirty years, Debra for around twenty-five and Erin has been an international model for over fifteen years and we certainly felt we’d seen changes. When Caryn started at i-D magazine, there was real excitement around individuality, around uniqueness and around diversity. We thought the current ideal in contrast to what we had seen, was becoming narrower and narrower.
Debra coined a really brilliant phrase when she said she felt that ‘fashion had been corporatised’, meaning that the big corporate world had begun to promote only one type of female representation within fashion for their own goals…solely to make money, that’s business after all.
Models were younger and younger and thinner and thinner, the money-making machines were cashing in, but what of the company’s social responsibility? One type of beauty which few find aspirational with many others saying they feel alienated and undermined by this one body ideal is hardly ethical practice now is it?
Q 5: Isn’t Fantasy and unachievable beauty what it’s all about?
Fantasy and artistry is important, so of course some of the images aren’t meant to be achievable. But when women never see realistic body and beauty portrayal as Caryn has said many times… “it can become like a relentless conditioning around what is ‘The Right Way To Be.’ From an industry that sets itself up as an authority on the way clothes look best,” we recognise the fashion industry has enormous influence to carry message about positive body image.
At All Walks we believe women don’t just need to see curvy, healthy women in fashion imagery, and they also need to see older women and watch beauty as it ages. They need to be reassured that you don’t drop off the planet after forty. And that getting older doesn’t stop any woman from enjoying the way she looks in great clothes. Adding curvy and older models to the mix was, we felt, a considerate thing to do.
Also we know how much inherent institutionalised racism there is in most industries. Big brands will often dictate terms, and race isn’t something that advertisers, or big brands seem to be particularly conscious about. We wanted to make sure that when we were promoting diversity, including a range of skin-tones as part of a broadening the beauty ideals was right up there as part of our agenda.
Q6: Have you succeeded in showing Diversity?
Some people could say we haven’t gone far enough, and that we haven’t brought in very obvious height differences. Petite women are very vocal about our lack of models under 5’6’’. In our first campaign, we had Tatiana, who is 5’6”, she is obviously 4″ to 6” shorter than our other models, but mainstream petite women of around 5’ feel that 5’6” is too tall.
In our second campaign, we used Daphne Selfe who is also around 5’6” and we think the average model is between 5’10”, 6’, we felt that there was an obvious difference and that’s our choice to be observing height differences without being literal.
Visible disability isn’t represented, so there are other ways in which our campaign could be broadened, and let’s not forget the obvious…we haven’t featured any men. With a small budget we couldn’t do everything, but what we felt really strongly is that All Walks is about small steps, we needed to create messaging that wasn’t such a huge shift that people would be immediately put off by the fact that it bears no relations to current imagery.
We’re really talking about broadening the size, broadening the age and broadening the skin tones we see in our current fashion media. We began a female campaign first because that’s all we had the money for.
Q7: What did you learn?
In our first campaign, we picked Cecelia Chancellor as a middle-aged model – she was 42 and Valerie as a 67-year-old, as a fashionable pensioner. Cecelia, however, looks so good that you could mistake her for being twenty-eight so we had to rethink that approach!
Where skin tone is concerned, of our eight models, we had two non-Caucasian models – we rushed into it with very little time and with absolutely no money…it is what it is but with the next campaign we made sure that our older models were noticeably older… we had Daphne, in her 80s, and Valerie, 67. Our resident model Sheila, who we love because of her obvious African heritage and dark skin was joined by Natasha who is a little lighter and then Amira, who also holds a northern African look, and also Naomi who has mixed-race, Japanese-American heritage, so we got nearer to the full mix in that campaign. We didn’t find an Asian model it has been noted, but we’ll try again next time.
Q8: Tell us about your first campaign and what you hoped to achieve from it?
We wanted to begin a debate about body image really. We wanted to challenge the fashion industry from within to think about something that very few think about…that was it to start with really.
Q9: When you look back do you feel you did achieve your goal?
What you can’t see now when you look back on the campaigns, is that we were doing this at breakneck speed. We did all of our casting within a week and we picked all of our designers within a week. They said working in the way they had (Learning about the models’ body) that was a great experience for them, because the model inspired what they did because they didn’t normally do it that way round because they would create the idea and the sample before they met the model, who would then have the only job of ‘pouring herself into it’, to use Erin’s words.
Kayt Jones flew herself from L.A. to shoot the 8-page story for i-D, and Debra art directed an event using Kayt’s photographs which she enlarged to seven feet high to make a big launch at London Fashion Week. Sept 2009.
Nick Knight helped us record all eight women together in one shot before the LFW event and we had lots of industry people contribute time and energy to try an help us on our way.
We had a fantastic turn-out, great support, even the wife of the then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Sarah Brown came to be our be our key speaker, to launch us and she left her own Downing Street party to do it – we knew how lucky were in getting her to do that. Her presence gave us real clout at a point where we really needed it.
Later we were really helped by Mark Fast who liked his model, Hayley Morely so much, that he put her in his catwalk show. That created an enormous amount of press and All Walks really benefited from the debate going global. Caryn was on BBC News three times in one day talking about body image. After that, we were on the map with the debate around body and beauty ideals being kicked off and so yes…of course we like to think were instrumental in kicking it off.
Q 10: What is All Walks involvement with the Government?
After the first launch, we realised that we needed to keep the momentum going, we couldn’t just step away and say, “Job done. Great work everyone, that’s it.” So we began to look at who else was interested. We found Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrats MP and Lynne Featherstone, also a Liberal Democrats MP and we asked to meet them. They invited us to the House of Commons and Caryn and Debra had a memorable cup of tea with them both. Together we decided to bring in all the interested parties from educationalist to psychologists to talk about the issues. The Body Confidence Campaign round table was formed and it includes big organisations like Girls Guides, YMCA, Mumsnet and eminent thinkers like Susie Orbach and of course us!
We are still regularly meeting with Jo Swinson and the Body Confidence groups to create initiatives. Lynne Featherstone was promoted to Government and she took her agenda of Body Confidence with her. It worked really well with a Conservative agenda around health and well-being and so suddenly, All Walks were at the top table, we were helping Lynne Featherstone understand the way the Fashion Industry works and the way that the Beauty Industry works, giving our best advice on harnessing all of the positives and the potential good stuff that can come out of the Fashion Industry.
We also are involved in the Government round table on body image. They are separate things because the Lib Dem agenda or All Party Parliamentary groups will exist regardless of who is in Government but the Government Body Image debate is there because this current government have decided that they want to investigate it.
Again, there are lots of people within this grouping; Educationalists, Psychologists, mental health experts, women’s groups and we are the fashion group there and we do make an important contribution because it has been very hard for people within Government to make contact with people in fashion and get some transparency about all the various processes.
In the spirit of going forward we say to our own industry is “…The Government recognises how powerful you are in communicating positive messages to women about their bodies, they’re interested in what you do. They ask whether as an industry we should be acknowledging any level of responsibility and if so, what is that?” The reason All Walks goes is because we’re interested to talk to the Government about these issues.
Q11: How did All Walks go about getting higher education institutes involved?
Caryn has always worked in education, it was a natural step to take our initiative into education. What really helped also was connecting with Graduate Fashion Week. Caryn has been working with them for around 20 years when it first started. June Barker who was director of Graduate Fashion Week for 10 years was incredibly supportive, and gave us all the contacts we needed and the free space at Earls Court to call the first All Walks Fashion Forum in 2010, Martyn Roberts who has since taken over the post is equally committed.
Q12: What did you ask Colleges to do?
We told course leaders about All Walks and our aims. We had a very exciting response. We had a lot of tutors say that they felt this was really interesting and important and they would be keen to learn more, but we had three highly motivated tutors say to us that they really think we were on to something and that they wanted to take this forward.
They were Mal Burkinshaw, Director of Studies at Edinburgh College of Art, Anne Chaisty, Fashion Studies Course leader at the Art College University Bournemouth and Phillip Clarke at the University of Southampton Solent and they actually said, come up and give a presentation and we’ll make a project off the back of this because we feel that you’re really going to engage the students. We have given many presentations so far and now lots of colleges do their own projects with spectacular results.
You can see some of the student response in our Feedback section and we got hundreds and hundreds of those as each student signed one after each lecture. When they went on to do the projects, students said that they felt it was a really important project and they were inspired to take the All Walks thinking forward in their careers. When we came to do our second Fashion Forum, at Graduate Fashion Week in 2011, we invited even more tutors and we showed them the results of the work that the colleges had done.
Q13: What is the Diversity Network?
In agreement with our three key tutors, Mal, Anne and Phillip, we launched the Diversity Network. Mal Burkinshaw programme Director of Fashion at Edinburgh College of Art is the Director of the Diversity Network which operates from Edinburgh University. Lynne Featherstone, Government Minister, came down to launch it and to tell the lecturers how important she felt this work was. That was a huge kudos for us as well.
The work that the Diversity Network does is just starting. The key thing is to have an educational focus, somewhere that other lecturers and students could go to ask questions. We are delighted that Mal Burkinshaw, who we rate very highly, has agreed to take this on. It was he, who first coined the phrase “emotionally considerate design” and we broadened it to serve our purpose. We say that All Walks promotes emotionally considerate design and practice.
We think that sums us up nicely and we were delighted to learn that students of Edinburgh have rallied together to appeal for healthy and culturally diverse models at the Edinburgh and Graduate Fashion Week shows. There was a staff student forum and this was high on the student’s agenda – they expressed how supportive they are of All Walks.
Now that’s what we call progress!
Q14: What do you say to someone who feels they are not thin enough.
“The fashion industry creates a fantasy that is highly alluring and like a Hollywood film where everybody delivers brilliant one-liners and looks effortlessly cool, it can seduce you into thinking real life is the same. When you engage with imagery that has been so thoroughly manipulated in such a way as to make you feel inferior, you have to deconstruct what you are seeing.
Challenge any suggestion that you need to change yourself to fit in, with a reality check and assessment of what has gone on in the image; the model in the picture will have had an enormous amount of post-production work done on her face, body, hair and skin. Decide you will not compare yourself to someone who doesn’t exist. Decide you will not evaluate yourself as an exterior only, and start thinking about the amazing human-being that you are.
When you recognize how the fashion industry can create powerful brainwashing around something that isn’t achievable, by virtue of the sheer volume of images you are being bombarded with, you can begin to see the pressure that you are under and the reason why you must begin thinking about yourself in a different way. Our advice for all young women and men who feel that their normal healthy bodies are not good enough is simply this. YOU ARE A MAGNIFICENT INDIVIDUAL. Be kind to yourself and honour your body like the most amazing instrument. Anyone who knows they have an eating disorder however, needs the advice and services of professionals. The most important thing with disordered and unhealthy eating patterns is not to let it become habitual behavior and second nature.”