The second I graduated from college, I packed up my Jetta and made the drive West from Texas to California. I wanted to work in fashion but not in the classic sophistication of the New York scene. I wanted the celebrity-driven, red-carpet glitz and glam Hollywood had to offer. Upon my arrival in Los Angeles, I started an assistant job at a well-known fashion PR agency. There I began what has been a 15-year career in the fashion industry.
I had worked in a PR office for a few years before realizing I was better suited for the excitement of “set life.” I soon became an assistant to celebrity wardrobe stylists. I was usually the only Black girl on set, the only Black girl at fittings and the only Black girl on the styling team. I had always been aware of race. Growing up Black in this country, how could you not be?
I knew a few Black and brown faces at PR agencies. Generally they were the most helpful when I needed something loaned for a special project. It was like an unspoken, underground support system within the industry that was essential for a girl like me to survive.
During downtime on set, I was often excluded from the conversations on fashion and style (although I was a wardrobe stylist). That’s unless we were talking about streetwear, sneakers or a clothing company started by a hip-hop artist. Then all of a sudden I became the expert in that category. The only sneakers I owned were used for workouts. Oh, the irony.
The fashion industry often kept me feeling alienated and overlooked. They’d say, “Jerry Hall.” I’d say, “Pat Cleveland.” They’d say, “Anna Wintour.” I’d say, “Eunice Johnson.”
I felt the weight of needing to educate white people and provide visibility to Black glamour in fashion. That’s when the thought first crossed my mind about creating a luxury Black magazine: “Like Vogue but Black.”
I carried that idea around in my heart for years.
My last living grandparent died last September in Texas. Both of my grandmothers heavily influenced my life, including my relationship with fashion and style. My maternal grandmother, an educator, was the epitome of classic chic: a kitten heel, a sheath dress and never without a bold red lip. My paternal grandmother, a nurse, was the queen of camp: leopard-print caftans, costume jewelry and her shoulder-length natural hair always braided up under her perfectly styled wig.
Both of them used fashion as a form of self-expression. It was a way to speak to the world about their experiences even if society had muted their voices. I wanted to honor that fearless energy. Thus, the vision for Mae Jones was born.
Mae Jones, a combination of my grandmothers’ names, is a magazine that believes in the beauty of Black representation and is dedicated to redefining the look of luxury in the fashion and beauty industries.
Mae Jones launched February in a digital form. I was honored that so many of my creative friends wanted to help me create content for the magazine. We all knew the importance of visibility — the importance of aspirational imagery featuring Black women.
Obviously, the virus forced changes to the editorial calendar.
As a Black woman, I had to sit and grieve another, then another, then another member of my community becoming a social-media hashtag. In my grief, I had to decide if it was even appropriate to move forward with Mae Jones. I mean it’s only fashion, right?
I sat at my desk the morning of #BlackoutTuesday and watched as my Instagram feed became flooded with black squares from brands, PR agencies and designers I followed. The captions read, “Black Lives Matter.” Do they though?
Many brand representatives ignored my emails for loan requests, refused to dress Black celebrities or hadn’t featured a Black face on those branded social feeds since February, a.k.a. Black History Month. If Black lives matter, then the fashion industry must recognize that Black representation matters too. My sadness quickly turned into determination with even more of a purpose than I had before.
We’re all working toward systemic change here, and in doing so, we need to expand our definition of beauty.
If you posted in solidarity of Black lives in this country, you will be held accountable for that pledge.
You must ensure that your brand fully supports Black life and not just when it’s a trend. Therefore, Mae Jones has initiated a hashtag challenge for those brands to diversify year-round called #NotJustInFebruary.
We’re looking for more representation in imagery in all shades of brown and more representation within your teams. That’s more representation in front of and behind the camera.
Representation means hiring Black models, Black photographers, Black stylists, Black marketing directors, Black graphic designers and Black creative directors.
I’m also thrilled to finally share images from Mae Jones’ first editorial shoot with the world here. Looking at them now, they have new meaning for me. The barren desert is representative of the times, but there in the middle stands the opportunity for change and a bright new hope.
The time for rebirth in this country is now. It’s time to mainstream the beauty of Black and brown faces in fashion so that when they see us: They. See. Us.
Kristen Turner is the founder and creative director of Mae Jones Magazine. She lives in Los Angeles. The magazine’s Instagram handle is @maejonesmagazine.