Interview by Rose Miyonga
I first came across Ronan Mckenzie’s photography in December 2015, around the time of her Dalston exhibition A Black Body, and have been a fan ever since, so I was delighted when she agreed to share some of her stories and inspirations with us.
Her photographs capture the epitome of ‘London cool’, but also convey a deeper message: the celebration and demystification of the black body. As such she challenges the mainstream representations that fear and fetishise Blackness, refusing to be silenced and exploring the diversity of faces, bodies and opinions that exists.
Mckenzie has been featured in Dazed and Confused, i-D and Vogue, to name but a few.
She may be young, shockingly young considering the depth and breadth of her work, but don’t be fooled, the 21 year old knows what she’s talking about.
I’m 21, I was born and live in Walthamstow – North East London. I had loads of fun as a kid, there were some tough times, but i have a lot of funny and happy memories; one time my brother took a biscuit without asking from the cupboard so my mum took us all to the police station and got a police officer to tell us off, I never stole anything again.
We were always around cameras when we were young, my parents took a lot of photos and videos of us, and my mum always gave us disposable cameras or Polaroids to take on school trips, but I only thought of photography as a career early last year.
It just wasn’t for me, I didn’t feel like myself – I was coming home feeling low and didn’t put any passion into any of my work so I knew there was no point me being there. I was going to try and stick it out until Christmas but I just trusted my instinct and jumped ship after 2 weeks.
I just wanted to show black beauty and diversity, that was the main idea. I felt and still feel for the most part that black people were always portrayed as one type of person in the media, and I wanted to create a space full of different black faces, bodies and personalities.
Well when I first started it was more about getting my work seen by as many people as possible so I would shoot and send it off to small magazines, websites and anyone who would take it. When it came to my exhibition, because I’d been interning and assisting in the fashion industry since I was 16, I had a few friends that helped me get exposure on big platforms like i-D and Dazed. It is difficult to get exposure in mainstream magazines, and now that I know my work and my style, I’m not about just pushing my work to anyone and more about selecting what’s best for me and creating my own platforms..
I think this is a very exciting time for women, and all creatives because opportunities are broad, and if you work hard you can achieve. I think with platforms like Gal Dem, ethnic minority women have a safe place to speak openly on their experiences which is amazing. We need that to become mainstream.
I just shoot anyone that catches my eye, it’s difficult to explain but I love faces that for some reason jump out at me. It could be that I see the kindness in their eyes or they just have incredible ears haha, but it just catches my eye.
A warm soul.
At the moment I’m so inspired by Simone Biles!! 4’9, from a non conventional family, defied all odds and is world champion! That shows true determination and passion!
I have a few things in the pipeline.. 😉
Being happy working on wherever my path leads me! 🙂
Follow Ronan on Instagram
Post by Kay and Rose
While en route to a shoot for EX1 Cosmetics yesterday with ‘Our Girl Friday’ Rose Miyonga, she turned to me and said “I’ve never really worn foundation.”
She went on to say, “As a mixed race teenage girl growing up in white, rural England, there wasn’t really much on offer when I first wanted to wear make-up. It was pretty much Superdrug. There was nothing for my sisters and me in the beauty department.”
Sound familiar? This is echoed by so many women and we all wonder- when is this going to change?
When friends came to visit from London, they would bring gifts for my Mum in the form of shampoos and conditioners from Afro Hair/Beauty Supply Stores to help her manage our hair, so different from her straight, blonde bob.
Suffice it to say, it was not a good look, and once I realised that, I decided it was better to just go barefaced.
EX1 Cosmetics is part of the shifting landscape of skincare and beauty products emerging to provide quality cosmetics that a wider spectrum of women can enjoy. It specialises in foundations and concealers for brown and olive skintones
Around my teenage years, mostly driven by my own insecurities. I desperately wanted to cover my blemishes and it was then that I realised that the mainstream self selection cosmetics industry didn’t seem relevant to me.
EX1 is dedicated to women with yellow/golden undertones to their skin. Although premium lines existed for women with my skin tone, I wanted to create the first affordable line of cosmetics exclusively for women with olive skin, yet which has all the hallmarks of a luxury brand in terms of formula quality.
Our pigments. As a biochemist, I started looking carefully at olive skin tones, creating a unique blend of pigments designed to mimic the natural pigments found in olive complexions.
When I created the line I could have never imagined the products would be worn by some of the world’s most iconic celebrities or that we’d get such great press reviews. But the real highlight will always be the heartfelt messages we get from every day women who have previously struggled to find an affordable foundation that perfectly matches their skin tone. I was that woman, and getting such incredible feedback from the very people I created the products for makes it all worthwhile.
Posted by Emeline
What does it actually take to start your own beauty brand? With the growth of beauty social media entrepreneurs, it would be easy to imagine one merely attends an evening course, bank loan in tow and fiercely pushes forth on their social media strategy to become a success. Social media aside, it’s got to take more than that, right?
It was held at Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green and we were joined by Emily Maben – marketing Director for Sleek MakeUP, Liha Okunniwa & Abi Oyepitan – founders of Liha Beauty, Melissa Sinclair – founder of Big Hair Beauty, and Stephanie G-M – founder of Ouli’s Ointment’s.
It felt fitting to compile the breadth of information shared into tips on starting your on beauty brands and on what to look out for.
These go hand in hand. Make sure to back up your passion with market research. Sharmadean – founder of WAH Nails – built up a community and whilst she knew that nail polishes were going to be huge. WGSM (the trend forecaster) backed up the trends and she built a business case to strengthen her product. Research can never be underestimated and passion will keep you going and bring gravitas to your brand.
It’s so important to research the name of your brand and product names – IPO.gov.uk – is a great place to start, and after doing so, to Trademark your name, nationally and internationally. Sharmadean explained that if you plan on taking your product to different territories, you need to know if your product’s name(s) and your brand name is free of use. It could land you in a legal battle and quite frankly “aint nobody got time for that!”
TAKE A COURSE
Try and learn as much as you can about all aspects of the business. Melissa Sinclair – founder of Big Hair Beauty – mentioned that she realised that her product stopped being profitable for the manufacturers to produce when she supplied her own ingredients. (N.B Manufacturers tend to make a profit on the raw ingredients they supply to make the products. It becomes an issue when you bring in your own raw ingredient).
Instead of letting her know their issue with this, they ceased communication and she was left with 25 kilos of raw material for EACH of her products. So Melissa took a course and learnt how to make the products in-house.
When the costs can range anything from £3,000 to £15,500 (in Melissa’s case) it’s important to think strategically. You might decide to continue working for yourself alongside starting your brand, as Liha founders Liha Okunniwa & Abi Oyepitan are doing. Consider crowdfunding too: Kickstarter and Indigogo work well as method for raising finance for products. You may decide to relocate, downgrade your life and work from less expensive parts of the city as Sharmadean did. Starting your own brand can be a huge sacrifice so it’s worth careful planning.
BUILD YOUR NETWORK
Mentors, advisors, consultants. They can make all the difference. Melissa hired a consultant who put her in touch with a chemist. You essentially pay for their contacts but when starting out it can save you a lot of time. Your network is really your most powerful weapon so don’t be afraid to contact people on LinkedIn. Key words such as “cosmetic consultant” can lead you onto a host of other recommendations.
Shockingly, manufacturers often own the brand’s formulas but you can own the Intellectual Property by developing it independently by a coveted chemists (if they have their own lab). Once your product has been sampled, this sample will need to be tested by a chemist and an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) will be needed for each product. If the ingredients have been supplied by yourself, you will need to hold certificates for each of these. Testing can take 3-6 months after sample development and will need to be calculated into your planning. There are can be lots of little complications that can have huge impacts so it’s wise to seek professional advise.
LEGAL LEGAL LEGAL
Make sure a professional looks at the contracts because they might have loopholes, such as only knowing your formulations after producing 100,000 units or being bound to the manufacture for a number of years.
Don’t assume you own the formulation or IP, the manufacture owns these unless it is clarified in your contract that you do.
Those formulations are really important and they are known by name; own them where you can! Interestingly you don’t trademark hair care formulations as ‘spinner chemists’ can replicate the formulation purely from the hair product labels!
PACKAGING & MANUFACTURING
Stephanie G-M – founder of Ouli’s Ointment – recommended speaking to PR companies to find manufacturers, speaking to people you know and attending beauty product Expos. At the Expos, if you get into conversation with manufacturers make sure to negotiate – if you need that one ingredient for your formulation, stand your ground. Manufacturing locally, in your home country can be a lot quicker with short lead times but might be more expensive.
Emily Maben – marketing director for Sleek MakeUP – explained that it is all about getting in front of the right person. Buyers
are always busy so find an inventive way of getting in front of them. Liha and Abi – founders of Liha Beauty – got speaking to the sales assistant at Liberty during their open call for new brands and it was passed on to the beauty buyer.
You can exhibit at expos and tradeshows but once you’re in front of a buyer make it all about YOU. Sell the story of your brand (make sure it is unique), be ready with a pitch line, business card and products to give away. Most importantly make sure everything is spotless; catalogues, marketing, website. If they aren’t interested in stocking you at that moment, do not be disheartened. Don’t be afraid to ask “When will you be able to?”, “What do I need to do?” or “Where do I need to be for you to stock me?”
But in the words of Sharmadean “Don’t beg” if they want you they will come for you.
STICK TO YOUR PRINCIPLES AND BE FIERCE
Afterword by Hayley Mills “We should be comfortable with trusting our own voices and should not be afraid of going for it. Men have no qualms figuring things out after they’ve taken the leap. Women are often overly self-aware which can hinder and create a multiple of doubts before they even start.
We can be too sensitive to the perception of others, it’s important to realize that leveraging on our community and our network isn’t something to be ashamed of, this has been done for centuries in old men’s clubs.
We should lose our self-awareness to minimize doubt and enable to us to achieve our full potential.
The nicest thing about the WAH Power Lunch event was that is wasn’t about men vs women, it was about women empowerment. It was really functional and about practical delivery. It was information that was needed to help us get going, about sharing and knowledge without romanticizing the journey. It was a community of inspiring individuals.
Post by Thandie.
I discovered the gorgeous Surratt palettes on a rare trip to Sephora. The rich pigment (nearly 10 years in the making by make up artist Troy Surratt in Japan) and velvety soft texture almost justified the expense! I decided to invest in Artistique Blush in Rougeur, Artistique Eyeshadow in Cuivre, and Marron for my palette; it inspired my Oscar party make-up look.
Only days later on a work trip, I unpacked my make-up bag and groaned – suspicious plum coloured powder covered everything.
Another palette had bitten the dust.
I’d always associated broken shadow palettes with the trash. It’s too risky keeping hold of them – mess everywhere, and it’s a bit tragic and tacky. Until now! I arrived in Chicago and the make-up team on the movie told me their secret for making eye shadows ‘good as new. I am giddily proud to be able to share it with you.
Pour a few drops of alcohol into the broken eye shadow until saturated. (I can remove my Surratt eye colour from the tray, so I took the injured square out – easier for general clean-up).
Take your spoon and with the smaller, handle end use it to mix the powder into a paste. Press the paste gently into the container until there’s no sign of a crack anywhere!
Using the back of a small knife you can further smooth and flatten the paste until you have your desired, flawless surface. At this point you can wash and dry the empty compact before replacing the individual, mended colour.
Leave to dry, with the top open, for 24 hours.
Now I’m almost eager to discover broken shadows – in fact I might offer my services to friends and family.
“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.” Maya Angelou
From always keeping red lipstick in my handbag and having a signature scent, to making regular manicure and facial appointments.
One of the most important lessons she has taught me, however, is that beauty can be personal therapy, that it’s about taking care of yourself inside and out. I’m not talking about booking yourself a spa treatment or having a shopping trip every time you are upset – although I am guilty of doing both of those things-I mean taking the time to stop and meditate on what you’re going through, and ‘beauty’, although it’s usually considered surface, can be a pretty useful medium for that.
So firstly I start by washing my face with Neutrogena Deep Clean Facial Cleanser and cold water – cooling down the heat of the day’s frustrations and washing away all negative emotions. The cold wash feels great on my skin and I feel lighter than before.
Then I massage a gentle cleanser into my skin, applying it in methodical circles – I use this time to walk through the day’s events in a logical fashion, to find solutions. I’m a scientist, so gentle cleansing is usually my “Data Analysis” time – in other words, I go through what my aims of the day were, whether I achieved those outcomes or whether I need to revise my steps for achieving my aims…
More often than not, when you’re under pressure you say or do things that you later regret or wish you had more time to do better.
For me, moisturising is two parts – I apply The Body Shop’s Vitamin E Overnight Serum-In-Oil followed by Vitamin E Night Cream also by The Body Shop.
Yes we are keeping our skin healthy with the Vitamin E, but when my brain sees anything with the word “vitamin” on it my mind feels instantly healthier! While adding the night cream I remind myself to feel the peace that as I sleep, my skin benefits from being moisturised, my weariness will melt away and I’ll wake up refreshed and ready to take on another day anew.
Make-up is also a great medium for stress relief. The idea is not to cake on as much make-up as possible until you feel better, but the hope is that the routine will calm you down and re-centre you. I start with a clean face – remember, wash away all the negativity first, start with a clean slate.
Follow it by moisturising, and adding a little primer, and then start to apply make-up, taking time to apply each layer. I usually spend the most time on my eyes – they are the windows to your soul and most often than not, they reveal the most emotion.
So apply the whole works – three-toned eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara (maybe waterproof if it’s a particularly rough day!).
Then a beautiful shade of lipstick so that you have no choice but to smile. And even if you still don’t feel better after you’ve applied my last layer of mascara, you look better; and that gives you the little boost of confidence your feelings need to catch up. It works every time!
Some women re-centre themselves by doing an intense one-on-one session with a punching bag, some a quiet yoga flow, some journal the day’s events and some put on “pump it up” playlist, the choices are endless – but what is important is taking time to be alone with your thoughts and feelings, so that you can recharge and re-set.
“The relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship of your life.” – Diane Von Furstenburg
It’s a discipline that I think we can all benefit from learning, and once you start with your heart, your mind will process all that nurturing.
See Rutendo’s other post for ThandieKay, ‘Hope’.