Every once in a while, there are people whose actions shift our ideals and enable us to redefine the “norm.” And in the last few years, people and actions like these have lead us to see just how much the lack of visibility has contributed to the imbalance of power within the fashion system.
Today, however, we can say, that as an industry we’ve made great strides towards recognising the talents of people of colour who, despite being as equally skilled as their non-P.O.C. counterparts, still lack the opportunities to realise their creative dreams. Fortunately, we have creatives like Mercy Sang, a 22-year-old Kenyan-born, Australian-bred fashion model and writer, who is using her cultural and professional background to create a space for people of colour to flourish in fashion.
This year, Sang is launching a new project called P.O.C.C. (People of Colour Collective), an online magazine that showcases the talent of P.O.C. both in front and behind the camera. She seeks to highlight the fact that inclusion is not a phase, nor is it a “political statement,” since it is simply the idea of recognising the value of what she says is “for us, by us.” In an interview with Couturesque Magazine, this new Editor-in-Chief tells us about her background and influences, how she came about the idea of creating a platform for her fellow P.O.C., and why we should be excited for its upcoming release.
Rika: Let's start with a question that every POC knows all too well; Where are you from?
I am originally from Kenya, but I grew up in Melbourne, Australia.
Rika: Tell us about the magazine, the people who inspired you to build it, the people you surround yourself with.
The magazine, P.O.C.C. mag, which stands for People of Colour Collective magazine, is a magazine devoted to shine a light on P.O.C. creatives and to exhibit the talent we have within the fashion industry. I am simply trying to build a platform that will celebrate us. All the content that will be up has to involve a P.O.C. My main goal is to give opportunities to people whom I highly believe in.
Rika: How did you get involved in fashion? Who or what helped you reach the position of founding your own magazine, specifically this one?
I was subconsciously always interested in fashion, ever since I was little, because of my mother. I started modelling over a year ago. A friend sent photos of me to various agencies and the rest is self explanatory. P.O.C.C. magazine was [the product of] an idea I had for about 3 years. I was always surrounded by people of colour growing up in Melbourne [and] all my friends are involved in the industry one way or another. I was mostly inspired by them. I wanted a platform to showcase how incredibly talented we are. It isn’t a political statement; I am only trying to showcase how much we have to offer.
Rika: How much do the pressures and responsibilities of modelling differ or resemble that of managing a team of creatives as editor-in-chief? What are the perks of the job?
The pressures and responsibilities are extremely different [but] I enjoy both equally. It’s a nice change to work behind the scenes, [since] they teach me about the two roles immensely. It’s great managing the team of creatives [who] are either people I’ve known or worked with before.
The perks would have to be, that the job is nowhere near a chore [and] I enjoy it immensely [since] it’s something that I have wanted to do for awhile (I study journalism).
Rika: In your career, do you find that your cultural background serves as an asset or as a barrier? Have you ever felt pressured to overtly express or differ attention from your background?
My cultural background serves highly as an asset to me. I have always been extremely proud of where I am from and never viewed it as a barrier. To be honest, I’ve never really thought about suppressing or overly expressing any form of attention from my background. I think the fashion industry is also changing slowly, is finally encouraging individuality, thus allowing individuals to embrace their backgrounds.
Rika: Have you felt obliged to expressively defend your position in the business due to subtle prejudice or flat out discrimination?
No, but I have been extremely lucky. I have been constantly surrounded by supportive individuals, [either that] or I’m naïve…
Rika: In today's fashion industry, we've noticed that, especially in light of the re-emergence of feminist movements, women are rallying together to speak out on the issue of inequality—this is especially true for women of colour who often receive a double dose of discrimination. However, considering the limited number of seats available at the fashion elite’s table, do you feel that there is a sense of competition between women of colour? Or do you think that there is a sense of camaraderie and mutual support?
There is a sense of mutual support, for sure. I think the most important thing for us P.O.C. in the industry, and in any industry for that matter, is to acknowledge that there is enough space for all of us. If we feel that there is any type of exclusion towards us, then we should aim to build a platform for us, by us.
Rika: From the time you began your career as a model up until today, do you feel that the fashion industry is becoming more aware of the subtle inequities and inequalities that P.O.C. are subjected to? If not, what do you think can help improve visibility? And how does your publication aim to help accelerate that process?
I think the industry is slowly but surely showing progress in diversity and shinning a light on the inequality and struggles we face within the industry. The only thing we can do to try to accelerate the process is to continue to speak up. The aim for the publication is to showcase that we are capable and worthy of the same opportunities as our non-POC counterparts, however that being said P.O.C.C. mag wasn’t created based on a political statement. I’m only showcasing how much talent the P.O.C. creatives that surround me have.
Rika: Do you think that magazines created by and dedicated to P.O.C., that focus beauty and fashion unique to minority communities, should be placed in a unique and individual category? Or do you believe that they should be integrated on the same shelves as the big name and more Eurocentric publications?
They should be on the same shelves as the big publications. [After all] why should there be a separate category for celebrating minorities?
Rika: If you could pick someone to feature in your magazine who would it be? And why?
Grace Wales Bonner, I am obsessed with her work.
Rika: Finally, where do you see POCC in 10 years?
Honestly, I don’t know yet. I am just trying to focus on the [present].
Follow @mercy.sang and @poccmag.