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Remembering That The Personal is Political

Tamara Cincik had an enviable career as a freelance fashion stylist for 20 years. She styled for runway shows and revered publications like iD Magazine and Vogue, consulted for brands, and had a great time doing it. Then, came the birth of her first child. As Cinicik grappled with her new world: juggling freelance work, new motherhood, the childcare necessary to cope with both, and a new economic reality, her disillusionment led to a career shift.

At the urging of a friend, Cincick applied and was accepted into the Fabian Women’s Network, a mentoring and political education program. After completing the program, she was offered a job by her mentor, (Sharon Hodgson MP) in her office as a parliamentary researcher. Cincik is now the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Textiles and Fashion, a group made up of members of both Houses which meet to discuss, campaign on and promote key issues. In 2017, she founded Fashion Roundtable, “which works across events, policy, consultancy and advocacy for the long-term strategic and sustainable growth of the entire fashion industry in the global marketplace.”

Now, as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the world, Cincick and Fashion Roundtable is providing support and resources for struggling fashion companies and out-of-work fashion employees, and keeping a watchful eye on legislation that is enacted amidst the chaos, all while recovering from the illness herself. 

 

The Frontlash: This month we’ve interviewed people whose work straddles politics and fashion. Engaging with politics is an important part of creating a more sustainable fashion system and we think it's helpful to have different voices sharing how the two can go together. 

Tamara Cincik: I think at this very moment that's more evident than ever. Not just in regards to a sustainable fashion system, but in regards to our daily life. Every decision you make and the choices that you have—whether or not you can make that decision—are ultimately decided by the politicians of the countries that you live in. The economic realities of living under COVID-19, which are varying for people in different economic incomes, are completely decided by our politicians.

Everything in our lives is decided [by the government] how many years you're at school for, how many people were in your class. If you go to a state school, how much money will be put into that class's educational budget each year is decided by politicians. Politics impacts on every single decision that we make, however free we might think we are. I think it's too easy to say that fashion shouldn't have a political, discernible argument because it just doesn't hold up.

 

I'd love to get a little bit into your background. You weren't always single-handedly trying to solve the economic fallout for an industry because of a pandemic..

I didn't study fashion. I read [studied] English at UCL, which was lovely. I read a lot of novels and a lot of poetry. In my final year there, I realized I wanted to go into the fashion industry. There weren't that many stylists, so I managed to get some work experience with some stylists. I wanted to be an editorial stylist, It wasn't always very well paid, but it was very exciting. I worked on fashion shows. I worked on magazine shoots and a bit of commercial work, and a little bit of film, but I mostly worked on magazines. I loved it.

 

Okay, so you were a stylist, and then what happened?

I always had a political perspective. I had a no fur policy in all my work. I had a no women weren't allowed to be on all fours. I would have arguments with photographers all the time who were generally male. 

 

What sort of arguments would you have?

I mean, you know, that [models are] not going on all fours. It wasn't about [them being] a victim, ever. I think you can look at my work and you can see that there's nothing tacky about it. 

I thought at the time was hard work, but looking back it wasn't as hard work as I thought. When you're freelance in any job, you're constantly thinking about the next job, about the next paycheck, about the next commission. Half your anxiety is about keeping going as much as the creativity. I think it definitely taught me the skills of a quick turn around.

When I had my son, who's eight, the economic impacts of the realities of trying to work as a freelancer and paying for childcare were eye opening. Then, somebody approached me on Facebook and said, "Why don't you try to get into this mentoring scheme for women to get into frontline politics?" 

That was life changing because it was a space, and it is a space, for women, usually from the left. It's called the Fabian Women's Mentoring Scheme from the Fabian Women's Network, which is part of the Fabian Society, which is an organization on the left, aligned with the UK Labor Party.

I went into this and I was completely blown away by the people. I hadn't met people like that since I was at college, really, who were very ambitious—women who wanted to achieve goals for [the] greater good, who were learning the tools of how to vocalize and use their good thinking and their agency to support different actions, whether that was to be a political representative, or a councillor, or an advocate, or a human rights lawyer. 

And then, my mentor offered me a role in her office. I worked with her on two of her APPGs : Art, Craft and Design in Education and also The APPG for Dyslexia as well as in her Westminster Office attending meetings, briefings and working on all aspects of her work within parliament as part of her team.

 

How was that period of toggling between the two?

It was interesting. I mean, I made more money in a day as a stylist than I would make in a month, and I wasn't the boss, so I learned how to work in a team in a different way from being the team leader. Although that had challenges, I think it's good, actually, to take a bit of humility.

Because I was working in Parliament, I needed to get my sector in to meet with a number of politicians. I hosted a roundtable with the British Fashion Council for Matt Hancock MP who was then Culture Minister and brought in people such as Nick Knight and Camilla Lowther where we brought in the secretary of state for culture and a number of other people. And then, I set up Fashion Roundtable in November 2017.

I became the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Textiles and Fashion around the same time because that was dormant. There was no conduit [for fashion] into Parliament at the time. Fashion is never mentioned in parliamentary questions or in debates or in written evidence. It felt very overlooked.

 

..most people that go into politics don't come from this background. Why would they understand? They've never been freelance, they've never worked in the creative sector.

 

What is Fashion Roundtable?

Well, it's got two aspects. You've got the not for profit work, which is at the moment taking up most of my attention because of my expertise. We do two all-party parliamentary groups. We've got ethics and sustainability in fashion, and then textiles and fashion. And so, normally that would be lots of meetings in Parliament and setting up events there, and policy papers, and engagement, and me working on two sets of work there.

And then, the newsletter, which is becoming increasingly vital as everybody's at home at the moment. We're whipping up a lot of resources, which means that we're engaging with government and Whitehall and City Hall, which is the London mayor's office, every week to get updates and to share that.

Normally, we'd also have our own events. We've started a membership [program], but at the moment everything is being focused on the policy work because so much of what I'm hearing is [a need for] crisis management and supporting people.

 

Now that you're within the political system in a sense, why do you think it is that fashion has been largely excluded from the political conversation?

I think it's because most people that go into politics don't come from this background. Why would they understand? They've never been freelance, they've never worked in the creative sector. If they have, they've worked in a different aspect of it. Maybe they've been an actress. I can think of one MP who's an ex-actress. One who's an ex-retailer. One who's a hairdresser. He gets it, I'd say more than most, because he's had his own salon for years. His salon is in his constituency, so he knows everyone. But the majority haven't done that. They've come from a different background. Why would they understand a sector that they've never had any engagement with?

 

Have you seen a willingness or a desire from your community within the fashion industry, whether it's other creatives or designers or whomever, to also engage politically and try to open up those conversations?

One hundred percent.When we do meetings at Parliament, they're packed. There's definitely a willingness. You've got people like Dilys Williams, who's a professor at the Center for Sustainable Fashion. She's definitely a leading light. As is Zowie Broach, the head of fashion at London’s Royal College of Arts. I can think of loads of the NEWGEN designers who are definitely active. They're working on the Emergency Designer Network now, like Phoebe English, and Holly Fulton, and Bethany Williams. They're amazing. When we did events around Brexit, they would be packed. People were very worried. 96 percent of the sector voted remain according to our data.

 

Never think that what you're doing is too small. For me, working on the library campaign was very important on a local level. For me, when it's difficult, I've got all these women that I can ask for support from, which is invaluable. They also allow me the space to say, "Yes, I have ambitions." 

 

Coronavirus aside, do you have a wishlist of what you're hoping to achieve? 

In all countries, there needs to be a more comprehensive support for the cultural and the creative industries. The problem, I don't know about in other countries, but in the UK, fashion sits across several Whitehall [government] departments. I think it needs to sit in one. It needs to be able to be managed from the sector with sector understanding instead of having to speak to people from several different departments at any one time.

France has a minister for [cultural and creative industries]. I don't know why the UK doesn't. It would change massively if it had that kind of support, because it would be respected and valued. At the moment, the Department of Culture, Sport, and Media became Digital Culture, Sport, and Media, and then the focus on funding goes on tech and on STEM education. Whilst I applaud my son's brilliant maths, actually learning to sew and learning to draw and learning to use a pen and using a needle is as important for a surgeon as is being able to add up. Yet, it's not valued.

And we've got loads of long term problems if we're going to have an immigration strategy that's based on income. If we can't fill the jobs for the garment factory workers in the UK, which is already at capacity. So, we've been lobbying on that as well.

It's always, always kicking back against norms and narratives and trying to highlight issues, because that could be larger political arguments around having higher waged immigration. 

 

Why do you think government is a crucial lever for pushing against those norms?

Because who else are you going to... If you run a campaign what's it achieve? [It] doesn't achieve anything. It doesn't achieve change.

 

You mean like an activist campaign?

Yeah. I mean, an activist campaign achieves a lot, but it helps to achieve that in tandem with government change, with policy change, because otherwise it's just noise. You have to have both.

Say I was another organization and I ran a campaign which was orientated towards people, I would also want someone to be looking at policy. You're only going to make legal change with governmental changes, with acts of parliament, with legislation.

 

What advice would you give to others from fashion and beyond who are looking at this moment, they feel panicked and they feel compelled to get started in politics themselves?

They should ask their MP if they can shadow them for a day. If there's an organization or a charity that they want to work with [they should]. I campaigned for my local library and I brought all the same skills to running that campaign as to running Fashion Roundtable. It's exactly the same, even though it was on a local level. Actually, the passion I saw in the organization of that was as strong as anything I've ever seen in national government.

Never think that what you're doing is too small. For me, working on the library campaign was very important on a local level. For me, when it's difficult, I've got all these women that I can ask for support from, which is invaluable. They also allow me the space to say, "Yes, I have ambitions." 

 

My last question is what, if anything, is giving you hope at the moment?

People are being forced to look for new networks and forced to look at change and forced to look themselves in the face. It's not always comfortable. I mean, it's not easy being at home every day. I also know that there are a lot of people who are in much worse positions. There are women who are in violent relationships. Children who are living in endemic poverty, who don't have enough to eat. All of this, I'm aware of. It's very worrying and you have politicians who've never lived with restricted incomes making policy decisions, which will massively impact on people with less money than them.

And so, I get all of that, but at the same time, within this moment of enforced stopping, which is something we've never seen before is an opportunity for a reboot. I hope that people use it wisely. But, I think also watch what's going on with legislation at the moment, because we do need to ensure that our privacy and our protections are not just taken away from us because of the virus.

Cover Photo: Fashion Roundtable

Words: Laura Jones

Editor: Sonjia Hyon

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