Rachel Arthur and Rosanna Falconer founded FashMash at the beginning of the digital revolution as a space where they and their peers could come together, share ideas and navigate their way through this new exciting media. This approach was unheard of before in fashion but as they were all laying new foundations it became a nurturing place to grow and inspire. Over the past decade FashMash has continued to evolve and grow and recently with the introduction of their mentoring programme will continue to be a nurturing space for future generations too. Read how Rachel and Rosanna’s career paths brought them together how they set up FashMash, what its aims are and what’s coming next.
Starting with Rachel’s story
D: I would like to start by asking, where did you grow up?
Ra: Mainly in Hampshire, I was born there and spent the majority of my childhood there, but we lived in the States for a few years in San Francisco. I was six when we came back and that’s where all my earliest memories are, it made quite an impression on me.
D: What do you think your early influences where? Do you think any led you to the path you are taking now with your work on the environment, social justice and fashion?
Ra: I was really obsessed with fashion, or more to the point, art and textiles. The environmental side I think came from the fact we lived on the edge of the New Forest on what had been a working farm before my parents bought it, and next to a farm. It was this environment that influenced me to be vegetarian to love nature and be outdoors. I think a lot of it was that from a childhood perspective. Then when I was older I did quite a lot of travelling and spent time in places that I knew my family had loved. My grandfather had spent a lot of time in India in the war, and I really felt the need to go to there. It had a huge impact on me in terms of understanding the differences in wealth and the wealth gap. Although a lot of that was around justice and the haves and have not’s, it was also around the beauty that came in life otherwise: being outdoors, the beauty, the nature. I have in the back of my mind the most beautiful image of travelling through rural India and seeing women with their silk saris, laid out across the rocks and washing them and the colours being absolutely unbelievable. This left a huge impression on me on the role fashion plays in all sorts of cultures. It was the same with time I spent living in Africa, which had been my grandmother’s influence. I felt really strange coming back home, especially after the trip to India, and going into an industry that felt very superficial. It sat at odds with me for a really long time, until I got my head around working on the sustainability side of things and making sense of it together.
D: Was there a family influence for you on the fashion side of things?
Ra: I think it was probably my grandmother on my dad’s side, because she used to make all her own clothes. She was really into that and into fashion and had lots of things that we could borrow. And mum as well, we always had loads of her old clothes that we dressed up in.
D: Do you think there's a defining moment that changed everything for you?
Ra: I think the trip to India was massively impactful. I went on a volunteer programme between my university degrees and at the time I remember coming back and mum saying how changed I was. I found it really hard to come to terms with a really materialistic lifestyle. I am sort of surprised now that I didn't totally shift my focus at that point but am really grateful that I didn't because I can see that it led me on this path. One of the first articles I wrote for a local newspaper when I came back from India, before I went to do postgrad journalism at Cardiff, was on sustainable fashion because it was just starting to percolate. It was 2005/2006, so 15 years ago now and those conversations were just starting, some brands existed, but people were still questioning, is this something people will be interested in from a fashion point of view?
I think what fully brought me back to this focus was in 2017. I had already been doing other things leading up to it, such as in 2016 when I did a TED talk on sustainability. But I then took a pause for personal reasons and was afforded the luxury of being able to go and explore a bit; to focus on finding some sort of purpose. It was one of those experiences that was tough at the time, but looking back now was the best thing that happened to me. I went to Bali for a while, which was incredible because it was really grounding from both a spiritual standpoint and when it came to selfcare. But it also helped me get perspective on things and what I wanted to be doing.
Shortly after, I also went to Shanghai on a trip with the H&M Foundation. They run the Global Change Awards and they were doing a programme with innovators taking them to different markets. It was incredible because I got to see things on the ground through factories in ways I hadn’t actually done before. It was a year that was a real awakening for me around why I was doing all of these other bits within the industry when I only wanted to focus on sustainability. It reminded me that that was and is where my true interest lies and where the most work needs doing, so it was time to get fully back to it 100%.
D: What were the factory visits like?
Ra: It was really eye opening. I hadn't seen mass production on this scale before. Obviously, it was a good H&M factory because they wouldn't have shown us anything else, but seeing the sheer volume of things that are going through and the sheer volume of people involved was really mind blowing. I have a video of a woman sat connecting a cuff to a sleeve and that's all she did all day. You see how much hand work is involved even in that stage, and that's all she did all day, that one same thing over and over again, and then there are hundreds more of her doing the same. It was really good to be able to see it and recognise how many people are involved even with the cheapest product. It was very humanising.
D: You mentioned your TED talk, you and Rosanna do a lot of talks and interviews. Was that the first big talk that you had given? What's it like to get up on stage, no notes in your hand and speak and to remain composed and calm? Where did you learn that side of things?
Ra: I had done quite a lot of speaking at that point, but obviously nothing on that scale, or with that sort of intensity. One of my main reasons for saying yes was that you got six months training and I thought this is going to be the most incredible experience in terms of somebody helping me, to shape not just what I'm talking about, but how to talk about it, and how to present. It was amazing. The thing is, because you practice so long, you know it word for word, it's not something that you decided to do overnight, you really know it. And they teach you tricks in terms of how to remember your flow, little things like you visualise it going round the room. I had slides so mine was visualised by the slides I was flicking through, but the amount of adrenaline that went through me when I did it, it was so intense. It was really fun though to do something so incredibly focused, I'm still really proud of it. It’s five years old now so a bit dated and could do with a refresh, but the premise of it still stands around this industry needing to change.
When I look at my career the red thread that's been through it is not actually particularly sustainability, but change. That's the thing that I've tracked from the beginning, and sustainability was there at the beginning in terms of writing articles and talking about what was coming. But change more broadly was what I focused on in my first job as trend forecaster at WGSN. I was there for eight years, at the peak of the digital transformation years, and that was of course how I met Rosanna. For me, I've always kept up with what's coming next, and what's the main thing the industry needs to be focused on, so that went through being about digital transformation and wider innovation, then back into sustainability.
D: Would you see yourself as a futurist?
Ra: No. My focus is on systems change, so I would say I am a systems change thinker or a systems change strategist. I’m about transformation essentially. I think if you were to use a real catchphrase for it, it would be less futurist and more changemaker. It’s more active than a futurist, which makes it sound more like you have a vision.
D: You touched on the strategic side of your work, what does that involve, can you tell us a bit more about that?
Ra: If we are going to shift this industry, we really need to think about what that looks like as a whole system; so in terms of the socio-economic model and where the fashion industry fits into that. I made a decision when I left my last job to really only focus on things that I considered to be genuinely game changing in their efforts, so that they would start to shift the industry in the direction it needs to go in. Since then I have been working on projects I really believe in, like for Google on how we bring greater accuracy to the fashion supply chain in terms of understanding the impact of different environmental factors though their access to data and computing power. I have been leading strategy on this project with them for three years now.
D: Does it feel good to be in a big business driving this?
Ra: It feels very meaningful. For me that is the main word I realised I wanted to feel; that I was working on something meaningful and not something that was just helping a business make more money, as I had already spent so many years doing that. This is a non-commercial project for Google, so it’s doing exactly that. And the resulting platform we’ve developed for the industry has enormous potential in terms of what it could change.
My second project is in a similar vein. My question to myself was ‘if I could work in one place where would it be?’ That led me to the UN and I landed a position at the Environment Programme working with the public advocacy team on sustainable fashion. My remit is writing a strategy around the power of narrative to drive cultural and values change, or how we communicate sustainable fashion, which I guess brings me back full circle to being a journalist and being in the communication side of this world. This work is the most rewarding I’ve ever focused on.
D: What do you think drives you?
Ra: I have thought about this question so much. A few years ago when I worked for a company focused on driving innovation within fashion businesses, I was asking myself that a lot: ‘what's the purpose of this business and what's my purpose as an individual?’ When you start to look at it through the lens of a small company, because you've got overheads, it constantly keeps coming back to ‘how do we make money?’ and ‘how do we make money for these businesses, so that we can make money for our our business and pay our staff?’ And that's just not what I wanted to be doing in terms of the ultimate focus of my day-to-day. I don't really care about making money. I've been very fortunate in my life, and I'm very, very aware of that, but I talk all the time with my partner about what we would be willing to strip back for happiness and where does that actually sit? When I think about that applied to my career, I've been so focused on strategy and business I could, if I really wanted to, drive myself hardcore into a big organisation that could be incredibly lucrative, but I am not motivated by it. Obviously as a mother now, I want the flexibility, but I also really want to work on something that is meaningful, that is going to drive change in a meaningful way, which is really, really much easier said than done, but that's why I love working how I do now. Because I’m surrounding myself with people that I believe want to do work that drives change, as opposed to that helps others solely make money, and that's a really big difference. Over the last two years, it’s the first time I've been in the position, where I can make my decisions based on ‘is this is going to change things’ as opposed to ‘is this going to make money’.
D: What change would you like to see?
Ra: Oh my gosh, haha so much. I think it comes down to this whole view of how we change the system. How do we fundamentally shift an entire culture of what we believe fashion to be about? It’s a massive ask, but if I was to really pin it down, it’s how do we rethink value and values? How do we say as an industry that what we care about is not only about making profit? And as people, that it’s not only about material wealth and clothing as status. And as a result, thinking around wellbeing for other people, care of the planet and all of those elements that are so important for the future of humanity, but are so easily discarded because we're caught up in a capitalist system. It's very big in terms of its ambition, but I think we have no choice but to be thinking in that space, and I think there are very few people who actually are on the ground level with this industry.
D: People talk about the fashion industry being able to pivot quickly. They can pivot quickly as far as different seasons are concerned, but it's such a big lumbering beast. If it could pivot quickly there wouldn't be people living in squalor creating our clothes.
Ra: There is one single line that I think has had the most impact on me in terms of making me focus in my career, and it was a line from the Global Fashion Agenda's annual report, about how overall stainability efforts of the sector are being outpaced by its growth. Which means any reduction in impact that was happening was essentially irrelevant, because the growth of the industry was happening so much faster, and that's what blew my mind the most. It made me sit back and be like, what am I doing? You make all of these tiny tweaks to be more sustainable, by working within an innovative business and launching some cool little pilot, but it's not changing anything because they're upping the volume of
what they're producing all the time. The we as consumers are continuing to up our consumption too. That for me has been the biggest thing in terms of recognising what needs to change. We need to strip back what we produce, but do so in a way that protects the livelihoods of the people that are involved in the whole industry.
D: The overproduction is phenomenal, if you look at in thirds, a third is sold at full price, a third is sold at sale price and a third goes straight to landfill.
Ra: Maddening completely maddening.
D: All that planetary resource.
Ra: And human resource. The human capital involved in this is astonishing. When you start to strip that down in terms of justice and you see the way these things have a knock-on effect, the planetary impact, the impact on the people, but also how that's only going to increase overtime, with the more damage that we do, those people will be on the front lines in terms of climate damage.
D: It’s happening already in Bangladesh there's a mass movement away from the coast because it's going to be underwater. It’s where a lot of the clothes are being made and where climate change is felt the most.
Ra: We are so disconnected from that when we sit in our nice houses here in the UK. Even though we know that the climate crisis is also impacting us in our country. We are so removed from it, or more to the point, we are so removed from it when we scroll through Instagram, and we walk into Primark. Or we scroll through Boohoo, or whatever. We are so removed from that sense of what it's like to be on the ground in Bangladesh or in India, any time as a garment worker, let alone during Covid.
D: Covid really pulled all that into sharp focus. But you know again is everybody hearing this or only those who are listening?
D: Where did you grow up.
Ros: I grew up in the Cotswolds, The funny thing is, growing up there, you don't really realise that it's beautiful you think that’s how the rest of the world looks. I remember when I moved to London and would come back, particularly in spring, you open the window in the morning and think this has to be a postcard, it can't be real life. The views in particular in the village are: lots of undulating hills and sweeping views.
D: How many sisters do you have?
Ros: I have two sisters, an older one who's a photographer and a younger one who is a presenter and podcaster. A very creative set.
D: Did you have any early influences in fashion?
Ros: My granny. She was the most elegant person I've ever met, and very coordinated in what she wore, the nails to match the lip, to match the handbag, to match the shoe, in that traditional way in which women used to dress. It was such an art. It's so different to what we do nowadays, because she also really looked after her clothes. I inherited a few cardigans and I can still wear them now. They are so immaculately looked after. My grandfather was the same: he had his suits tailored on Savile Row in the 1930s/40s. My husband inherited his plum velvet dinner jacket which is still in perfect condition – he wore it in the evening of our wedding day.
D: That's also the joy of things being beautifully made.
Ros: Exactly. When I went to the Wimbledon book fair, Orsola de Castro was speaking about that attitude and that approach to the longevity of your clothes. I really admired the way my granny dressed. Apart from that I remember we used to have Vogues in the house... My sisters and I would host fashion shows, my older sister is very good with a sewing machine and still makes her own clothes, so we would wear her designs and that was really fun. In a way it was quite a creative village, Isabella Blow and Plum Sykes also lived there.
Then I went to Cambridge University. It is one of those universities that has so many dynamic, exciting students. The student newspapers there are renowned; I was fashion editor at Varsity.
D: How did you get the fashion editor role at Varsity?
Ros: The fashion editor before me, is now fashion editor of the Times and the one before that is Quentin Jones (famed animator, photographer and director). How did I manage to get the role? It was taken very seriously, you had to be interviewed for it. I remembered arriving at the interview and being asked, ‘can you write?’. I did languages as my degree so obviously wrote essays, but I'd never written about fashion, but you know you wing it, and I obviously said the right thing. But don't get me wrong, I have been a fashion geek since I was 14, I had started learning all the names and becoming this weird encyclopaedia, of not only designer names, but I became obsessed with knowing all the journalists’ names including where they worked and what their interests were.
This fashion editorship was great for me because when I was trying to get internships in the summer holidays I actually had something fashion on my CV. I had never considered doing fashion at uni; I always wanted to go to Cambridge which only has traditional, academic degrees. At school I wasn't very cool but at Cambridge, because everyone is reallyhard-working you're suddenly amongst your people. It was the biggest relief to not really have to try socially anymore, to feel like I fitted in. I had the best time there. I look back on my time at Cambridge as halcyon days. The degree was great because it gives you powers of analysis and communication; that's why I'm confident speaking on stage now and writing, they were really good life skills that I learnt, even though I don't use my languages day to day.
D: When you finished your degree was your was your first thought I want to work for the BFC?
Ros: In terms of internships, I knew quite early on that marketing or at least communications was the one for me. I had a pipe dream of maybe working at Vogue and entered the Vogue talent contest but did not succeed. I did a couple of internships with marketing teams at Fortnum & Mason, Browns and the British Fashion Council and started to appreciate the way communication skills could be used for business. I liked the practicality of that.
One of my final internships was at the BFC and it was intense. This was a time when the BFC had two full time members of staff and would bring in freelancers for Fashion Week. The Mayor of London at the time – Boris Johnon - gave them a grant which meant that they were able to expand the staff. They gave me a call about 3 months after I graduated saying that based on the internship, would I like to come and interview to be marketing assistant, and that's where it all began.
Those were the days of hard graft, also I'm a millennial, I was really ambitious but, quietly so. I stayed very happily, patiently, as an assistant for four years. I remember soaking it all up and trying to be as diligent, and helpful as possible, while being aware of where I fitted into the company. It was an interesting time because after about six months it became apparent that the digital revolution was upon us, and at the time the main marketing for London Fashion Week was printed guides. The website was coming to the fore, then lo and behold another six months later, we launched Twitter. Then suddenly, because of the digital revolution I was catapulted into conversations with the senior leadership.
It was such a fascinating position to be in and one that with hindsight I realised was a big deal. Yet at the time and the same goes for a lot of the founding FashMash members, who were in a similar position to me at brands like McQueen or Burberry, none of us realised the significance because it was our day job and we were doing it, and we were learning as we did it.
Also, it was a fascinating time to be at the BFC, because it was the 25 year anniversary of London Fashion Week, so there was a massive drive to make London, really buzzing again. Burberry came back, Jonathan Saunders came back, Temperly came back, Matthew Williamson came back, and suddenly it went from the highlight of the schedule being Vivienne Westwood’s Red Label which was a diffusion line, as she was showing her gold Paris, to suddenly a schedule replete with all of these big names.
D: Great again for your communication side and an understanding and learning of emerging social media.
Ros: Also, in terms of networking too: it's how I met Rachel, it's how I met Matthew Williamson… It equipped me with a very good address book of contacts too.
D: From the BFC you then went on to work with Matthew Williamson.
Ros: He was my favourite designer. I would always make a beeline for him at BFC events in an effort to network!
D: Is this because of all the colour, because you are always so colourful?
Ros: When I was geeking out as a 14-year-old, I saw Kate Moss and Jade Jagger on the cover of The Times in his first collection, which was spring/summer 98, Electric Angels. Jade was in a lemon top and a purple skirt and Kate Moss was in a pink slip dress with a turquoise cardigan, I actually managed to find that cardigan on eBay while I was a student and I wear it still. (Rosanna went and got the cardigan from her wardrobe to show me), so this is from his very first collection and Kate was wearing that, not this exact one, but one like it. So he'd always been my favourite designer and whenever I saw him at an event I would always go up and introduce myself, tell him what I was doing. Then I got an email from him when I was five or six years into the BFC, I was certainly more senior by then, asking me to come in for a chat. He was seeking a Head of Digital to launch the brand’s digital strategy. There began my new career path. I was at Matthew Williamson for six years and it was a dream fulfilled.
D: You certainly always seemed very happy.
Ros: When I started there, I was head of digital, then I became communications director and finally I was business director. My favourite role in the business was definitely communications director, I felt like it was really using all my skills to the best.
I learned so much from being at Matthew Williamson because it was completely different to the British Fashion Council. It was my first experience of retail, it was my first experience of ecommerce. I really thrived off getting to know about sales, getting to know about buying and getting to know about the other aspects of fashion. It's given me such a rounded fashion education which as a consultant gives you such a broad view. Even though nowadays I tend to specialise in brand consultancy, brand voice, brand story, brand communication, social media and influencer.
D: When on your journey did you become aware of supply chains and the ethical and sustainable side of fashion. When did that come into focus for you?
Ros: Happily at Matthew Williamson my experience of that was not tarnished because it was small production runs in comparison to a lot of luxury brands. It was a small team, so the design team would go out three times a year to Mumbai and work directly with the factories, the studios, the ateliers. I remember the design team coming back from one of those trips, very upset because they found a cowshed where a designer - a big, massive luxury brand - was having trainers embroidered and the conditions were horrendous. They evoked that for me with such colour that I was really, really shocked.
Rana Plaza had happened and the High Street had already been vilified. We thought that we were in this bubble of luxury fashion, and with the prices and the margins that meant that a fair wage was being paid. I feel this is important and it's something that Rachel I are really passionate about. So often when people think about sustainability they only think about the environment, as it's more tangible, more fixable, but the social side is actually the more shocking one. I think High Street brands in particular like to focus on the environment because it's so easy for them to say, ‘oh we use non toxic dyes’ and ‘oh we fixed that, we use organic cotton’ that means nothing.
Once I’d left Matthew Williamson, Dolly Jones (ex-editor of Vogue.com) got in touch asking me to become a contributor to the new Eco-Age magazine which she was launching. I learnt a huge amount through writing and contributing to Eco Age, so that was really fascinating in my journey, and getting to know a lot of young brands and what they were doing, as FashMash pivioted a lot more into sustainability too.
I think that there are moments, little high points where I think, oh, that was a wake-up call for me in term of sustainability. But it wasn't one moment of epiphany. I think that's why it's so integral to me now, because of that slow build-up of a feeling, and a realisation.
D: Since we have had Covid I think it will be interesting to see how fashion businesses react to this, as you know and what you highlighted, was the human aspect and that has been brought into sharp focus with the pandemic, slavery is rife in the supply chain and if you think, well, you have a daughter now, can you imagine that in three or four years’ time that she would be going to work?
Ros: Oh my God terrified.
D: And there are children now that age working in the fashion supply chain.
Ros: That was one of the key points that Orsola brought up, she said something like, we all like to find one victim and one solution and the culprit is fast fashion. But it's not, it's just as much luxury. We all need to be way more aware.
D: It is good to use our voices to keep the brands aware that we are watching. And you can use all your communication skills for that too.
Ros: Even though my specialism is communications, more often than not, particularly because of the renown I got through doing my work with Eco Age I am being asked how to communicate sustainability in an appropriate, non-greenwashing way.
D: One last question for now, have you always been very colourful?
Ros: As a child I have vivid memories of choosing bold colours on our biannual shopping trips – yes, that infrequent – I love that attitude to shopping! I loved an orange T shirt with a bright pink flower on. I also had floral leggings with a matching floral tee shirt and matching floral baseball cap... So I've always been drawn bright colours.
In my 20s I did go through a phase of wearing black because I worked at the BFC and thought that was the professional ‘look’. It was so great for me to go to Matthew Williamson and be able to embrace colour and realise that colour can be worn in a highly professional way. I think that actually energises your team.
One of the really great things we learned from one of the FashMash mentoring career development sessions last year was from Musa Tariq. There were twelve mentees on the Zoom call, all wearing black and he pointed out he wouldn’t be able to differentiate any of them after the call. He said, ‘on the next session I want you all wearing colour, I want you to have thought about your Zoom background, I want you place something interesting next to you.’ Colour has such power.
D: How did you how did you both meet?
Ros: I met Rachel when I was at the British Fashion Council. She was a journalist at the time with WGSN.
Ra: Indeed, I was a senior editor at that point. I was there for eight years so I don't know what job role I had at the time, but I was interviewing, writing articles and also writing freelance. I think I always had the drive to do more than just the day job. So, I interviewed Rosanna, trying to get the inside scoop on what she knew the designers were going to be doing during Fashion Week that was digital.
Ros: We got on really well on the phone call and then met for coffee and realised very quickly that we had a lot of friends in common in the industry and started to think we should all get together, because we were all playing such a pivotal role in the way the British fashion industry, and I guess the fashion industry globally, was going. But we were all very young in our roles, and our roles were also pretty new as most of them were in digital. In the beginning digital roles were largely unsupported; they weren’t really well established like say a PR department with 30 people with a whole hierarchy. The first ever FashMash was drinks for 20 people at Soho House and I made cupcakes with everybody's Twitter handle on top. I remember it being fun getting to put faces to names, because these were people that we often spoke to on Twitter. In person you get to have a better connection. From there it grew quite quickly and we still continue to do these networking events. Rachel then moved to New York, which was fantastic because that meant we established a network over there too and New Yorkers are so brilliant at networking, unlike us Brits. The head of PR at Matthew Williamson was really struck with the concept saying it would never happen with senior industry PRs. We would very happily brainstorm and talk about ideas over drinks but that was unique: the fashion industry is notoriously confidential and they play their cards close to their chest.
Ra: And exclusionary.
Ros: Exactly, but because digital was so nascent and every idea was new it was much more collaborative and welcoming.
Ra: Yes, I think that was a massive part of it. We talked about that a lot at the time, that we could share ideas because at the start nobody knew what they were doing really, everybody was sort of working it out as they went. A peer group was therefore important. At that point it was wholly focused on digital transformation, so everybody was in social media or ecommerce or marketing roles.
D: Tell us about FashMash, and what you do.
Ros: FashMash is a business based on shaping the future of fashion and that is through a suite of networking tools and events. A year and a half ago all of that was physical, and we had a very successful speaker series called FashMash Pioneers, which would attract household names as speakers and audiences of up to 200-250. Then there would be networking drinks afterwards. We would also have members networking drinks bi-annually and we would team up with brands like Google and SNAP to host those events. Plus we often hosted more intimate events like lunches for members to discuss a particular topic. Then the pandemic hit and we realised that we needed to pivot very quickly to digital. In some areas that was easier than others, for instance the speaker series transferred very easily to webinar, which in many ways was great because it meant we could have an international audience. The intimate lunches that I mentioned now work very well as a monthly series where we have a particular topic of concern for the industry that might be the circular economy or innovation in the industry and we have been hosting those via a Zoom lunch instead.
It’s also worth saying that the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement in June was a catalyst for launching our mentoring scheme, which had been in planning for quite some time: FashMash Young Pioneers. It launched last year with a cohort of 12 mentees chosen for their talent and brilliance, and is focused on raising up those from low socio economic and ethnic minority backgrounds and teaming them up with twelve of our most senior members from the FashMash community. Alongside monthly mentoring sessions we ran a career development programme, with speakers from everyone like Musa Tariq, who I mentioned earlier, was so brilliant on how to dress for Zoom. We had a talk about HR with the BFC’s HR consultant, a talk about law, and one that touched on mental health. The programme was a huge success. One mentee now has a job with her mentor because they got on so well and pretty much all of the cohort are still meeting up regularly with their mentors. It also caught the attention of the press: WWD, Glamour and Drapers all ran stories, so we're really thrilled with how it went and we are looking to repeat it.
Ra: What was also really interesting for us when Covid started was that it gave us the ability, having both just had children, to really pause and say okay, so why does FashMash even exist? What is it here for? We didn't start as a business, we started it as a networking drinks event. We started it as friends, but people that didn't know each other that well. And it evolved over time and became a partnership and business that we both completely love. But we hadn’t ever really sat down and said, what our objectives and why do we do this? Also what do we want to be doing? What’s that balance between what does the industry need, what would be lucrative and what do we want to do? Those things don’t necessarily sit hand in hand and we decided to really focus on what it was that we wanted to do, because we were doing this as a side project alongside our day jobs and it had to be something we were passionate about. When we stopped and really focused on it, our original intention for the business, which had been around encouraging dialogue and sharing of ideas through networking, hadn’t changed, that was exactly the same as it was, coming up to nearly 10 years ago. It was really interesting to think that even though the world had changed around us and the industry had evolved so much, that intention of the way that people converse and collaborate is fundamentally what's going to change everything, and that's what we consider to sit at the heart of FashMash. Also, where the mentoring programme then came in was that we could also, even though it's only on a case-by-case basis with these individuals, begin to shape more change in the industry, through diversity and through helping these young people progress, through opportunities that they didn't have access to otherwise. We both come from a place where we had huge access to opportunity, just by being white and middle class and that isn't the same for so many other people. We both were utterly blown away by the applicants we got, and then the 12 mentees who made it through that process, that we got to know as individuals, they're way more advanced than we were when we were in our young 20s, in terms of the amount of things they've done, the amount of things they want to do, the ambition they have - all of their CVs are incredible. But I think it's also the attitude that goes with it and that's been really illuminating, but also so rewarding to work with the mentees and to continue doing so alongside what we both do as our day jobs.
D: You are driving the conversation forward for the future of fashion, but what are your next aims with that and FashMash, what would like to see happen?
Ra: Really good question, I think that is around how we shape the next mentoring programme and what that looks like for our next intake. I think both of us are very passionate and very optimistic about FashMash and we're also realistic about what it can achieve, but also what we can manage. We love doing it and I think we will continue to do it for a long time. I think the conversations and the speaker series and everything are so enjoyable and so rewarding to do, but the mentoring programme really opened our eyes to the fact that, even as a really small business and as two individuals working on it as a side project, we can really make an impact. Even if that impact is only on an individual level, like the person who got a new job out of it.
Ros: Also, the great thing about the mentoring scheme is that it felt it was a long-term project. This is a group of people that you're checking in with, that we were seeing at least fortnightly. With the speaker series and so often in general with events, particularly with online ones, you feel afterwards, what really did people gain from that, what was their feedback, what are their takeaways from it? You do have some, but it's not that nourishing long-term collaborative relationship that we got through the mentoring scheme, which is highly rewarding.
RA: That's true; being able to follow through on these things. The other thing I was going to say, one of the things we've been thinking and talking about a lot in all of our discussions, has of course, over this last year been heavily around the impact of Covid, but also the impact of sustainability within Covid times, and the role that diversity plays within all of that. I think FashMash and particularly the mentoring programme brings all of those things together. It's a bit like we were talking earlier around climate justice and the individuals that are on the ground, and I think one of the things that we recognise and I think the industry as a whole is recognising, is how important it is that within the change and transformation that's being driven, that diversity is a core part of that. They are not separate conversations - racial justice, climate justice and social justice are not separate, and we know that helping to lift those voices through our mentoring scheme within the same sustainability conversation is absolutely crucial, and that intersectionality is core. Some of the people we've had on this programme, are so incredible. Sometimes you meet someone whose voice is going to be such an important voice in the future of this part of the industry, it’s amazing. I already see that with some of the ones we’ve met – people who are going to be one’s to really, really watch, even though they are still fresh graduate’s and only been in their job’s year or so. I think that's what's really exciting, to think that you can help spotlight some of those voices and help them gain more access to opportunities that help get them to their full potential that, maybe they wouldn't have been able to access otherwise.
D: How do you see the future? You have been together 10 years, what’s next?
Ros: We have an annual summit where we getaway, which didn't happen last year because of Covid. This year during a staycation together we discussed the future and made our plans for the coming year. I'm not really one for a five year or even a two-year plan, I think particularly for people like Rachel and I, we always have a lot going on in the near future. Right now, it's pulling off the next version of the mentoring scheme and ensuring that we do so with the same care as the first cohort. I really believe that even though it was all online we really valued and wanted to learn and spend time with each of those mentees and equally the mentors, who give up a huge amount of time, they are really senior in their jobs, or are company owners.
D: I guess if you if you have a five or two year plan it doesn't allow you to pivot so quickly.
Ros: True. Who would have thought we would even have had to do this over the last year?
D: You will have seen so much change in the last 10 years.
Ros: A lot of our members are saying that we were right to approach the digital revolution with such an open mind and that's the way people need to approach the next 10 years. In many ways, that could be tough. When you look at the generation before us, at the start of their careers, of course they had that open mind. But then you start cruising, you gain seniority and your focus becomes your family. But actually, you need to keep that same fighting attitude.
D: I would say that I was guilty of that I took my eye off the ball and then was really surprised that nothing had changed and was like OMG, I have to get back on this, it's like come on.
Ros: Wow that's really interesting,
Ra: I think that's really easy to do, I think you get into your 30s or late 30s as I am now and think that, that's where you are going to hit your peak, it’s what you're building up to, especially when you decide as Rosanna and I have, to have children a little bit later relatively speaking, although it’s quite normal now. You are focused on your career all this time. A few years ago I read an article when I was living out in New York, written by a woman who I think was based in Australia, it was her 60th birthday and she had written a letter to her 30 year old self. The whole premise of the piece was to say, chill out, you don't need to try and achieve everything by your 30s. That actually you've got another 30 years of your career. So when you stop to think about how much more time there is within your career, comparative to how much you've done already, we’ve still got longer than we’ve already had. That's mad - there is still loads of time to achieve things. But, because we, especially as women, have this belief that life stops once you have kids, or life stops once you hit 40 in terms of your career, in terms of the drop rate of people at executive level, it's really interesting to recognise that, no actually, you can still achieve things, particularly when it comes to change, success and everything else, and that I think is important.
D: Showing other women, that this is possible. My surprise was that things hadn't changed at all, that women still weren't in the leadership positions that they should have been. That gender inequality was still systemic, it hadn't changed whatsoever. I am the eldest of four daughters and was always fighting for us all to be able to do certain things, I couldn't understand why my male cousins were allowed to do things that we weren't allowed to do. This is ridiculous, why are you stopping me from doing these things? It felt like a driving force and it still feels like a driving force now.
Ra: Yes, my mum’s the same, she is one of four daughters and I am the eldest of 12 cousins who are predominantly women – there are nine women - and it's been the same thing.
You asked about influences earlier - my mum worked full time my entire life and that was really rare. Not everybody's mums did and full credit to everybody making their own decisions, but that had a massive influence on me and my sister. I think there's a lot to be said for those role models. That’s another thing with our mentoring programme, it’s giving opportunity to people so other people can see what they can be. It’s so important and obviously from a diversity standpoint that gets talked about a lot. We had one of our mentors say that a lot of the time she is the only woman of colour at the table. How do we encourage more women of colour into this as well?
Ros: You know FashMash isn't really about Rachel and I, it's about the network and it's about the community that we've built. We are the hosts, the interviewers and the organisers and in many ways the catalysts, we do make things happen. But FashMash’s strength and its ability to strike this change is through the community and that's what's so exciting.
Ra: That's true.