Tamara Cincik is the CEO of Fashion Roundtable. Fashion Roundtable is the link between Fashion and Politics. They have been the voice for fashion during the Brexit trauma we have been living through. Highlighting the size of the fashion industry to the people in power and the importance of the workforce employed in it to the UK economy. Who until then were wholly unaware of its importance. Fashion in the UK employs 890,000 people making it almost as big as the financial sector. It contributes 32.3 billion to the UK economy. To put that into context the Fishing Industry which the government constantly mentions earns 1.4billion, this is the same amount that the fashion industry in the east end of London alone creates for the UK economy. Yet this is rarely mentioned the media. Tamara is a wonderful strong woman and she needs to be for the journey she is on. Like a lot of us or maybe most of us the path she is on now is not the direction she first started on. But she has taken and blended everything she is good at and made it her own. If she hadn’t studied English, if she hadn’t been a fashion stylist, if she hadn’t worked in politics then her company Fashion Roundtable would not exist.
D: Tell me about your early years, are you a Londoner?
T: I am from the suburbs, I grew up in the suburbs. My mother’s family are Londoners and my great grandmother grew up down the road (North London). My great, great grandfather is buried in Highgate cemetery. He was actually Welsh. He was a survivor of Rorke’s Drift which is the battle in the film Zulu. My great great grandmother was a cockney from Whitechapel and then my grandfather’s family are from Putney. His father apparently worked in printing Then the last of my Poppa’s siblings lived in North Kensington. As did lots of people who ended up on estates who had before the war lived in Victorian housing that no one wanted to live in. And then I grew up in the suburbs.
My parents lived in Bayswater and then moved out. They bought a hairdressing salon and the flat went with the salon. It’s in a place that was part of the GLA when I was growing up there. It’s being knocked down at the moment, it’s a council estate that was, a post war kind of satellite, where they moved people to who had bombed out of their homes in London. Now with gentrification they are what’s called ‘decanting people’ from many different areas to the country and it’s silent, it’s happening very quietly and its very disturbing. So, I wasn’t from the estate, in that my parents hadn’t moved there after the war. They had, had other Salons and the flat came with this salon which is where I grew up for the first 11 years of my life. We would have moved sooner, but Dad who is Turkish, took the money that they had both saved and bought an E Type Jaguar. Dad decided that having an E Type Jaguar was more fabulous than having a house. That was in 1977. Then when the E Type was written off (when I was 11) by some woman in Harrow. Mum said “that’s it we are getting a house.”
Dad moved here in the early 60’s, went back to Istanbul because he was homesick and then came back. He was working in Mayfair in Berkley Square in a salon called Spears which if you look up 60’s hairdressing was one of the salons. That is where he met Mum because she was working there at the same time.
D: I had heard about this silent movement of people. Why isn’t anyone stopping it?
T: It’s because it’s the disenfranchised. It’s the issue with Grenfell it’s the issue with what’s happened at Elephant and Castle and it was the issue behind the protests that have been happening in Haringey which is the HDV, The Haringey Development Vehicle where they are basically decanting people out of Broadwater Farm and if you look at what happened in the 80’s with the riots I find that really problematic because those communities have taken a long time to build back .
D: And George Clarke did that programme….
T: Totally, I found that really moving as I see the world through a very similar lens to him, even though we are from different parts of the country. That programme for me was very evocative, the campaign, I am fully behind it, because he is right housing is everything, safe housing. When you see on the programme the differences of how people who live in Vienna are housed and are valued, and they put back into the community. When you see what is possible and the difference here. I lived on an estate again for a few years until about 7 years ago in a council flat because I had been on the list for ages, before I had lived in a housing co-op in Camden.
So, I have experienced all kinds of housing for all kinds of income brackets. It was a real shock seeing how people are being treated on estates now. My flat was meant for a single person, when we left Dukey was not quite 3 and it was already too small. I know someone who knows the new tenants next door and they have 2 kids on the 8th floor, with no balcony and no outdoor space. All the gardens were locked up. I tried to have it out with the council “why are you locking up the garden?” “Well because they are private gardens.” “So, give them bigger gardens and leave space for all people to use. There’s a lack of connection and there’s a lack of respect. Basically, because it’s Gospel Oak, it’s right by the Heath, its prime real estate, they are decanting again and they are not building the number of flats that they need or what they call now a unit, so they are not even called homes anymore.
D: The changing of offices blocks into housing…..
T: That’s what’s happening in Watford and it’s a disgrace. People would reach their potential if they were given safe secure housing. What’s happening is that if people are on Universal Credit the councils are having to pay out to private landlords for people to live in unfit conditions. So actually, it is costing more than if we sorted this out properly which is why I agree with what George Clarke is doing.
D: Do you have any siblings?
T: No, I am an only child.
D: Did you enjoy being an only child?
T: I think it’s is all you know. Because I grew up on an estate, when we opened the door of the flat everyone, what was called ‘played out’ so I didn’t really notice it. And I have 56 1stcousins so I didn’t really feel the lack of it. I don’t think you know any different, there are people who aren’t speaking to their siblings or there are people who are so close it is to the exclusion of friendship. I think it makes you more independent. It definitely makes you grow up quicker. My relationship with my parents is probably stronger than other people who haven’t got siblings but also in Turkish culture that’s quite normal to be quite close to your family. So I don’t know, I don’t think you know.
D: Did you go to Uni?
T: Yes, UCL.
D: What did you study?
D: So how did you go from English to styling? Was it always something you were interested in?
T: No, I didn’t know what a stylist was.
D: Did think maybe fashion journalism?
T: No, I didn’t want to do fashion journalism I think there is a technique to it but I it just wasn’t something that interested me. When I was at UCL my boyfriend at the time had an ex-girlfriend, who had gone to Paris and was working at French Vogue as a fashion assistant. She was assisting Nicoletta Santora she sent us a Vogue and there was a shoot with Nicoletta’s husband Max Vadukul a black and white shoot on the road and I really liked the shoot I was really into it and I realised this is what I wanted to explore going into. I hadn’t studied fashion, I interned, and I just thought it was fascinating, I loved it.
D: How long did you work in styling and side of things for?
T: I left university at 21 and went travelling, of and on throughout my 20’s. When I was 28 I did my 1st campaign, I was still assisting as well and worked for some quite big editors. By 28 my career had taken off. The last shoot that I did was last month, so I still do bits and bobs of it. I was really in it for quite a long time, over 20 years.
D: Would you say the rights of people has always been a priority for you?
T: I joined CND at 13, so it’s not like it’s been something I haven’t worried about. I had 2 rules that I had that I would stick by for styling, because ultimately you are at the behest of the commercial market or of the editors. But I wouldn’t shoot fur and I wouldn’t have women on all fours or with their legs open and I would stick to that and I would sometimes get into disputes with photographers who wanted to have women with their legs open or on all fours and I said no my girls are not dogs, I’m not having it. That would be more on set. I wouldn’t go into a shoot going they are not going on all fours because it would be very unusual that someone would pick me for that kind of characterisation, it wasn’t my style, I think people knew what they were getting.
D: Politics – what pulled you in that direction? What gave you the impetus for setting up Fashion Roundtable?
T: In my 20’s I was part of reclaim the streets protests. The Poll Tax riots happened when I was a university, I wasn’t a part of that, but my flat mates were. But I was part of Reclaim The Streets and I am an ex raver, so there is that element to that thread. And then I was always quite left wing.
When I had my son, I feel that’s when I really felt the political world was starting to discombobulate from the orthodoxy and you saw the beginnings of where we are at, at the moment. So, the rise of social media has created algorithms which has meant we are all looking at the same thing. We all think everyone agrees with us, but we are being trained to think that way and then, other people are seeing different stuff, so no one is getting a broad spectrum and its leading us to kind of Instagram ready polarisation and popularism. Plus, I realised that I was losing out on work because of having a baby, plus the cost implications of childcare. So, I was becoming more aware. I was already a member of the labour party, so I became more active. I was women’s officer for our local party I get on very well with our local MP I think she is brilliant. I was asked to go on this mentoring scheme, I applied and got on and I was basically in and out of parliament with that. It is run by the Fabians and when I was asked to, I joined the office of my mentor who is an MP. Currently I am on the Exec for Fabian Women which I am not standing for this time because of Fashion Roundtable. I am too busy with that. And it was while I was working in Parliament that I realised that: A. I am very fashion and B. I don’t currently want to stand. Women are going through incredible abuses and dangers to stand to be politicians in this country, because of the polarisation, because of the bullying and I’ve been trolled I seen the kind of people that that troll you. It’s one thing being trolled it’s another thing being stabbed in the street and I don’t want to put myself into a job where I think that could happen. I’ve got a family and I think there are probably lots of women like me who actually could be good in these roles but are being held back by the patriarchy.
D: I find it very telling that when I was doing my research on you for today that the main stories online about you are ones about you sticking up for yourself on a train when you have done so much more.
T: Because of the trolling that I have had there are people who are making a living out of clickbait and I hit every single trope that they demonise. I am mixed race, I am a feminist, I’m intelligent and they can’t get their head around that. So, I represent a series of tropes that they don’t like. I had hundreds of trolls and if I’ve got that think what any elected member of parliament or representative in any country has gone through because I’ve had a glimmer of it, and it is shit.
D: This was a question I was going to ask, if it would be something you would be interested in? But obviously……
T: Not right now, not right now, I think that we need, I personally think we need to stop coming from a position of polarisation. I also don’t know that the Whip System works in this country you are Whipped into voting, there are not enough free votes there is not enough independent thinking I mean obviously I have worked there and I can see that you can’t research every single vote there is no way you could. But you know Jeremy Corbyn voted against the Whip as did Boris Johnson a number of times and yet they are both the leaders of the 2 major parties. Then you’ve got the Lib Dems where the leader was one of the proponents of Austerity, so I think we are in a polarised time.
D: You have a great team around you, what a wonderful breadth of society you have brought together. It is great to see so many strong women standing together.
T: Yes, I’m very lucky.
D: Fashion Politics do you think they are listening?
T: I think fashion is very quick to move on to the next thing, but I think it knows it needs to shape up. I think ‘Me Too’ has affected the sector, I think you will see the imagery changing because of that but there are still people who I have been waiting to be revealed and that hasn’t happened yet, and it might never happen. And the pay is not good. Also, I look back now and I think why doesn’t the stylist have part of the ownership rights of the images. When I look back at the gender imbalance, the fact that most of the photographers are male and the stylist is female, so it’s playing into old tropes.
The sustainability issue obviously is getting louder and louder and I think there’s lots of people really trying to make change.
D: What are you feeling strongly at the moment? What is on your radar?
T: I think everybody, and I see this in every walk of life, has to stop thinking in 20th century models. I think people need to be more collaborative and I think that is very difficult if you’ve been trained to be ambitious and to be greedy. The system isn’t working we have homelessness on the rise. We have poverty on the rise, the 1% have got more. In fashion that hasn’t worked. Retail shops are empty, brands are going under Forever 21 has just gone under.
D: John Lewis had just asked for a rent decrease.
T: So, has Arcadia. It’s not working, the system isn’t working. You’ve got clothes going on sale too quickly you’ve got the wrong people in charge. So, I think it all needs a reboot. And I see that fashion kind of mirrors politics. I don’t think it’s just fashion, it’s happening in all areas.
D: We spoke about Extinction Rebellion earlier, I know they asked for the closing of LFW on the back of Stockholm.
T: Stockholm is not London. But you are also asking the BFC who get their funding on the basis that they show LFW which they own as a franchise, as a company you are basically asking them to say we won’t take our earnings and they are not going to do that. Do I think that we have to refocus the sector on whether we need all these fashion weeks all around the world and then the cruise and then the pre-fall and then this and then that and then we are back. I think it’s a runaway train. Nobody is shopping like that anymore. Everyone is going to outlet stores, or buying past season, or buying vintage more. This is something I have always done, so that’s not new for me. I don’t think it works because if you are pricing and you are going to sale in June or November, when is should be August or January. Then you are making more product to make more drops. When actually it’s all going on sale in consignment, so it’s clearly not working, without thinking about the environmental impacts of production.
D: The youth are all being taught about it now and are raising their voices.
T: I don’t think it’s just the youth, I think a lot of us thought this but I think it’s growing. I think that designers also need to be given more business training than they are given.
D: I totally agree.
T: I meet with a lot of NewGen designers and I realise that they don’t have enough business training and I haven’t done fashion at degree and even if I had it would probably be different now, but I don’t think they get enough business training.
D: I think it’s the same with all the arts. We had none on my photography course.
T: Yes, I knew a lot about Henry James but not much about accounts.
D: What’s next for you?
T: We have just launched our membership for Fashion Roundtable. And are celebrating 2 years of Fashion Roundtable this week. We are always doing work for the not for profit side, which is where we work on the All Party Parliamentary Group for Textiles and Fashion (APPG) such as our policy paper on Representation and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry and the work around a new sustainable business model in response to XR’s campaign to cancel LFW. It looks like I am taking on a second APPG with Baroness Lola Young and CSF, which will focus on ethics and sustainability. We are pitching for some consultancy and doing some consultancy as well. And of course, we are doing our events every month and the news and policy work. It’s busy!