“When something meant to suppress black beauty is now featured in luxury beauty campaigns…” flashed across the screen of my iphone as I found myself knee deep in Shelby Ivey Christie’s Black Fashion History Instagram segment. When you first come across Christie’s social media handles, it’s not hard to find yourself enraptured by her extensive knowledge of digital marketing. However the more you become familiar with her, the more you realize there is more to her than meets the eye. She doesn’t shy away from talking about black culture and it’s impact nor does she play into professional respectability politics when it comes to her physical appearance (i.e hairstyles). Simply put, Christie’s ability to merge her love for digital media and fashion with race and politics shows it is possible to be well versed in more than one area of interest. Her journey can attest to that.
It’s not hard to see that you are just as passionate about civil rights as you are about digital marketing. Did you always have an idea that you wanted to study Race, Class and Culture while attending North Carolina A&T University?
I did. As a Freshman I enrolled as a Fashion Merchandising major under the guidance of my parents. At the time I was dating a Sophomore at your Alma Mater (& my Alma Mater’s rival) NCCU who was a history major. He was super smart and wanted to be a teacher. He was always schooling me about black culture. This was an interest we had in common. I thought “Wow! There’s a career path for this? Who knew?!” To my mother’s dismay I secretly switched my major to history the 2nd semester of my Freshman year. By the time my Senior year rolled around, my major had refined to Race, Class and Culture, and I was contributing to Black Enterprise weekly. However many students thought I was a journalism major and the journalism faculty still claims me in their department. #Duality.
Has there ever been a time where you felt you had to choose between your interests?
Yes, I’ve felt I had to choose fashion and media over culture and race up until very recently. It was a resolution of mine this year to start opening up and sharing my passions. In my career I’ve been super focused on fashion and luxury. My interests in culture wasn’t really being fed or served. When you’re just starting to climb the ladder you have to do what you need to do, not always what you want to do. Vogue was really the first role where I kind of put the idea out there of merging my two loves; luxury and culture. I pitched a multicultural marketing team to my former boss in order to address the lack of diverse advertisers in the book and on the site. It was well received and I even went out to pitch to brands like Circoc and Bevel.
During and after college, you held a number of contributor and intern positions before becoming a Digital Sales Planner at Vogue Magazine. How do you feel your prior experiences prepared you for this role?
All of those experiences came together to ready me for my previous role at Vogue and my current role at L’Oreal. If I had not studied Race, Class and Culture I would not be as equipped to articulate sensitive race topics in marketing conversations. Because it’s not always what you say but how you say it. If I had not first interned in the fashion closets of W and InStyle I wouldn’t be as familiar with the designers I formulated marketing plans for while at Vogue. If I had not worked for a marketing agency in traditional media (magazine, newspaper, radio and TV) and then at Vogue in digital media (social, web, branded content and video), I would not be fully prepared in my role as Omnimedia Manager in which I oversee both traditional and digital media. If I had not dropped out of school after my Freshman year, I wouldn’t have discovered these passions. I think all of my experiences woven together is such an invaluable resource for me.
Does your role come with a set schedule or do things vary from day to day?
I like to say that my work is on a dimmer switch. It’s never really, just less on. Many holidays like Black Friday and tent pole events like The Met or Coachella are the busiest moments for fashion and beauty brands. So while everyone is off for those holidays, I’m usually on the dimmer switch. Not off but less on.
What challenges have you faced working in the fashion industry and what are steps you take to remain inspired as well as focused?
I think one of the biggest challenges for me was mean girl culture. I worked up my way up in the fashion industry. I started off interning in the fashion closet; very hard and thankless work. The attitudes and people you meet in those kinds of roles reveals to you the worst parts of the industry but this interactions also hardened me a bit. I know how to handle those people when I meet them at the level I am now, because I had to deal with them before. You’re not my first Regina George boo. Bring it on! I always say it’s better to learn the lessons early. Glad I learned how to deal with difficult people early on in my career. It A) showed me what kind of teammate/manager/boss I do NOT want to be and B) taught me that doing the work is just the half. Attitude matters most.
The second challenge for me has always been overcoming the feeling of being “behind”. As I stated before, I dropped out of college after my Freshman year. I returned when I was 21, the year my original class was graduating. I’ve had to shake the habit of thinking certain milestones should happen at a particular age or moment in life. I understand now that God has his own timeline for me and I’m content with that, even if it looks different than most’s.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is in the beginning stages of either an internship in their career field or their career period?
Always do more than what’s being asked of you. The first week or so should be spent on serving your team or boss. Learn what things they usually ask for or need then when you start taking on tasks, go ahead and give them more than they asked for based on the habits you observed. Example: One of my previous bosses would always ask me questions about a meeting after we left it. Once I learned this about her, I took notes in each meeting and sent her a recap before she asked. I saw her pattern, identified the need and did more than what was asked of me. Always leave things better than you found them. Before you complete your internship you should have improved something there. Whether it’s a filing system, a budget document, something tangible. So when the team goes into that document or notices how smoothly a process runs after you improved it, they’ll remember who did it. This is called impact. You always wanted be leaving a tangible mark. When looking for internships make sure you are emailing people, not DMing them. DMs are convenient for you but can come off as casual. Go through the trouble of finding someone’s email. If not, find their LinkedIn. Never go to an interview empty handed. Have a proposal of some ideas or a portfolio, and always copies of your resume and a letter of recommendation. Always send hand written thank you notes after an interview.
Recently you created a fashion history segment on Instagram where you share facts about the many ways black people have contributed to facets of the fashion industry. With Dapper Dan finally receiving his just dues, in what ways do you think the industry can continue acknowledging the contributions of black people?
Hmmm this is a tricky one. I don’t think it’s up to the industry to acknowledge our work at this point. Why should we look to the same people who took the culture from us for profit, to clap for us now? I think it’s up to us to push our narratives, clap for our fashion heroes and acknowledge our own contributions. Outside validation is not necessary.
Do you think diversity will always be an issue, not just within the fashion industry but globally?
I don’t think diversity will always be an issue but I do not think inclusion will be an ongoing issue. Many brands are working towards a diversity quota. They are indeed bringing more POC, Trans individuals, working mothers and people with disabilities into the fold. However, it’s the environment that they are bringing them into that is problematic. For instance, when I arrived at Vogue I was the only black person on the entire business team…in 2017. It wasn’t until 20189 that another black person joined, my former co-worker turned best friend Tommy Atkins. We were coming into an environment that wasn’t used to having POC within it. It wasn’t fully equipped to receive me. This is the case with many companies. Yes, they are recruiting POC but once they have them are they promoting an environment that retains them? Are they educating managers about inclusivity and cultural sensitivity? Are they educating employees about how to interact with people from different backgrounds on how to celebrate Cinco de Mayo appropriately? No, not across the board. I mean, some companies will give their employees Columbus Day off, with no regard for their Native employees…That alone is a barometer for workplace cultural climate.
What is one thing you would tell the version of yourself who was a freshman in college?
I know it looks like everything is up in flames now but just hold on. God has something so special for you on the other side of these trials. Everything you want is coming to you.