Amanda Taylor first started The Unplug Collective as a collective space for Black and brown women and non-binary folks to share their stories about mental health, body image, medical discrimination, and fatphobia. Storytelling has always been a fundamental part of The Unplug Collective’s identity. The Collective started as a blog during Taylor’s freshman year at Barnard College, but has since grown into a publication that’s amassed over 35,000 Instagram followers with contributors from across the world.
Today, The Unplug Collective is launching the Dear Fashion Industry Initiative—a campaign aiming to amplify and highlight Black women, plus-sized models, and other underrepresented groups in the fashion industry. The initiative emphasizes the connections between the fashion industry, historical beauty standards, race, and gender—and how that all ties into mental health and wellness.
“We’re trying to amplify voices that aren’t really a part of any conversations in fashion. Unplug is thinking of all types of Black women that exist,” Aicha Cherif, The Unplug Collective’s Chief Marketing Officer, said to Adolescent. The Collective is running this campaign to show how an industry upholding Eurocentric beauty standards is inherently detrimental to Black, plus-sized, and non-binary models, and how the fashion industry can work toward equitable change and justice for marginalized groups.
Adolescent had the privilege of speaking with Taylor, along with Zara Harding, Unplug’s Vice President, and Aicha Cherif, the Chief Marketing Officer about their experiences working on Unplug, the importance of prioritizing mental health in the art and journalism industries, and what they’re most excited about for the initiative’s launch.
Adolescent Content: When did you first start The Unplug Collective? Were there any specific goals you had in mind when you first started, such as specific topics or issues Black women experienced that you wanted to amplify?
Amanda: I started Unplug in my freshman year of college as a blog-style page. I wanted to use social media as a tool to make storytelling more accessible to everyone because in my own culture, storytelling and community have always been what's gotten me through. Zara came on the team first, then Aicha. For me, a lot of my mental health research and interests lie within body image and body discrimination. But I felt like a lot of the spaces were very white-washed, so specific things like body image and mental health in the fashion industry were definitely the biggest things for me.
Adolescent: How has The Collective affected the ways you view the media industry and representation, especially in light of the last month with the Black Lives Matter protests and many white-majority media companies getting exposed for a lack of diversity, racism, and injustice?
Aicha: We wanted to reimagine not just the journalism and fashion industries, but also how we work with people. What’s happening with a lot of these mainstream publications is that they’ve held onto these archaic structures—in my opinion, that was a conscious decision. And that’s what’s led to the downfall of it. Whereas at Unplug, if we’re asking our writers to heal and focus on mental health, we have to have the same energy for the people working on the team. I think what’s setting us apart is that what’s going on behind the scenes is just as important.
Zara: Looking at all these media and fashion companies getting called out, it speaks more about the structure of the company rather than the publication’s marketing or branding. Making sure that the mental health, the energy, and communication of the team is well really drives the content and energy on the page. Being able to start the change up from the roots has been important.
Adolescent: We’re all looking forward to the launch of the Dear Fashion Industry initiative. Can you tell us about the history of the campaign and what The Unplug Collective has been working toward?
Amanda: We really want to see all bodies represented, specifically plus-sized women who don’t fit a conventional beauty mold [and] are creating amazing content. These are models who usually don’t get as much exposure as someone who does fit conventional beauty standards. Currently on Instagram, we’re really the sole publication that I know of personally [which] focuses on Black women’s experiences with weight gain and body image, and how that connects with mental health and fashion. We think the Dear Fashion Industry Initiative is the pinnacle of our work and the campaign really represents our models, visions, and work.
Adolescent: One of the most integral parts of The Collective is healing through storytelling. What underrepresented stories or voices in the fashion industry is Unplug looking to highlight with the initiative?
Aicha: I think the fashion industry really tries to minimize and paint certain people to represent everyone. That’s not what we’re trying to do. Everyone that we’re featuring has their own unique stories and experiences—they’re people we find really beautiful, and it’s important for us to share that on our pages.
Adolescent: What do you hope that readers get from the initiative?
Aicha: We want people to be enraged that these models aren’t being seen and are doing incredible work that’s going unnoticed. We want people to be enraged with the fashion industry and to address these issues with models who don’t necessarily “fit the norm.” We hope people make the connection on how much beauty and fashion standards can actually destroy people. These aren’t just small issues—they tie into colorism. Growing up, if I was only seeing white models or lighter skin, I’d just think that was the norm and I wasn’t good enough. If you’re plus-sized and you’re only seeing skinny models, you can start to feel like you’re not worthy of love or attention. We’re trying to show that the fashion industry isn’t separate, it actually plays a huge role in how people view themselves.
Zara: The fashion industry often treats plus-sized models as secondary. We want to call attention to the fact that this needs to change. We’re trying to get people fired up about this and [make them] realize this isn’t a radical ask. People deserve to have clothes that fit, flatter, and complement them. Why is it after all this time we’re at a point where this still isn’t seen or talked about either?