Jessica Dunn gets the scoop from Leeds RAG's directors...
Keeping the fashion pack on its toes for the 14th year running, the award-winning annual Leeds RAG Fashion Show (LRFS) took place at the Leeds Union on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th February 2022. As the largest student-led charity event at the University of Leeds, it yet again embraced fashion, originality, and innovation in a stellar show that celebrated inclusivity through all shapes, sizes, race, and gender. This year’s focus was on glitz and glam through strong political statements, empowering messages on cardboard cut-outs, and a breath-taking performance from local rappers and drag queens. Raising over £20,000 for charities ‘Stop Hate UK’ and ‘The Racial Justice Network’, the show was remarkable – a true testament to the committee’s dedication and hard work. I caught up with directors, Ellena Smith, Jameliah K. N. Adekunle and Catelyn Louwrens to discuss the back-stage insights of the show.
JD: Let’s start by introducing yourselves. Where are you from? What do you study? Do you have any hobbies?
CL: I’m Caitlyn and I’m one of the assistant directors for the fashion show this year. I’m from the North East near Middlesbrough, in a very small village, but originally from South Africa. I study Fashion Marketing and to be honest I don’t really have many hobbies outside of fashion.
ES: I’m Ellena, I’m 20 and I’m from Shropshire and I do Fashion Marketing as well. I’m also one of the assistant directors for the show this year. I’m really interested in fashion, obviously, and I’ll be doing my placement year next year.
JD: Do you see yourselves working long-term in the fashion industry or is fashion something you consider a hobby?
CL: For me I’m very in two minds. One day, yes, all fashion, the next day, no, too much, don’t want to be a part of it. Mostly from an aspect of my interest in sustainability and ethics and the fashion industry often isn’t a very sustainable place. That puts me off a lot of the time and I consider whether I want to be a part of that or not. I love fashion and I always have, so I do think I’ll end up somewhere in fashion just maybe not the traditional route.
ES: I think because of the course that I’m on it has opened up my eyes to wanting to be in the fashion industry. Since a young age I have been a creative person so anything that would involve me using my creative skills mainly in fashion. It will open a new lens if the opportunity arises after university to do something that’s not in the fashion industry, but mainly so going into fashion.
JD: As a director what are your main duties and responsibilities, and how do you co-operate with each other?
CL: Me and Ellena applied together. We’re friends, we met in our first year and we were doing group projects and worked really similarly. We saw it in the summer and we applied and we were very prepared to work together. We got put with Jams, who is amazing, absolutely lovely. Me and Ellena are more on the organisation, hands-on side whereas she’s on the creative, visionary side. We all worked really well together in that sense.
ES: Over the summer we constructed the vision. Catelyn and I obviously applied on our own and we had a very similar vision to Jams. We were feeding through some of our ideas but Jams has had the most creative direction with it. We worked with her and were liaising with the rest of the team to ensure the vision is bought to life in the show.
CL: We’ve been involved in all aspects; the rehearsals, auditions, interviewed all the committee. We selected all the committee back in November. I’m stage managing the show whereas Jams and Ellena are queuing the show. We are a little bit of everywhere. Between us and the events co-ordinators we have the main say. The events co-ordinators sometimes have a more health and safety, logistical say. In terms of anything creative it’s our role to change anything.
JD: Did you face any challenges and if so how did you overcome them?
CL: I would say there’s been quite a few challenges. I’d start off by saying that we were very much on the backbone of the show. With Covid last year, we would’ve been hired in about June time but we only got hired in August. We were very behind. A lot of stuff has been behind this year. It has been a push against time.
ES: When especially coming up to the last few weeks it has been a lot of pressure to make sure of things because we were behind, like making sure deadlines were met.
CL: So usually the committee would be hired in September or October, but ours only got hired in November. Obviously people can’t get started straight away, they need to know what they’re doing. Usually they’d be way ahead. I remembered we hired people and then a couple weeks later we wanted our launch party. Ever since then we’ve had a shoot every week, just a very tight turn around.
JD: Your two chosen charities for this year’s show are Stop Hate UK and The Racial Justice Network. Are there any specific reasons for deciding on these two charities?
ES: When we chose the charities we wanted to choose a local based one. The Racial Justice Network is in Leeds. Then we wanted to choose a national one which is Stop Hate UK. The Racial Justice Network has a more specific aim in fighting racial injustice but Stop Hate UK is a bit more broad. With the theme of the show being to promote social justice and make stories heard, we wanted to cover all bases with that and make everyone feel included and supported. I think this what the main reason in choosing our charities, it fitted our vision of the show.
JA: Even with Stop Hate UK being on a national level, it is also founded in Leeds. For example the CEO came in yesterday and gave a speech. It’s really good that we can work closely with the people that own the charity.
CL: We’ve had a lot of interaction with the charities which I know sometimes in the past it can be a bit more distant. We’ve really liked working directly with the charities.
JD: What are you most excited about for the show, and what has been your favourite part of directing the show thus far?
CL: I think just seeing it all come together. We’re just very aware of how hard everyone on the committee has worked and we’ve seen everyone grow into their roles. A lot of people got roles they didn’t apply for and they’ve adapted very well. Seeing it all come together as it goes along. Every small thing has been amazing to see how it grows.
ES: Even the shoots, you start to see every scene come together and then last night’s first show was the result. I felt extremely emotional seeing all of those different aspects come together and it all just going seamlessly. It was such a representation of how much work everyone has put in over the past 7 months. It was a great moment for everyone.
JD: How did it feel watching last night’s show knowing you made a massive contribution as a director, were you proud?
JA: Honestly, I was shocked. How is this going so well? Literally two days ago I was sobbing, thinking it wasn’t going to go well. I was so scared. When you put your mind to it, you can get all the things done, as long as you stay calm. Everyone’s input in important, but as director’s, as long as we’re all on the same page, which we have been the whole time, it works.
ES: I would say, in my opinion, we were all the perfect fit to work with each other. I couldn’t have thought of a better person for me and Catelyn to work with.
CL: I couldn’t have done it without Jams as well.
JA: I could not have done it without you guys! They did all the organising, all the show planning days, all the timetables. Those are things I would not be able to wrap my head around.
ES: The water works were on for me last night. I could not stop crying. Our friends saw me in the audience just crying. So embarrassing. It was just emotional just seeing it especially after all the stress we’ve experienced.
CL: My parents didn’t understand how much time this has taken us. Jam would be seeing messages from me at 12 at night saying, “I’ve just thought of this” “I’m going to do this now” and she’d say go to bed! It’s just the only thing that’s been on our minds and it’s been a very intense experience but seeing it all come together last night was so amazing and rewarding.
JA: It reflects how difficult it is to create change. If we want to make a message come across which is so important and powerful, like racial injustices, you have to put the work in and get it right.
ES: The whole point about it not just being a fashion show, we want people to make an impact on all the audience. Seeing it last night and seeing people’s reactions, it definitely worked.
JD: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the show before it starts?
ES: We’re sold out for tonight’s show but please donate to our charities. Please support Stop Hate UK and The Racial Justice Network in any ways that you can.
CL: Nothing can take on the messages that we’ve shared in the show about support and solidarity and just being aware of what’s going on in the work. It’s a big part of our show, sharing things that people sometimes overlook.
ES: Fashion can be seen as quite superficial sometimes. To be able to integrate a really meaningful message into fashion is reshaping the way we can convey messages. It’s not just saying, ‘we need justice’.
CL: We are livestreaming the show tonight for people to watch it online.
JA: People from yesterday, what I found so emotional, were people saying how they wanted to buy tickets for tomorrow and see the show again. Like what? That’s insane!
ES: Hearing people after 7 months having watched everything behind the scenes saying, that’s great. But then actually having people say, ‘we’re so proud of the work you’ve done’ or ‘you guys did an amazing show’, being able to hear that and know we’ve done a good job and we’ve reached the right people in the right way; our hard work really has paid off.
CL: I keep saying to everyone I don’t know what I’m going to do with my time anymore!
ES: Even tomorrow I don’t know.
CL: I would also like to share, to anyone who’s interested in fashion, get involved next year. It’s an amazing thing to do. We never would’ve met each other and now I know we’ll always stay in touch. Same with so many people on the committee.
JA: You don’t even have to study fashion. I don’t study fashion I take Liberal Arts and major in French. Our events co-Ordinator studies Medicine. It’s a nice mixture of people.
ES: It’s very rewarding meeting people and making connections.
In case you missed out, the livestream link is here.
Help RAG continue raising as much as possible for Stop Hate UK and The Racial Justice Network. The JustGiving link is here.
Words by Jessica Dunn
Photo credit: Issy Dimauro