Written By: Constance Funches
The world is constantly being modified by social platforms. Instagram has over 800 million active users, Twitter has 330 active million users, and Facebook’s active user’s numbers are in the billions. The more people engage in social platforms, the more opportunities there are for users to create content that caters to their specific audiences.
The fashion industry’s growing social media presence has generated buzz on long-overdue discussions surrounding diversity in fashion regarding with emphasis on ethnicity, size, gender, and sustainability.
Although major fashion brands have yet to completely change their traditional practices, a new and refreshing fashion platform is continuing the conversation in hopes of strutting down the runways of change.
A fashion platform called “ourCusp” is defining what diversity should be in the fashion industry, and what style and beauty enthusiasts can do to turn their style dreams into a fashion reality. The founder and CEO Jenae Green, a Special Projects Manager for Marie Claire magazine, shares more information on the brand’s vision and how fashion students at the Academy of Art University can become successful in this field.
I noticed that the word “our” is lower case and the word “Cusp” is capitalized. What does that difference symbolize and how does it tie into the “ourCusp” brand?
JG: The lower case and the capitalized is strictly aesthetics. I like the way it looks. I wanted that to be the focus because that is really the purpose behind the website. ‘Culturally Underrepresented Style Platform.’ I’m not sure how far back in my journey you got but when I announced I was doing this platform, I did an Instagram post that kind explained what I was doing and how the idea came to me.
About three years ago I wrote the word ‘cusp’ in my notes with no real meaning behind it, nothing else aligned with it, no idea just the word cusp. This was back in September 17, 2014. I felt like one day I would create something that I would use that as the name for. I was like ‘I don’t know what this is right now but, I really like the word cusp.’
Fast forward a couple years, December 16, 2016, I wrote the word cusp again in all caps, and underneath it, I wrote ‘Culturally Underrepresented Style Platform.’ Right beneath that, I wrote ourCUSP.com. I came up with that acronym when I was in LA for work, I was on a long Uber ride from Orange County to LAX. I was just thinking and all of sudden that acronym just came to me. The fact that those words fit so perfectly with something I was so passionate about tied it all together for me. I really wanted that to be the focus. It kind of gives it a little sense of community. You know this isn’t just mine, this isn’t just something I’m doing for myself, it’s really for everyone. It’s all of ours and that’s kind of the beauty of it. Anybody can make this something they want it to be.
Looking back at your career in the fashion industry, I would say that you are a walking representation of what success looks like for underrepresented people. You earned a degree in Fashion Merchandising from Kent State, you’ve interned at Vogue Magazine, worked as Global Marketing Coordinator for Calvin Klein, and now you’re working at Marie Claire, a world-renowned magazine. What have you experienced that has encouraged you to create this type of platform, even though you have and are achieving success in the industry?
JG: So one of the things that really, really inspired me is that, specifically, when I started working at Marie Claire I got reached out to by a number of girls, and it happened to be a number of girls of color. Some that went to Kent State, some I was connected through different people. I had a good amount of girls reaching out to me wanting to talk about career stuff, wanting to talk about my job and how I got it; looking for some words of wisdom. I was like there’s really no point person for these girls to go to. I mean, I am passionate about mentoring and so anytime anyone would email me and want to get coffee, I always liked to do it. For me, I am more eager to meet with them if they are a person of color because that is personal to me but, I will meet with anyone. I know that’s what I would have wanted when I was getting into the industry. I didn’t have anyone who was giving me guidance, I didn’t have a mentor, I didn’t have anyone who was sitting down with me; kind of giving me some advice for interviews. I kind of had to figure it out on my own. So when I saw these girls so eager to break into this industry, so eager for some advice, I was like ‘what can I do outside of what I’m already doing?’
I’m from the Midwest and you don’t have access to people who work at Marie Claire magazine, or people who work at these corporations that you want to get into. You don’t always have the access to sit down with them and get coffee with them. So like what can I do that’s kind of home base for this information? The main questions that come up [deal with] when you’re trying to break into the fashion industry or get a job, or just like random things that you need to know in order to make yourself more marketable. I want to create something that’s accessible to everyone, not just to the New York people. I figured if I create this platform it’s like a home base. This can evolve in different ways, the sky’s the limit really. I felt like if there’s a home base there’s something that people can access and go back to. They can also submit questions if they have something in particular that they have a question about. Chances are if you’re asking a question, someone else has that same question. That was kind of the thought process behind it. Basically, creating something that I would’ve wanted when I was interning.
So it’s kind of like a “pay it forward” effect. You haven’t really had any negative experiences but it would be helpful to have that information accessible to more people who might not have it. That makes sense.
JG: Right. From the jobs that I have had this far, I’m frequently, almost always, one of the only people of color. So that had a lot to do with it as well. Being the only one in a room, being the only one in a meeting, I really did want to see people that looked like me around me in the office. That also inspired it.
It seems like your idea of inclusion is what’s sparking this movement. Inclusivity has become a topic of discussion in the fashion industry. It’s reflected on the runways, social media, and even in print. The conversation about plus-size figures and people of color in fashion is continuing. Yet, fashion has built an entire world around exclusivity and is continuing that tradition despite the small victories. Why do you think major fashion players seem afraid to immerse themselves in a diverse fashion world?
JG: I think it’s tradition. It’s what they know. A lot of these brands, especially the iconic ones, have a certain way of doing things. It’s the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type of thing. They’re like, ‘we have our target customers, it’s an aspirational brand, people want to be apart of it.’ They have this way that’s been working, and to be honest for a lot of them, it’s really not on their radar because there isn’t someone in the office to be putting on their radar. There’s usually not people of color working in the corporate offices to be like ‘hey I think that we need to be incorporating an even amount of models of color or plus-sizes models.’ There’s usually not people calling it out because they’re not the ones getting the jobs. Some brands don’t care to cater to those demos. They’re not thinking about it, it’s not really of importance to them.
Being that you’re familiar with the industry, is there a “fashion etiquette” or certain etiquette that people who are underrepresented need to be aware of? Outside of color or size, does that have anything to do with getting the jobs in the fashion industry? Is there a secret language?
JG: I definitely think there is. There’s an unspoken etiquette that you only really get through experience. Typically, people want to hire people that are like them or people that they feel like they can relate to [and] want to spend all day with. It’s difficult. I think there [are] two different parts to this. I think one part of this is that you really do have to fit into the company culture of the company that you are interviewing for and want to be a part of.
I worked at Calvin Klein for two years and for two years I did not own really any color in my wardrobe. I dressed the brand. I looked Calvin Klein and that was what I knew, that is what I represented. You are a walking representation of the brands that you work for. Especially those iconic brands, they really do want people who reflect their brands, to be working for them. It’s very much so about being a representation of the brand. Then there’s this other side of it like I shouldn’t have to change who I am to get this job.
I worked with a girl at Calvin Klein who was like ‘I’m still going to be wearing my color. I’m not going to change my style just for this job.’ I respect that because you shouldn’t have to but, there’s this old-school mindset that a lot of brands have that [imply] you do need to look the part. If you walk into a job interview for a super minimalist brand wearing all kinds of colors and patterns, they’re going to think that you don’t understand the brand. So, first, you need to be a representation of the brand. Second, you need to present yourself as someone that people are going to want to spend time with and enjoy wanting to talk about personal things with, not all work-related.
I think more of a job interview is figuring out whether they like you versus talking [about] your experience. I know for a fact that some of the jobs that I got, I was under qualified for but I gave a good interview where A. They want to spend time with me and B. I’m trainable so the parts that I don’t have, can easily be fixed. Personality and character, that’s not something you can train someone to do and to be. I feel like it is difficult for people who feel like they don’t relate to the person they’re interviewing with. You almost have to make yourself this chameleon to a certain extent.
So with that being said, do you think that people who are underrepresented should go out and create their own brands kind of like “ourCusp” or do they need to continue to work to blend in as much as possible?
JG: I’m all about entrepreneurship. I think that it’s really going to be the way of the future. We live in this age of everyone wanting to do their own thing, versus working for “the man”, versus working for someone else. I’m all about that. I do think there is a certain importance to having training from someone else, from another brand. Working under someone, you learn so much. I learned so much from past bosses that I’ve had and I do think that’s important. I could’ve said this sooner but I didn’t feel like I had the authority to talk about this yet because I was still learning. Once I became the person that people were coming to for these questions I was like ok, now I have the authority.
To a certain extent, whether it is through training under someone else or doing your own research, there is a certain level of training that is necessary but, I’m all about entrepreneurship. If you have this amazing idea do your research, do your homework, be smart about it but, go create the company that you felt like you were never accepted in.
As you continue to grow with “ourCusp”, in the next five years, where do you see this going in the future?
JG: I mean I would love to see this evolve into something that can benefit people in a monetary way. I would love to eventually be able to give out scholarships. That has played such a big part in where I am now. I received a couple scholarships in college that allowed me to move to New York two weeks after graduation and allowed me to have enough money to survive until I got my full-time job. I think that honestly was the biggest part. I was on my own after college. My parents would’ve loved if I stayed home but I told them I wasn’t going to. I wanted to do this on my own and because of my scholarships I was able to do that. I would love to be able to have the means to provide a certain number of scholarships so that people could come to New York for a summer and intern. A lot of them, especially with these underrepresented communities, just can’t afford to be here. A lot of them don’t have the same access to these opportunities because it is expensive to come and intern at these amazing companies. A lot of [internships] are unpaid. Also, I would love to reach and meet some of the people at schools outside of New York. I’m so passionate about that because I was a Midwest student and I didn’t have the same access to the jobs, the people, the events like the F.I.T, Parsons, and L.I.M students who live here and are in it all the time. I think that people who are not here in New York and L.A. have to work a little bit harder and have to pay a little bit more to make these opportunities happen.
I remember I had a dream internship. My dream internship was with Teen Vogue and I applied for the internship. They asked me to come in for an interview and I was like ‘well I’m in St. Louis but I will be in New York in like a month or so and I can come in or do a Skype interview but, I am not able to come in next week to interview.’ They were like ‘sorry we only offer internships to candidates that can come for an in-person interview.’ I didn’t end up getting Teen Vogue but I did end up getting Vogue, and Vogue did a phone interview with me. I remember wanting to intern for [Teen Vogue] and I couldn’t because I couldn’t get there for an interview. So I think that I would love to, for the people that aren’t here, bring some of the opportunities to them.
Are there any other initiatives that you see the brand supporting or leading in the upcoming years?
JG: I definitely think that there could be a whole other consulting aspect to it but I haven’t, because this is so new, been really able to hone in on that. I think that there is a consulting aspect that could come from this.
There are so many institutions that are adding to fashion programs and classes to there academic rosters. What do you think is the most important thing students should know about the fashion industry prior to graduation? What can they do to set themselves up for success?
JG: I think interning is the most important thing. Everyone says it but it really is so important. I did my first internship the summer after my freshman year. I started interning right away. I was like ‘oh, I’m graduating with a job. I’m going to get a job.’ I’ve always been super ambitious and I’ve had amazing parents who never set any limits for me so, I kind of thought I could do whatever I wanted to do. I think, especially in fashion, a lot of people are discouraged and look at it like it’s a “fickle industry” and a “fluff industry.” I didn’t view it like that. I was like I’m going to be successful in this industry so I started interning right away. I went home to St. Louis my freshman year and I reached out to Alive magazine, which is like a local St. Louis magazine. I only needed one internship to graduate and I graduated with three internships. I really put in the work early. I was like I know that’s it’s going to be competitive and I know that it’s not going to be easy. I know that I have things already against me already just being a woman of color in this industry. So I was like I’m going have to work harder than everyone and I started that early. If I could just encourage people to start interning early and creating their own opportunities. You don’t have to go to New York every time you want to intern. I was in St. Louis interning for probably the only fashion editor in St. Louis. You have to be ambitious, you have to create your own opportunities, you have to start early. You’re competing with people that live in New York and go to Parsons and F.I.T, do like two internships a year, and graduate with 6 to 8 internships. You’re competing with the best of the best so you need something to set you apart. I think that experience is really the only way.
“Leading global social networks 2018 | Statistic.” Statista, www.statista.com/statistics/272014/global-social-networks-ranked-by-number-of-users/.
Green, Jenae. “Index.” OurCUSP, www.ourcusp.com/.
Photo courtesy of @jenaedestiny, Instagram 2018
This interview has been edited and condensed. The article was created for the Academy of Art University. Authorization has been granted for this article to be published on LoveAlwaysConstance.com.