caryn franklin discusses diversity, body ideals and beauty today

As All Walks Beyond the Catwalk hits its fifth birthday and celebrates its new status as a registered charity, we speak to its founder, Caryn Franklin about diversity, stereotypes and beauty ideals today.

by Declan Higgins
21 November 2014, 6:15pm

Photography and Styling Ginevra Menon and Eliška Kyselková

Having worked at i-D since 1982, Caryn Franklin MBE is a true pioneer of taking style and beauty from the street and sticking it in the pages of magazines. 33 years later and alongside studying for a Master of Science: Applied Psychology in Fashion at London College of Fashion, Caryn now spends her time campaigning for equality and diversity in the industry with her organisation All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, founded with Debra Bourne and Erin O'Connor, with i-D Original Mum, Tricia Jones as a trustee - and celebrating its new registered charity status on its fifth anniversary. We caught up with Caryn to discuss all things All Walks and find out what beauty means to her today...

What does All Walks becoming an official charity mean?
It means we can seek funding in more places and that we won't have the same taxation issue. We're a volunteer body and any sponsorship we got before we had to pay VAT and tax on. We need to make our money go as far as possible. It just allows us to do what we do, but do it in a more efficient way.

What has Tricia's involvement been and how is it working with her?
Once you become a charity you need trustees. The trustees agree to oversee the way that the charity is run. Charity is a really privileged status and it needs monitoring, it needs people with respected credibility within the industry to agree to come together and oversee the running of it. Tricia was one of my first requests. It's been great because people give up time to help you, but they also give you their professional expertise, it's a very generous exchange because we don't pay them.

All Walks is continuously becoming more accessible, there is even a lecture that can be downloaded, how does that work?
Last year we lectured in about 25 different colleges and its very time consuming, we wanted to be a bit more effective in the work we do. To make the lecture available to all universities, even international schools of art, we filmed our PowerPoint presentation.

When you're lecturing in colleges what's the feedback like from the students?
From the email feedback to twitter responses we know it impacts. We say YOU have power; you are a fashion creative and you're here to work with visionary thinking, you're not here to follow what's already in place. Use your gut feeling, your own emotion to critique and CHANGE what's out there. We see ourselves as liberating creatives.

The current issue of i-D is The Beautiful Issue, what does beauty mean to you?
Beauty is the sunshine in your soul that escapes through your eyes and your smile.

You've been working in fashion for over 33 years, how have beauty and body ideals changed since you started?
When I started, people like Bodymap were putting their clubland friends on the catwalk, along with their mothers and aunties to model the clothes, and the front row consisted of international press so I never questioned that a range of bodies wasn't the right way to showcase fashion. When I began at i-D, we featured all skin tones, shapes and sizes in our pages because we loved the way they styled themselves, it wasn't about buying a fashion uniform, it was about personal taste and personal styling and that's what shaped me. i-D shaped me. I had become disappointed with the way that fashion has made style into a uniform and has homogenised the body to make it Caucasian, young and thin, when there's just so much more excitement out there amongst the human race. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with young/thin/white, but it's just one ideal and there are so many more.

Do you think that the fashion industry still falls into the stereotype of the tall, thin, blonde, white girl?
Yeah we're still seeing a lot of that. There are brands broadening out, we're seeing people like Jillian Mercado, the blogger, in the Diesel campaign and Rick Owen showcasing his clothes on great people. More commercial companies like Debenhams and M&S are doing similar things, but what we've really got to be careful with is that it isn't some kind of trend and everyone isn't just excited by diversity now and then go back to the standard image as a default setting.

Diversity is exciting but also should be the norm. As someone who feels strongly about it and disagrees with the stereotype, what advice would you give to young people to carry out in their everyday life?
I would say respond immediately with your emotions, we have the phrase "gut instinct" for a reason. A lot of young people have been encouraged to turn the volume down on that instinct, on that voice and I say crank it right back up and listen to your own opinions. When you look at something give it your attention don't let it wash over you. Decide if you want to use your money on a brand that's creating hyper-sexualised or gender-stereotypical imagery that doesn't include you or realistic imagery of different individuals in the campaign, that doesn't see you or think you are important enough to talk to as an individual. Take your money and your good will and place it with a company who's more interested in delivering something to you. Don't underestimate the power you have on social networking to discuss this amongst your community.

Beauty as a word is so strongly linked with make-up, how do you feel make-up impacts young males and females today?
I think it's a really complex thing, at best make-up is for anybody who wants to use it as an opportunity to embellish and decorate themselves and really have fun in stepping out of the everyday. At worst it can be a tool that promotes falsehood. When you look at some of the postproduction work done in make-up campaigns promoting their latest lip line, what we are being shown is a falsehood because of the amount of postproduction that's gone into the image. You can ask the advertising standards authority to see the digital trail of any image, look at how much the image has been changed and ask the company if they can justify those changes. Quite often they can't and they've done it to create the suggestion that this piece of make-up can do this incredible job and its false. Co-founder at All Walks, Debra Bourne, is very clear about the digital proliferation of imagery and the repetitive nature of the messaging.

To me make-up is something people should play with, experiment and have fun with. How can we empower everyone to feel they can do this?The person's who's approval you need the most is your own, the relationship that is the most important in your life is the one you have with yourself. When your are in connection with the joy of being you, you will feel free to express yourself as you need to. We live in a society where you're encouraged to think that the approval of others is more important than your own approval. We have an entirely contemporary emergence of our value system purely around appearance that has to conform to fashion standards. We have juries who judge whether celebrities are wearing the right shoes or whether she's chosen the right dress for her body. Growing up seeing this kind of judgement and experiencing it in school where bullying takes place which is appearance orientated, where people having an opinion about their appearance and feeling somehow that what they look like is more important than what they stand for and who they are as a human beings. We have to clear all that shit away and we've got to go back to our own internal judgement system, our own belief in innate goodness and our innate beauty as a human being who is different because actually it's going to be an incredibly flat, rigid, uniform space if we're all trying to look and act the same and that's not what nature's about. As Debra says, "look around." Nature is about difference, different species, birds and animals, the beauty is in the difference.

When I ask what's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen what's the first thing that comes to mind?
It's the delicious contrasts of difference. That's why we encourage all young creatives to think about their contribution to widening the fashion aesthetic and use their influential power to make everyone feel beautiful. Diverse beauty ideals benefit us all as many studies show. The young need to see the age is no barrier to great style or exciting vibrant beauty. Race and skin tone needs to be seen as a diverse spectrum of delicious difference, not as one token inclusion in a Caucasion line up and size, body shape and body difference is not only inspiring, it is healing. Yes studies show people feel better about themselves and their own bodies when they view humanity as diverse.

And as fashion creative's, what can we do to help All Walks?
Pressure your university to adopt the All Walks Diversity initiative.  Blog about us, and link to our site and promote us to your community, if it's what you stand for, help us share us and spread it out there.


Text Declan Higgins
Photography Photography and Styling Ginevra Menon and Eliška Kyselková, winners of Diversity NOW! 2014

body image
All Walks Beyond the Catwalk
Caryn Franklin
tricia jones
diversity now
all walks
erin o'connor