You manipulate time in an incredible way in your work, talking about social issues that require urgent action and fighting the tendency to stay stagnant in systems and ways of thought. It’s striking against the backdrop of buzzwords like “fast fashion” and the instantaneity of social media. Where does the title The Slow Grind come from and how are you able to bend time in your work?
That’s the first time I’ve actually been asked “where does the title come from?” which is really interesting. It mostly comes from the idea of the culture of grinding and hustling and being really fast pace. There’s a lot of those slogans that people say like “hustle hard,” “wake up, hustle, repeat,” or “wake up, grind, repeat” or all that crap so I pretty much just thought “What is the antithesis to that? What is the opposite of that and how can we kind of challenge that idea?” That’s how I came up with The Slow Grind and I think that it rings really nicely. Sometimes when I tell people [the title] I do use a disclaimer and say “It’s not about sex, it’s not about dancing, it’s not about coffee.” It’s not about any of those things, but most people actually get it immediately which is really nice. How do I manipulate time? I guess what’s interesting about it is that people often think that it solely relates to doing things slowly and last year I did an online lecture talking about slowness as a bridge that was taken from a conversation that Tina Campt did, speaking about something that I found really interesting. It was a quote that basically said “Slowness is not based on kinetics. It’s based on a practice of thought.” The whole project is grounded in the idea of considering our actions, considering our bodies, considering our mental health, considering the community, considering the world. That’s what I would say The Slow Grind is about: taking the time to really think about what you contribute and why you contribute to it.
“I’m consistently disappointed by the lack of follow-up. It speaks volumes about how they want to commodify Black bodies, Black culture, Black trauma when it suits them, and when the moment has passed it doesn’t matter anymore.” – Georgina Johsnon
There is a clear link between fashion and social media, and as you’ve spoken to in the past a link between fashion and a lack of true accountability and action. In your eyes, how do we, as an industry, need to do better at fighting the black-square trends or the way that TikTok and social media integrate into our lives subconsciously in favor of engaged longevity?
I feel like a lot of this is virtue signaling and posturing because you want to be seen doing the right thing, being on the right side of things. Take a minute to think about what you actually believe and why you don’t believe certain things and why you haven’t enacted them in your life. Especially with the whole black square thing, I was so disappointed this year when having conversations with brands – there was a lot more hesitation for them to come on board and take The Black Futures Pledge in comparison to last year. I’m consistently disappointed by the lack of follow-up. It speaks volumes about how they want to commodify Black bodies, Black culture, Black trauma when it suits them, and when the moment has passed it doesn’t matter anymore. I do think that in order to disengage from that type of behavior the only way is to see it not as a marketing exercise, but simply as something that you should ingrain in the algorithm of your business, your culture, and other practices like training and education of your staff especially. I believe that is the only way to actually have honest actions: if you believe that it is intrinsic to the way that you run, because if you don’t, ultimately, it’s like something that’s added on that you just push away at any given moment. So, if I was going to give any advice to any brand, organization, or institution, it would be to really commit because if you don’t see it as an exercise that takes commitment and longevity you’re just going to see it as a trend.
“When you’re in an industry that already ostracizes your culture, ostracizes you as a womxn, ostracizes your race in general it does make you feel like you are under a bit of a gag order because you don’t want to upset things in a way that would be detrimental to your career. ” – Georgina Johnson
Are there any ways that you think on an individual level, working within the body of fashion, that young professionals can fight against the systems that are already put in place?
It’s just about being courageous. Understanding that we all have agency. I was afraid for a long time of saying what I meant. It’s a bit of an oxymoron because I’m Caribbean and it is pretty much embedded in our culture to be very straightforward, but when you’re in an industry that already ostracizes your culture, ostracizes you as a womxn, ostracizes your race in general it does make you feel like you are under a bit of a gag order because you don’t want to upset things in a way that would be detrimental to your career. I find what’s quite nice now is that through embedding that honesty in my work, especially with The Slow Grind, has allowed me to be more honest and feel freedom in that honesty. For instance, I went away for seven months at the start of the year to recover from a bipolar episode. I’ve come back and I’ve launched the reprint of this project and people are still interested in it. I think, if anything, it teaches me that it’s fine to have solitude and be absent from the noise, so if I was going to say anything I think that is that it’s possible you don’t have to join the circus.
The Slow Grind started as a 200-word manifesto and grew into a work with over a dozen contributors, and you’ve just launched the reprint. Can you walk me through what that journey was like and what the motivation was behind the reprint?
Starting off doing the manifesto, which was tied to an event that I did in 2018 called “Slow Fashion to Save Minds” which is what the manifesto was called at the time. That was speaking directly about my experiences and those of the people that were on the panel (which was Campbell Addy, Seetal Solanki, and Tamsin Blanchard) specifically about their experiences in the industry in relation to well-being. The motivation behind that and behind the book, which I talk about quite often, is how the racialized experiences that I myself had just put me down; and didn’t empower me in any kind of way; it just made me feel ill. We had that event to just speak about it, and because of the response to the manifesto, I was like “this definitely should be a bigger body of work.” At the same time, I had actually thought about The Slow Grind in 2016 when I applied for some grants. I didn’t get them, I tabled the idea, then came back to it after the manifesto and thought “Ok this is the time to do it.” I still can’t get any money from anybody but I just thought “I’m gonna do this myself.” That kind of developed from that and what was the reason behind the second reprint. To be honest, for the initial print I only wanted to print 200 copies and because I was on the basic scheme of the platform that I was using I couldn’t put in how much inventory I had, so when I would go back and look it would be over 200, and then over 250, and on and on and I was just like “Oh my God I need to just stop this!” so when we hit 500 I said, “I need to stop this.” Then again, I have an affinity for making sure that things have longevity and so bringing it back around this time the run 2000 copies. I’m already thinking about the second book and starting research next year. I was thinking about it this morning before this interview, and I was just like “wow” when I think about how many people I reached out to in 2018 to see if I could get support about this project and I couldn’t get any from anybody and then just deciding to do it now and gaining the support of British heritage brand Mulberry it really is mad. God‘s timing is sick. I felt really disheartened when I was getting all the no’s, the no’s, but I am the type of person that will just do it anyway. Last Thursday [21 October, 2021] we had the launch in the Mulberry store and it was so nice. All my friends, and supporters, and family, and people I admire that really brought me up along the way, to have them all in one place and to be able to finally celebrate this project was so special. It really begins to elevate it to the position that I feel like it belongs because I do believe this project is special. I do believe it has a place in the world and it matters and I do believe that this is just the beginning so to have that recognition is really really nice.
As you mentioned, Mulberry was able to help you with this reprint. How was it reaching out to them and how did you establish that kind of a relationship with them?
I actually didn’t reach out to them. At the start of the year, when I was still in recovery, I was thinking about how we’ll get this project back out there and Lucy Kamara Moore, who runs the book shop Claire de Rouen, bought a book last year and randomly emailed me (it might’ve been in April) and said: “Oh I’m working with a client, I can’t tell you who, but I told them about your book and I’ve done a bit of a presentation on it.” I just said to her “Well I’m looking for someone to support the second print run,” and she just said, “Oh that might interest them.” Then we had a couple of conversations with me, her, and Mulberry, and then they were like “We’re going to support this.” I definitely want to shout Lucy out in this interview for really putting that forward because she didn’t have to do that and that’s really enabled this project to be where it is now.
“Don’t be afraid to share the idea and don’t be afraid to, even if it’s not flushed out, have a conversation. Reach out to that person that you think you can never speak to, reach out to everybody.” – Georgina Johnson
Do you have any advice for any young professionals that are looking to start a project they really believe in but they may be looking for funding and find themselves in a similar situation?
Yeah, have loads of conversations. Literally, just start throwing the idea out there. I’m a very organized person, but at the same time, I want to ask everyone what they think about this idea, not because I need their validation but because I want to know the direction that it can go in. When you have these conversations, you meet other people that introduce you to someone else and they say “Oh, I think this person could be interested,” and it snowballs. I would definitely say don’t be afraid to share the idea and don’t be afraid to, even if it’s not flushed out, have a conversation. Reach out to that person that you think you can never speak to, reach out to everybody. I literally just call people. I want to streamline the conversation and see what you think immediately. Be persistent, be really really persistent. I get so many no’s all the time at some point it doesn’t really matter anymore if you get used to it, when someone says yes, it’s a great feeling.
That makes a lot of sense and it’s very encouraging to hear because it can be defeating to get a series of no’s, but I love that message of reaching out to not only your network but your network’s network and any ear that will listen.
I and my friends are really generous with our contacts as well. Someone will just text me and be like “Hey have you worked with this person? Could you introduce me to them?” and I’m not going to be holding my contacts close to my heart. I think as much as we can make things accessible to others then why not?
“Try and strike up genuine relationships don’t think about people in a strategic sense because people can sense that. I think if you just try and be personable you’ll get somewhere for sure.” – Georgina Johnson
In creating The Slow Grind, you’ve worked with many other artists and thinkers. How were those relationships developed and how can fashion students and young professionals seek a similar sense of collectivism?
Again, quite organically I would say. For example, Sara Arnold who wrote the 101 on climate change, we met at a dinner hosted by Fashion Revolution at the end of 2018 then I just kept her in mind and asked somebody for her contact and reached out to her about the project. It took a bit of convincing and then she jumped on board. With Campbell [Addy] we’ve been best friends since we were 17, Ib Kamara I met through Campbell when we were about 19, so we’ve all known each other for quite a long time. It kind of just happens in that vein, and I’m just very good with the follow-up. I think it’s very important to be very casual and to be like “let’s get some lunch, let’s talk about your life.” It doesn’t have to be about work and then once you kind of establish some type of relationship, just see where it goes. It doesn’t always have to land in them being a part of your project but somewhere down the line they probably will be in something. I would just say try and strike up genuine relationships don’t think about people in a strategic sense because people can sense that. I think if you just try and be personable you’ll get somewhere for sure.
Looking at how all of that work and those connections have become The Slow Grind, can we talk about what’s next? I know that you’ve talked briefly about where you see the project going but can you add to that with the evolution for The Slow Grind in years to come?
My plan is to bring out the second Slow Grind book in 2023, so I need to find some funding to start the research next year. This year in the background I’ve been recording The Slow Grind podcast. We’ve recorded up to episode five, it’s basically an extention of the architecture of the book into sound, to include more voices. So far, it’s just been womxn and non-binary folk and I think I’ll keep it like that; with names like Sumayya Vally who’s the current Serpentine Pavilion Commission Artist, Mariana Pestana who curated the Istanbul Design Biennial last year, Gabriella D’cruz who’s a marine conservationist based in Goa. And again, it’s just the same thing of reaching out to people and seeing if they’re interested. What I did with the podcast was to expand the network by asking the people who jumped on board to recommend two other people and then if we want to work with them I’d ask them to introduce us. I do think there’s always a way around something. With the podcast, what’s been so incredible is the insight that these women have been able to share with their projects. They’re doing such huge things and they’re just so generous with their time, their energy, and wisdom. For the book next year, I’m going to invite a lot of them to be a part of it as well. I would also like to, now that the book is launched, do more pop-ups inside organizations, and create some intimate moments. I’m down to do all of those things.
Looking at the people that you have on your podcast and even possible contributors for The Slow Grind in the future, are there any people that you would love to reach out to? It seems like you kind of make those connections pretty freely anyways but is there anyone that you have in the back of your mind that you would love to reach out to for the book or for the podcast?
Anna Tsing, who wrote a really interesting book on mushrooms, I’d love to work with her in some capacity. Lindsay Peoples Wagner who is obviously the editor of The Cut. I’d love to speak with Black in Fashion, I’d love to work with them in some capacity. I’d love to work with the UN in general.
“It took me a very long time and I still am learning not to compare myself, because for a long time it just really affected my mental health. I was constantly disappointed in myself. ” – Georgina Johnson
As a final question: is there any additional advice that you would give to young professionals that are kind of inspired by your work and maybe want to create something similar or a sense of community of artists and thinkers?
Try your hardest not to compare yourself and to try to attain the speed of other people. It can really just bog you down and stop you from doing the work that you want to do. Try your best to get out of the habit of comparison. In creative industries, we’re all kind of primed to compare because it pushed this whole idea of competition that drives capitalism forward. It took me a very long time and I still am learning not to compare myself, because for a long time it just really affected my mental health. I was constantly disappointed in myself. You should learn to identify when those thoughts come into your head and try to think the opposite of it or to lift yourself up in some way. Something that my therapist told me one time was “Try to separate your thoughts from your feelings and recognize that both of those things are fleeting.” Most thoughts and feelings, even if they last for a month, are not gonna last forever. Try to think about these things in a realistic sense like you might feel really downtrodden today, but you’re not always going to be in that position.
“You are going to be told “No,” you are going to be disappointed, you are going to be sad, all of those things are going to happen, but they’re not going to last so try your best.” – Georgina Johnson
Looking at the idea of comparing yourself with others and this kind of organic style of reaching out to people and making these new contacts very freely, do you ever experience imposter syndrome when you reach out to people? Is there a way that you’re able to combat that?
I think it’s really interesting that most people‘s perception of me is that I’m really confident and super bubbly. I am all of those things, but at the same time, I have felt imposter syndrome. Last year ahead of bringing out the project, I became anxious and worried. I kept on thinking “Who’s going to buy it? Who’s going to want it? Is it going to matter?” All of those things and at some point, I got to a place where I was just proud of myself for even attempting it. I had to keep on reminding myself of that, so try and hold onto something positive as much as you can. You are going to be told “No,” you are going to be disappointed, you are going to be sad, all of those things are going to happen, but they’re not going to last so try your best.
You don’t wanna be the only one standing in your way.
You can get your copy of the Slow Grind here