Law student Chenelle created her clothing line "Melanin Made" to give young black people a platform to show pride in their skin colour and all that it represents. Her message is one that reminds us that black heritage is rich in famous, influential and incredible people. Earlier this month, our CEO Joseph Aina spoke to her about her brand.
Beyond skin tone, what does it mean to be "melanin made"?
From when I first started it, I feel it’s grown so much than what it was, because when I first started it I was watching a documentary about black history and it was depicting how we were kings, queens, artists and architects. So initially it was about being proud about all that, but now it's been a year since I started, and I have realised it is so much more than that. It’s about being proud of all of our oppression, all of our history and every single other great thing that we have done. So it’s like armour to me, I’m just proud. I’m proud to be "made of melanin".
Do you feel this is something you are simply born with, or is it more of something that is added to your character through life experience?
I definitely think it's life experience because even from sixth form to university, and even from first year til now, I feel the self-awareness you gain of yourself and how you are perceived in a room is something that you gain through life experience, conversations with people and reading. Obviously we are born black, but it is more of a self-awareness type of thing.
How can one become more self-aware?
First of all, take an interest in what people have done to get to where you are in society. Take an interest in your history and general reading, even if it’s just articles or people from Twitter, to get as many perspectives as you can in order to form your own kind of opinion.
During your interview at the ASC fashion show you said that you created your brand with the intention to be unapologetically bold. Similarly, I have noticed that extravagance is an attribute that many people attach to black people. Do you think this is a fair assessment and why?
Aside from the fact every single person has their own individual characteristics and personality, regardless of colour, I do feel like I understand why people say it, even with my friend and I; I know that we are loud. But I feel that they are many different reasons why black people are seen as loud. If you want to go deep, it could be a history of being silenced. And people always say that black people are very showy, boys will be wearing Gucci and all these kinds of things. So, I could be literary to just show that I’m happy. Or it could be your upbringing, because I was brought up in a very large family where if you’re not loud, nobody will hear you. So, I don’t know if I could say it’s a fair assessment as I know not every black person is exactly the same, but I understand. But I still feel like there are so many factors.
I feel, regardless of it being a fair assessment, it’s not fair to judge us by it, because when are at home it's the norm; it only stands out here because we're in the minority. Perhaps it's best to be understanding of everyone’s characteristics rather than imposing change.
Yeah, exactly, my mum has always told me to speak up, speak my mind. I’ve always been taught to be loud and confident. So I’m not going to come somewhere and change myself because you feel uncomfortable.
People often use factors such as skin colour, sex and even sexuality as excuses as to why they can’t be successful or even happy. What do you think of this and how would you advise those people to use their perceived weaknesses a strength?
First of all I think it is something you have to come to terms with. You can’t change the colour of your skin, so, because that’s something that you can’t change, you need to work on all the other things that you can change about yourself. For example, right now I’m applying for jobs. I can’t change the colour of my skin, I’m still going to have to tick "Black British" in the application form, but I can change my application, I can change my interview technique - also there is a thing called positive discrimination; they are going to need to meet a quota. If they need to hire black people, why can’t they hire me? I was talking to this woman who worked at KPMG, she is one of the only back people and she said whenever there is something about diversity they send it to her, whenever they need to do anything about black women or even women they send it to her. So, they need black people, they need to fill a quota, and that’s fine with me. I’m not going to be sad that I’m filling a quota; I’ll take it.
You always appear to be very happy and full of energy - what is your secret?
I don’t think there’s a secret. Maybe I appear to be that way, but on the inside I’m so stressed, I’ve got a million things I need to do, but I don’t see the point of being miserable about it. Like, I can be stressed but I’m not going to go around crying about it because its not going to make anything better, so that is why I choose to be happy, because that I can do something about.
Was studying law anything to do with wanting to impact/change the world?
Yeah it was, but that was a very naïve perspective of the law, as when I was in sixth form my goal in my head was "free the mandem". That was my motivation. Obviously that is not even what I would be doing as lawyer anyway, because when you start out as a lawyer, realistically you're going to go into commercial law, which is something I have no interest in whatsoever; that’s literally like making rich white people rich. That’s literally what it is - making big companies money while I have none! That’s basically what I have to do. So, I guess originally, I did want to change the world and I guess I still do. But nah! I can’t change the world at 21.
I've been watching GaryVee on YouTube who says the best way to change the world is by working on yourself.
Yeah I definitely think that, but I just know in law I can’t go waving my hand around trying to make a difference. So I do think I can change the world in other ways but just not in law.
Okay I see, so in what way would you say fashion helps do this that law does not?
To change the world? I’m not sure if it's changing the world, but I do feel it’s a unique way to express yourself. I don’t know if that changes the world. I guess so; how people express themselves and what message they have to say. You know it could be political, it could literally just be an opinion. Maybe that changes the world, I’m not sure. I mean, I’ve always been a really creative person; my dad’s a musician and I’m into music as well. But I just feel any kind of a creative art is just a way to express themselves, and maybe everyone’s unique and different expression can change the world.
What types of clothing do you have planned and how do you think these items will help each customer feel "melanin made"?
I want to do a whole tracksuit now as I already have a lot of hoodies and T-shirts so I want to complete the look. And I also want to do more individualised pieces. So not just printed, I actually want to do more embroidery and things that actually look individual. They will be in a full tracksuit and will literally be head to toe melanin made. And the individualised pieces will just be nice to look at. However, I still want to stick with the simple element of melanin made, as I want it to be simple, bold text. I don’t want to distract people when they look at it. I want people to see the message and that’s it.
Which celebrity (dead or alive) do you feel would be a great representative of your brand and why?
I literally didn’t struggle picking this person. I picked Issa Rae. I don't know if you watch Insecure...
I don’t watch it, actually.
You should watch Insecure! It’s so good! So Issa Rae - she’s literally everything about a model young black woman because I feel in TV when you have a significant black person, they are black first - their characteristics are being black - and then they're a person, but with Issa Ray she’s her first. And we don’t see that in TV so her showing that to people is so important, especially in Insecure as Insecure is about the issues that young modern black people face, and you don’t have that in TV. And if you do, it's literally about being black, like so stereotypically black. And she’s not; she’s just a person that happens to be black and I think that’s so cool. So I wanted Melanin Made to be the modern black person, not fight the power and all of that - that’s all too much.
Do you ever find it difficult getting into a creative mindset whilst doing a degree like law, or is there some creativity also involved in your degree?
I find it so difficult as law is so time consuming, as even if you have done all of your work, you still feel like there Is more you can do. For example, when I was doing exams last year I was so stressed - I was going out of my mind. And because I do music as well, my mum said to me "If you need to take a break, do music". My mum does not even like music and all of that, so for her to say that, I know need to actually listen to her and take a break. So I think being creative a is a good way to take your mind off such a difficult degree.
What music do you make?
I make mixes - if I had more time I would do it more as by drill mix, that blew!