By Sophie Arinde, Dorneka Ward and Ruth Adeoye of Milk Honey Bees
Milk Honey Bees prides itself in being a sanctuary for young Black women and girls to find freedom for creativity, expression and much needed healing. In order to help provide skills to navigate in society, we are involved in projects like the Black Girl Global Justice Initiative, that helps to understand our experiences and vocalise our demands via activism and advocacy, as well as enlightening Black Girlhoods.
Ebinehita Iyere, founder of Milk Honey Bees says: “My aim has been to pass Black Girls the microphone while supporting and enhancing what they already have. This is not about creating something in Black girls that did not already exist to begin with. This is about bringing it into the forefront and allowing people to understand that these girls will flourish in their own aesthetic and beyond regardless.”
From her perspective, Milk Honey Bees allows the creativity of Black girls to be credited and rooted in their girlhood, by allowing them to create projects around a range of different things like social justice issues, that celebration of Black girl joy, and their beautiful aesthetics.
Throughout the course of generations, Black girls and women have showcased an array of beauty, innovation and originality in our visual identities. Iconic eras of hair, fashion and movement forms were forged from our manicured clapback to oppression - the celebration and empowerment of what makes us truly unique.
It is clear that the Black Girl Aesthetic has been commodified and imitated, without the accreditation of the creators of its roots - Black girls and women.
Recent years have seen Black girls fully embodying their own individual essence in physical styles, presenting true embodiments of “strength, fierceness, intelligence and grace”, as said by Francesca Messame. This fostering of creativity in our communities has formulated spaces for Black women and girls to feel appreciated and celebrated. It is a sanctuary, away from a world that inundates us with negative and harmful labels.
Since the early 90s however, our presence in the mainstream fashion industry has increased, from Black female models appearing on runways for big designers to several Black owned brands, such as Adorned by Chi, JIRO and Farai London, obtaining recognition. Diversity and inclusion in media is slowly gaining support and acceptance, but the amount of representation shown is not balanced with the level of foundational contributions made to music, television, fashion and popular culture by Black girls and women. We have so much more to flaunt.
Alongside the rise of our collective confidence and healing, a societal obsession with snippets of Black girlhood have assumed a large role on the world stage. This has in turn offset the creation and global exploitation of what can be dubbed as the ‘Black Girl Aesthetic’. The Black Girl Aesthetic has become a stereotypical outline of who we are expected to appear as, including having features like a curvaceous figure and long curly hair, as opposed to a blend of our various identities and inspirations. It is essentially meant to be, as Tapiwa Cronin,states, “uncompromising and unapologetic.”
Brands, their shareholders and social media influencers have sought to profit off of this ideal in many ways, from earning financial sponsorships and fast fashion deals to amassing a vast audience and clientele. Black girls however rarely benefit from this use of our aesthetics, continuously being excluded from important spaces and conversations, in addition to being taunted at schools and workplaces.
Present by the viral phenomenon of ‘blackfishing’ and the use of ebonics by non-black platforms, it is clear that the Black Girl Aesthetic has been commodified and imitated, without the accreditation of the creators of its roots - Black girls and women. To begin to remedy this blatant dismissal, we need to be genuinely acknowledged, without having to experience the rejection of our valid opinions or feelings.
Overdue recognition can also be attained with financial and emotional investment into creatives themselves and programmes allowing Black girls and our culture to be fully incorporated into the fashion industry. Dedicated creative, Shani Raphael-Thomas, highlights that "everyone deserves to see our stories". We should not only hold spots on the runway and in media and branding, but behind the scenes, making decisions as directors and leaders.
Every woman can contribute to the uplifting of young Black girls. As nurturing mentors, they can assist in the blossoming of girlhood and vulnerability, which also sponsors the healing of their own inner Black girl. Learning to put H.E.R first irrespective of age is vital to one’s well being and success. ‘H.E.R’ - Healing, Empowerment and Resilience - is the ethos of Milk Honey Bees - a dedicated champion of the emotional, physical and mental health of Black girls. Mirroring these principles to them displays the importance of self care and awareness, which leads to the writing of our full stories. Virtual and physical environments are needed to model these values for Black British girls and Black women. This is doubly important outside of London, where opportunities to learn from role models within black communities are less accessible.
Yasmin Hussein, a resident of both Birmingham and London, mentions opportunities that suit her interests typically only cater to those in the latter region. Because of the increased creative spaces to do so, she believes that Black girls in London are more confident with expressing their Black Girl Aesthetic, compared to Black girls in the Midlands and wider North.
As best expressed by Sophie Arinde: “Black girlhood is not monolithic. There is no one size fits all! Brands, creators and gatekeepers within the fashion industry, ground yourself in Black girls’ experiences, to genuinely and compassionately learn. Rather than breezing over our feelings or identities, use your privilege and platforms to create environments that can produce change in the industry.”
For more information about Milk Honey Bees and the work we are dedicated to complete, follow us on our website, Instagram, Twitter and GoFundMe - to sponsor the development of our safe spaces, for young Black women and girls.
Sophie is a 19-year-old writer, podcast co-host and creative based in London. She is also the founder of The Kollab Network, an online platform dedicated to empowering and documenting the stories of creatives. At Milk Honey Bees, Sophie is the Director of Creative Content.
Dorneka Ward is an enthusiastic content writer and poet, who enjoys expressing thoughts and opinions through literary works. Currently she is studying video game development and aspiring to become an interior architect, and inspire young black people who are interested in architecture and space creation, through her initiative Young Black Architects
Ruth is a 17 year old student and creative writer with aspirations to have a career in Psychology to study cognitions motivating unconscious biases and criminal intents. She also has a passion to empower and be a role model to other Black girls. Ruth is part of the Milk Honey Bees Black Girl Global Justice Institute.