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Converse built a community of young creatives, then gave them a runway

Images by Lara Cooper
Words by Christina Karras

“It’s about putting forward faces that wouldn’t normally have that kind of platform.”

While MFW has officially come to a close, we are still basking in the lingering good vibes of its Poolside Runway. Featuring everything from neon puffer jackets to loungewear, the show struck a chord with its contemporary streetwear styling and unorthodox venue, but also for its sense of inclusion.

Converse was one of the standouts on the runway, not only for the product showcased, but also for the talent that walked. Each had their own unique look and aesthetic, noticeably separating the Converse models from others on the runway.

As I later discovered, the brand also had a diverse pool of talent working magic behind the scenes. Turns out it had handed over all responsibilities for the show – including modelling, styling and photography – to members of its grassroots community, dubbed Converse_X_.

The initiative sees the brand tap creatives and trailblazers from across the globe to build a network of formidable, underground talent who are pushing culture forward. It’s made up of models, entrepreneurs, artists, designers and directors who are doing their own thing – and gives them a platform to tell their stories.

Scouting these individuals on social media and IRL, Converse has now built its Converse_X_ global community to over 2000  members strong. Parties liaise via a closed Instagram group, and each is welcomed for their own creative endeavours. Through this group, the global brand is giving young artists a platform to amplify their voices, and their projects, in the process.

One of the fresh faces of Converse_X_ who walked the runway was Melbourne-based Aysha Nanai-Leifi.

While the 21-year-old works in retail, in her spare time she’s also the founder and curator of her own collective, called Poly Connection, geared towards uplifting other Polynesian or Pacific Islander creatives like herself.

“We run events, we showcase our Pacific Islander talent and just tell people we’re here. We’re good and we’re talented, and we want to shake people and say ‘see us!’,” she says.

“I noticed a gap in the creative community in Melbourne. I was like ‘where are my people?’ So I thought it would be perfect to make something where [they] could come and feel safe, and feel free to hit us up and with their ideas. Representation is the main goal for us.”

It’s that same subject of representation that was a topic of fierce conversation throughout Melbourne Fashion Week. While the MFW runways were among the most diverse they have ever been, at the same time came a concerning error by Who Weekly, who published an interview of another model alongside its interview with MFW ambassador Adut Akech. Questions around representation have presumably been front of mind for many models, brands and consumers since.

“I think it’s really important for people to see others that look like them, in order to see a vision of what they can be. It can be psychologically damaging when you can’t see yourself in media, it makes you question ‘where do I fit in?’,” Aysha explains.

It’s encouraging to see brands scouting an increasingly diverse group of talent. But when big names so often miss the mark, these attempts at inclusion quickly begin to feel like tokenism and an attempt to capitalise on the ‘trending’ nature of a social issue.

But Converse’s choice to entrust its Converse_X_ talent to takeover the runway feels innovative, and necessary. It allows a diverse group to manage the narrative, constructing their own fresh images of culture and fashion. Missteps are made when minorities don’t have a voice, and acts like this are an invitation for them to have a seat at a table.

On top of celebrating a crew of kids who differ in ethnicity, size and talent, the Poolside Runway also featured Jess Quinn, an amputee model from New Zealand, championing a broader definition of body diversity on the catwalk.

Aysha notes while the fashion industry still a long way to go, her experience walking for Converse was emblematic of changing times.

“It’s about putting forward faces that wouldn’t normally have that kind of platform. The latest Converse campaign that they just put up in windows features all women of colour. I think that they are definitely shaking things up in their own way, showing people that a big brand can work with the little people, and the ‘others.’”

Passionate about the power in this messaging, she took to Instagram after the runway to express how proud and emotional she was to be featured in the show.

 

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“I don’t think I’ve ever seen another Pacific Islander walk down those mainstream runways. We do have our own Pacific runways, but to break into the mainstream spaces makes me really proud. Not only have I never seen myself [reflected], but to also be that person for somebody else, it’s just so crazy,” she says.

converse.com.au

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