Exploring inclusivity with Marcella Gift, Emme Cadeau
We loved meeting Marcella and the Emme Cadeau team at Pure London last season. During this difficult and ever-changing period, we’ve been in touch with Marcella to find our how she’s been navigating the current circumstances, as well as to revisit her time with us at Pure London back in February 2020.
How do New York and the Caribbean cultures come together in your designs?
- Caribbean – colour, texture, attitude
- New York – edginess, lifestyle, attitude
I am originally from the island of Trinidad and Tobago, where I grew up and nurtured my love of art. I have also spent a large portion of my life living and working in New York City.
To be from Trinidad and Tobago is to have an appreciation for art, nature, vibrant colours and texture. My life was filled with trips to galleries to view the work of Caribbean artists, year-round exposure to colourful flowers and birds in our back yard, and let’s not forget the annual carnival celebrations. It was therefore impossible not to imprint this into the DNA of Emme Cadeau, which is reflected in the uniqueness of materials used to create our footwear. Whether it’s the colour, the texture, or the combination of materials, our footwear always draws people in to touch, and ask “what is this?” I love to hear that question. The Caribbean side of my design pushes me to be bold with my material choices and combinations while keeping an effortless air about it.
The New York influence makes me think about how to incorporate the design into a multi-faceted lifestyle. How do I take this material, keep the wow factor, make it edgy, comfortable, allow it to blend in and yet make a statement in someone’s wardrobe? If the Caribbean life is all about ease and freedom, life in New York is about structure, and skyscrapers. From a design aesthetic point of view, it has shaped my affinity for simple silhouettes, which allow the materials used in the shoe to resonate and shine. The fact as well that New York is a walker’s city makes comfort a top priority of the brand, ensuring that we deliver shoes that take you from day to night not only in look but also in feel.
How are you navigating the current conversations around race and equality as an individual and as a business?
As a black woman, living in the United States, talking about race isn’t new as it impacts all parts of my life on a daily basis. Over time I have created spaces in which I felt that I could safely talk about it after having stepped over fault lines where people ask, “are you sure?”, “maybe it wasn’t that?”. The safe space isn’t necessarily just people of colour; these friendships have included people from all backgrounds.
"I didn’t know how to speak as a brand without speaking as a person, so on the Emme Cadeau Instagram, I shared my voice as Marcella, the person behind the brand, who is a black woman, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, a human, someone who was emotionally crushed."
The difference now is that a wider audience has jumped on board in really looking honestly at the issue, having uncomfortable conversations and hopefully putting words and promises into action. The workplace has now become a place where more candid conversations are happening and I personally have been very upfront in talking about my experiences. I work in corporate America while building the brand, and there is definitely a more intentional effort to listen to people’s experiences and hopefully work on fixing a longstanding issue.
As a black person, I was deeply affected by what happened. Watching the video of George Floyd hit me very hard. This is something that I have seen all too often, before I even begin the work-day, and eventually you reach a point where you just can’t take it any more. I make the effort to separate my brand from me as an individual with a full time job, but for a week I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to speak as a brand without speaking as a person, so on the Emme Cadeau Instagram, I shared my voice as Marcella, the person behind the brand, who is a black woman, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, a human, someone who was emotionally crushed.
"I want Emme Cadeau to be a part of the movement in providing opportunities to those who otherwise may be overlooked, and an inspiration for those who want to go for their dreams."
As a business, especially as a black owned business, I have to be very intentional about making sure the product and service speak for themselves and to a wide variety of people. Emme Cadeau is a vibe; it’s about boldness, charisma and class and anyone can be that. I choose models across the spectrum to reflect in the brand’s imagery and will continue to do so. As the business continues to grow, I plan to employ staff, who reflect the diversity that is so desperately needed, and provide mentorship to others who wish to strike out on their own.
I want Emme Cadeau to be a part of the movement in providing opportunities to those who otherwise may be overlooked, and an inspiration for those who want to go for their dreams.
What does inclusivity in the fashion industry mean to you?
Inclusivity means giving the artist the room to create their own lane. Coming from the Caribbean, there is one thing that I have grown to appreciate more than ever while comparing it to my life elsewhere and that is the ability to just be, the ability to not be confined in a box of what you should like, or should produce, or should charge or who you should appeal to based on the fact that you are a black person. Creativity and beauty is meant to be unconfined, and when you start putting borders around it before it even flourishes, you’re really robbing yourself of seeing it in full bloom.
Another facet of inclusivity is representation, listening to the different voices that come with diversity and constantly re-evaluating whether you are growing. Fashion is an industry that is based on the evolution of tastes and thought. In this day and age you know who your audience is and they aren’t afraid to say what’s on their mind, so pay attention.
"Creativity and beauty is meant to be unconfined, and when you start putting borders around it before it even flourishes, you’re really robbing yourself of seeing it in full bloom."
Inclusivity also requires a pipeline to all the spaces that make up the fashion industry. A pipeline requires funding, mentorship, opportunity and being intentional. It also avoids the mad scramble we see happening now, for companies to suddenly fill their spaces with diverse representation. It needs to be organic not opportunistic.
Discover the Emme Cadeau story here: