Best Books for Kids

The best books on Fashion for Kids

recommended by Eunice Olumide

How to Get Into Fashion by Eunice Olumide

How to Get Into Fashion
by Eunice Olumide

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Model, actress, presenter and author Eunice Olumide shares her pick of the best books for children about fashion and the values that underpin her career in the fashion industry.

Interview by Tuva Kahrs

How to Get Into Fashion by Eunice Olumide

How to Get Into Fashion
by Eunice Olumide

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Your first book pick is My Friend Earth, a picture book by Newbery medal winning author Patricia MacLachlan and award winning illustrator Francesca Sanna. It might seem a surprising pick for an interview on the best books for kids about fashion, so what made you choose it?

We’re currently landfilling over 320,000 tonnes of clothes annually and that’s just in the UK. There is an emphasis on fast fashion, and disposable culture has a really significant impact on the environment, so I wanted to pick a book that reflects that. I like the poetic text and the way that it encourages us to celebrate everything that the Earth does for us. With the advances in technologies we’re becoming more and more removed from nature, and when you’re a young person growing up in a big city you might not have any focus placed on nature. I like the interactive format and I think the artwork is brilliant. It’s all about the celebration of the natural world. I also like How to Make a Better World, which is for slightly older kids, probably for 7-9 year olds, which kind of creates a positive action plan for planet Earth.

Your next pick of best books about fashion for kids is How to Design Your Own Clothes.

When I was young I loved making things from anything. When you’re young, you’re much more open minded to just create whereas as you get older and you become more of a social being, you’re much more conscious of the parameters that might be in place, you’re maybe concerned about what other people are doing, probably more self conscious. So I really think it’s important to teach people to create their own clothes at a young age, not only because it’s a lot easier than it looks, but it just means that they have that skill to go forward into life with because we don’t really learn how to make clothes at school. That means that you’re already a young adult before you might even think about going into that industry or doing it for yourself. I also think that creating your own clothes has a wealth of holistic benefits. In terms of mental health it can be extremely therapeutic, and when you make your own clothes you can make stuff that suits your personality. There is the issue of sustainability, and creating your own cool thing is brilliant for the environment. And also, socially, when we understand better that every piece of clothing that we purchase has been made by someone, we become conscious that if we’re purchasing clothing which costs a really small amount of money, then it means the person making it probably didn’t get paid a living wage.

Let’s talk about Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison. Again, at first glance it isn’t an obvious choice of book for kids about fashion, so why did you pick it?

Firstly, I was intrigued by the author. I think Lupita is such a fantastic role model for young people. Her story, what she’s done as an artist is inspirational. I also feel as a human being that she really does stand for diversity and inclusivity. She’s been able to achieve so much as an Academy Award winning actress.

Not surprising perhaps for an award winning actress, she’s done a brilliant audiobook, I listened to the audio version.

Yes, I love this book. I think it’s important and relates to the fashion and textile industry because fashion is inextricably linked to identity. So the clothes you wear, even if you don’t feel that you’re choosing them to define you, other people will define you based on your appearance. That is a reality of the world that we live in. Not only that, but people look at your ethnicity, and where you’re from and your background. And I think colourism is also intrinsic to identity. It’s really important for not only people of colour, but for all human beings to understand what colourism is, and the impact of that on human beings, on young people, and how that is central to beauty and the fashion industry. My thing in life is all about promoting self love, which is why I’m usually pictured with my natural hair without wearing any makeup, which is daunting for me, and means that I’m not chosen for many opportunities, because of colourism, because there’s a preference for a certain type of look which is linked to European beauty standards. All of those things relate to the fashion industry, because the faces we see, the pictures that we see, even the success of designers are linked to these things. So for example, even though Afro-Caribbean women have contributed so much in terms of cultural artefacts, textiles, fashion and art, there are no household names that are Afro-Caribbean women in the fashion industry. So if you’re a young Afro-Caribbean girl growing up in the world, it’s important for you to understand the world that we live in, in order to create a lane for yourself.

I grew up in the UK, where it’s very politically correct, people don’t like to discuss race, they prefer to act like it doesn’t exist. I was fully aware of race as a child. From when I was six years old I was being called names, so it’s not something that you can get away from. I remember going to a casting in Paris and being told very categorically that I was brilliant but a bit too dark. In Britain we would say “that’s terrible, how dare that person tell you that!” But actually, from a mental health perspective and from a career perspective, it was the best thing that could have happened because for the first time in my life I realised that I was good enough, my face just didn’t fit. So I’ve chosen this book, because it’s about loving yourself for who you are. I think that this book, particularly for non-Afro-Caribbean people, will really enrich them and cause them to think about unconscious biases and micro aggressions, which apply to any people.

We don’t need to use the context of race, we could use the context of what I call superability, or – as the world calls it – disability. You could be autistic, you could have different things you’re negotiating. And you need to understand that people are going to think that you can’t do certain things even though you can, because of their stereotypes, because of their ideas of what you can and can’t do. I discussed this recently with an 11 year old autistic boy who vented to me about how he feels his teacher treats him, how his classmates treat him. They have this idea that he can’t do the same things, but he can do the same things and in many cases he’s actually quite bored because he knows more than what he is being taught because he does get a lot of homeschooling as well. So I think Sulwe is a great book to help us to understand that all humans are the same, but we have our differences. And it’s important to understand those differences in order to understand the world we live in, to understand the fashion industry, and why there has been a lack of diversity.

Sulwe is a really lovely picture book. It involves the reader in the journey of this little girl whose name means ‘star’ in Luo, to realise that she is most beautiful when she is most herself. It also recombines words to make us more conscious of the language we use. And it’s about the concept of yin & yang, although not in those words. You definitely don’t think it’s a cliché to talk about beauty from the inside out, then?

I’ve already talked about loving yourself for who you are. That’s why I personally go out with my natural hair, without wearing makeup. I go to red carpet events like this, which is not normal in the world we live in. That’s not what women do, they go out in a very made-up way, they feel like they need to buy a brand new outfit, like they need to put on this mask. There are certain humans who can’t even go to the shop in their natural form. So for me, it’s all about self love, but at the same time I’m a practical person which is why I think I get on with young people, who often feel like they’re being mollycoddled. People like Greta Thunberg demonstrate that young people can handle being told what’s going on, and actually we’re much better at coping with trauma and issues in society at a young age than waiting until we’re fully formed and then being bombarded with the reality of life. So that’s why I thought this is a great book. I think Lupita is a great author.

Your next pick of fashion books for kids is Nevertheless She Wore It: 50 Iconic Fashion Moments by Ann Shen. It seems aimed at readers in their early teens, and about inspiring them to make their own fashion statements.

I think this is a great book because, again, it goes back to this topic of self love. We live in a very homogenous society. I can put a million pounds on the fact that most people will be wearing Nike or Adidas walking down the street. That’s not by accident, that’s because of social engineering and marketing. We want to be seen wearing certain things that everyone else is wearing. But I always like to remind people that every single human being has a fingerprint, it doesn’t matter how many billion people are on the Earth, every single one of us has our own fingerprint. That is evidence that we’re all individuals. Nevertheless She Wore It is a great book. Maybe it doesn’t go into detail about things like modesty, but the key message of being yourself is really important.

Your final pick of best fashion books for kids is a picture book, Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley.

Mary Edwards Walker was a real person, she was a doctor in the USA in the 19th century. She was arrested just for wearing trousers.

It’s a really interesting life story and it touches on the theme that what we wear can be a cultural and political tool for change, and it’s about daring to have ideas.

We don’t really teach and update history properly, but I think it’s important for young people to understand that the things they take for granted had to be fought for, someone else came before them and paved the way. Living in a segmented society, we put a lot of emphasis on young people without understanding that one of the greatest problems we have today is that often the young people don’t have enough respect for the people that came before them, because they haven’t been taught about it properly. And that relates to other areas, and how young people interact with teachers and adults.

Do you want to talk a bit about why you wrote How to Get Into Fashion?

I work in in the fashion industry and was approached by many people who had a lot of questions and who were not sure about the correct direction to take. So the book came from a need for advice. The main reason behind it was, of course, to prevent exploitation and to ensure that people had a bit of a framework and roadmap because our industry doesn’t have that.

The book discusses practical matters such as building a portfolio, but I was struck by how much of the advice about the fashion industry is transferrable: identifying your goals, dealing with rejection and looking after your health.

When you work in an industry such as the arts, fashion, film or television, you’re in a situation where you’re open to public judgement. So for example, I was in a movie called Star Wars. Some people might look at that and say “well, you weren’t a main character, so therefore you’re not successful”. However, because I had already set my own definition of success, just being on the set to me meant that I reached my personal goal. And if you don’t define your own goals and what success means to you, then you leave yourself open for the rest of the world to interpret what success is. And if you’re in that situation, even when you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career you might still feel like you haven’t achieved enough. So defining success is extremely important. Identifying what your goals are, and setting goals in a chronological order if possible, no matter how crazy they are. I always recommend writing them down and having something that you work towards. Even if you achieve 75% you’ve still achieved a huge amount.

I think it’s really important as well to identify what are the roadblocks and hurdles which you may come across. I define hurdles as things that you can get around or get over. And roadblocks are things that you can’t change about yourself. So let’s say you have special abilities, which I like to call it but the rest of the world likes to call it disability, you can’t change that. I was working in fashion, film and television media, and where I was – which was in Edinburgh in Scotland – I found I could get more opportunities if I moved outside of Edinburgh. So I worked in London, I worked in different parts of the world where they were more receptive to my look and to me as a model. So for me location was a hurdle which I could get around.

It’s very important to identify your core beliefs as well. For example, you go into an industry and you know what things you’re not willing to compromise on, but you can compromise on other things. Let’s say you’re from a religious background, and you don’t go out to clubs, or you don’t drink alcohol or anything like that, that’s your core beliefs, right? But that might not mean that you couldn’t go into an institution that had a bar, for example. I identified what my core beliefs were at the start of my journey, so it was easy for me to understand how that might potentially affect the course of my career. Or let’s say you’re a makeup artist and you are a vegan, then you know that there are certain companies, products and brands that you can’t work for, that might affect the route that you take, maybe you’re going to invent your own range of vegan brushes, etc. It’s much better if you know what your core beliefs are at the beginning of your career. As a model, if you’ve never thought about what happens if you’re asked to do partially nude or nude or whatever it is, and then you find yourself in that situation, that could be detrimental to you, to your growth, and even to the client you’re working for. Whereas if, for example, going into it you say “I don’t do underwear”, then it means that you know how to focus yourself and position yourself, and your agent and other people know that that’s not what you do.

I did a whole chapter on dealing with rejection, because it’s one of those things that nobody talks about in our industry. There’s not a huge focus on mental health, and the arts is an industry where there’s always pressure on your mental health. Not only are you often self employed or running your own business, so you’re not having sick leave, you’re not having all the normal things that an employed person has. On top of that you’re going for opportunities which you might not get. So it’s really important to be prepared for that in advance and to be happy with yourself and have other options, plans B, C and D for what you’re going to do if that doesn’t work out. But at the same time the mentality has to be right, so when you’re going into a casting or interview, do play your favourite music, do have your favourite food as much as you can, anything you can do to lift your spirits.

You also wrote about maintaining a good attitude and using your success to motivate others. Do you want to talk briefly about your charity work?

I’ve always been passionate about social justice and equality, those are really important things to me. So I work with a variety of different charities in different positions, usually as patron. They include Adopt an Intern, which is all about getting women who’ve had a career break back into work, also Best Beginnings which looks after infants in difficult situations, as well as CHAS (Children’s Hospice Association Scotland), which looks after terminally ill children, and The Well Foundation, which provides clean drinking water. I am Global Ambassador for Graduate Fashion Week, which is a charity dedicated to supporting graduates within the textile industry to be able to realise new innovations such as sustainable clothing and bring that to market, as well as St Columba’s Hospice, and I also work with Crisis UK. So there are quite a lot of different organisations that I represent and work with. For a long time I worked with Climate Revolution, which is by Vivienne Westwood. I was also working with Fuel Poverty Action to support older people who couldn’t afford to use their heating. I’ve had exhibitions to raise funds for a variety of different charities including Pancreatic Cancer UK, an exhibition with my art gallery at Schroders investment bank.

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I do think it’s really important to use your position to encourage and support charities. Obviously you don’t do charity to receive anything, but at the same time we’re living in a world where young people go on TikTok, they go on Instagram and they see people who are narcissists who do focus only on themselves and they see that that does give success, and that does give significant wealth. So we do need to work out a way as adults where we are championing and – in cases where it’s necessary – compensating those in our community who help other people, because a lot of the time people who are doing that are sacrificing a lot. They’re sacrificing their mental health, their physical health, their financial health when they don’t have a lot, and I think that is a shame.

A lot of your work focuses on young people, doesn’t it? And you do design workshops.

I was running a series over a five year period called Next Generation Regeneration. As part of that, I worked with a variety of different youth groups and young people. Sometimes I mentor them personally, and I run youth groups as well. The work that I do with the V&A is specifically on fashion, textile sustainability. I love doing that. I find that for a lot of young people it really does shape the course of their life because they now realise that they can do what they want to do, and they can still encompass their conscious beliefs. I think sometimes in our education system we tend to focus on really specific disciplines but we’re not learning enough about society and where it is today. But young people are conscious of it, and that’s why you have people like Greta who seem like they are overwhelmed by their passion, but they’re not, they’re actually greatly frustrated by the lack of opportunity for adults and people in positions of power to respond. We have all this technology which we’re constantly updating, but the core things that really make a difference in our lives are not upgraded. There is an argument in the USA about banning critical race theory in school because of the fear that that could cause upset to Caucasian people. But it doesn’t work to write things out of history. What happens is we create a really fragmented society where there’s no trust between generations, whereas we should be trying to encourage a more cohesive and aligned society that goes across religion, ethnicity and gender as well as age. I personally think that the society we live in today segments us into different categories and cultural values. In the West it’s quite normal to be separated along age, whereas where my mum’s from, in West Africa, that’s abnormal. It’s normal to be mixing with all different ages of people and to have your parents living at home until their end of days.

Is there anything you would like to say in conclusion about the books?

Not about these books in particular, but I’m really an egalitarian and I think that there should be more emphasis on fashion for women who want to dress modestly for religious or other reasons. And often when people talk, they are not really aware of the issues that I face as a dark skinned Black woman and the complexities of what I and others have to negotiate on a day to day basis, including traumatic things which are often centred around hair and colourism and skin tone. For example, when you take something that’s a five thousand year old African female tradition of braiding and you reduce it to fashion, that has real life consequences for Black women. Therefore, with feminism for example, you need to look at the intersectionality of race within it. If you go back to suffragism the history books don’t record those Black women who fought for freedom. They record the Black men like Frederick Douglass but they don’t record the Black women. That’s why it’s brilliant now because we have so many more writers to help us to understand these multifaceted issues, and that includes writers of books for children, and it includes books that relate to how we see ourselves and our standards of beauty and fashion.

Interview by Tuva Kahrs

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Eunice Olumide

Eunice Olumide

Eunice Olumide is an international supermodel, broadcaster and curator. She has been awarded an MBE for her contribution to arts, broadcasting and charity work. Much of her time is spent fundraising for charities including Children’s Hospice Association Scotland, The Well Foundation and St Columba’s Hospice. She has contributed to the Loud Black Girls anthology.

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Eunice Olumide

Eunice Olumide

Eunice Olumide is an international supermodel, broadcaster and curator. She has been awarded an MBE for her contribution to arts, broadcasting and charity work. Much of her time is spent fundraising for charities including Children’s Hospice Association Scotland, The Well Foundation and St Columba’s Hospice. She has contributed to the Loud Black Girls anthology.