We caught up with Izzy Whiteley, alumni of Graduate Fashion Week 2015, to hear about her new upcoming project, 'That's What She Said'. A platform focused on elevating the voices of young girls, it is an extension of Izzy's personal experiences.
After spending time at Pylot ('I learnt to break the rules') and beginning many passion projects, That's What She Said stood out as particularly poignant, and is set to rapidly expand with the help of agency Revolt. Read on to hear more about Izzy's experiences at Salford University, advice for succeeding at GFW18 and why she adamantly follows the mantra, “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men” by Fredrick Douglass.
Congratulations on winning the Fashion Styling and Creative Direction award at GFW15! How was the experience for you?
The experience was pretty incredible. I remember the excitement I felt of even being put forward by my tutors. I never expected to win. When the judges came round and we went though my work I had a gut feeling that they loved it but it’s also impossible to know what else they were seeing. My work was very personal and I was extremely passionate about what I was doing. I worked incredibly hard so to be rewarded for that was amazing. I’ve never been academic or had a stand out talent; school was very hard for me. I had been struggling with my own demons and self worth since my early teens so to have my parents there when my name was read out as the winner was and is still one of the best moments of my life.
You studied at Salford University- what was your favourite part of being a fashion student?
My favourite part was the self-exploration and expression. Our course was incredibly free and you were constantly pushed to put yourself into your work in an innovative way. They taught me that it isn’t about being ‘fashionable’ or creating pretty pictures it is about reflecting culture, people, society, and world issues. Starting from a point of wanting to be ‘fashionable’ will never work. “Fashion is like holding a mirror onto the world” is what one of my tutors always used to say. I think fashion image making and styling at Salford is one of the best fashion courses in Europe especially when it comes to producing students that will change the game and supersede the norm.
You’ve previously worked at Pylot! What did you learn whilst there?
At Pylot I learnt a lot about breaking the rules. One of my first shoots we were out in a small forgotten seaside town scouting the locals to model. It was incredible to see such creative freedom, as fashion magazines can often be painfully predictable. The magazine has a strict no airbrushing rule on every image in its magazine, including adverts. They were very free in what they did and all had a really similar ethos and goal.
You then went on to work on a creative project, ‘That’s what she said’. What inspired you to set up the feminist digital project?
At university I explored my experience as young girl. My imagery was based on certain ages and if I would go back, knowing what I know now, what would I say to that girl? How would I rewrite the story? As a young girl I covered up all the pain and confusion that surrounded me because it felt normal. I was never encouraged to question it. I looked around and often every other girl was just as messed up as I was. I started to read up a lot on feminism and philosophy that questioned our capitalist society. My feelings began to make sense and I started to realise that society can condition girls to blame themselves for the way they feel, almost like it is our fault we feel so inadequate. ‘Its just what girls do’ ‘Its just life as a girl’. We are so strongly informed of our imperfections it becomes ingrained in who we are. I don't feel that far away from the struggles I had as I young girl, so I feel I can still connect to these girls and have an insight into the way they are feeling. I feel they have a lot to say and that they are not being heard and society and businesses are taking advantage of them. I felt that I could represent them. That's What She Said is a window into girlhood. Unfiltered. Unedited. Upfront. It was started because when I allowed myself to question my surroundings, it changed my life and I want to give all girls the opportunity to do the same.
What has been your favourite memory or experience since graduating?
There have been lots of little ones; ones that have made me feel like I really have something I could make a career of. The one that has changed my life the most would be when a new agency called Revolt asked to take TWSS on as one of their first projects to grow. Revolt is an incredibly innovative and one of a kind agency that help projects like mine make the most effect and help very large successful brands start revolutions. We have been working together for a year now and are ready to relaunch TWSS in Jan 2018 with a new website, magazine and endless ideas. I actually had an incredible work call yesterday with a really influential and talented woman who is building a fashion-meets-change empire. She told me that I and two other girls, who I have always looked up too, are her ones to watch for the freshest young talent. That was a pretty amazing moment.
If you were to work alongside one brand or designer, who would it be and why?
I don’t actually know because there are so many I would love to work for but also so little that I think are positive and accessible for young girls. Who ever I work with would have to fit into TWSS’s ethos. I would like to do a TWSS range in collaboration with someone like ASOS. I know that’s not super cool and hip.
What was the most difficult part of your final year at university and how did you overcome it?
The most difficult part of Uni was how demanding the course was while I was struggling with quite severe mental health problems. In a way that’s what helped me overcome those issues though. My work and success was the most important thing in my third year. It was all I cared about and it almost felt like my ticket out of my then current hell. When something became more important to me than what had been occupying my mind since I could remember the whole dynamic in me shifted, all be in slowly. My work gave me worth beyond my appearance and sexuality. I was also very very hard on myself and very anxious about doing the photo shoots, like terrified. I have actually only really just totally overcome that fear of photography. My perfectionism is something I had to work through uni and afterwards. It really caused me a lot of pain.
What are your main influences in your work?
Young girls and experience of girlhood/society is really the only influence of my work. Photography wise a am inspired by documentary photographers like Dafy Hagai, Jamie Hawksworth, Nan Goldin and Ute Behrend.
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
I would like to be part of or leading a movement that gives youth a platform to change the narrative. I want TWSS to be revolutionising the way with teach young people to critically think and question society, and adults. I want to be facilitating a on going conversation of how we give young people the tools and education to counter the damage being done by old age stereotypes, oppression and the people that make money of their vulnerability. The quote I will always follow is “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men” Fredrick Douglass.
If you could give some advice to graduates showcasing at GFW18, what would it be?
If you have worked as hard as you can, which is personal to everyone, and you really believe in your work and its authenticity that is all you can do. Not everyone has to win to be successful, at all. Navigating your career and what you want in life is a long and unpredictable journey. Don’t think you have to have it all figured out now.
**I am currently looking for creative and passionate documentary photographers, based anywhere, to work with after we launch in January. A passion for youth culture and a fun/different style would be great. This is an opportunity for young photographers to get into press, our magazine and be part of a fast growing media platform.