I hate attending fashion networking events. I also really hate being out on an overcast day in New York for any reason, but there I was on a cold Sunday afternoon pushing through anxiety and self-doubt to attend yet another networking event put on by yet another collective aimed at connecting Black people in fashion. I find this to be a very noble cause btw, but at some point you find yourself just going through the motions without much payoff. It’s like slipping back into sex with an ex. It may or may not get you somewhere, but you do it anyway, and kind of regret it afterwards. Am I the only one? Fine.
The venue was a small re-purposed studio space featuring all white walls and floors, with black folding chairs arranged for the “Influencer Speakers” to be seated in the front of the room, with an audience of hopefuls facing them. The small room was packed with faces of color, as to be expected. The tight squeeze was made worse by the makeshift bar at the entrance, featuring bodega champagne and cupcakes, and of course the on site photographer/photo booth. There was the usual sizing up, and judgement of style as we took our seats for the panel discussion.
You can count on at least two Kim K clones wearing athleisure, anchored with knock off Yeezy heels, wearing poorly installed wigs, with visible lace, and stale ends. There are the thrift store loyalists in their anachronistic finds, and ironically dirty sneakers. Then, there are those dressed de rigueur in head to toe designer, mostly Gucci. And there are always a few designers wearing pieces of their own creation. There is never a shortage of heavy contouring, or heavy pretense at these events.
Meanwhile, I stood out like a sore thumb in my cherry red coat, on such a grim day, in such a white room. I found my seat to take it all in, and began carefully eating a lemon flavored Lara bar, so that my red lipstick didn’t rub off. Internally, I was just hoping that the event would turn out to be worth having left the confines of my bed, and the safe humor of Grace and Frankie. I began to tune in and out of the discussion when one of the speakers uttered the phrase, “I broke the Internet with that pic.”
My love for fashion and entertainment media knows no bounds, yet I always dread attending these events, because I always feel out of place. Based on my very scientific (read: casual observations), when you step into these spaces (networking event, fashion show, industry party) there are three categories into which you may fall.
People who are really there to learn how to break into the industry, and network. The Wanna Be’s want to do something fashion or fashion adjacent, but they don’t know what that is short of having a huge Instagram following, and knowing famous people with whom to take photos and add to said Instagram page. After that, they’re clueless. Some of them have interned at, or currently work at important places, but now they need their next move.
The Currently Are’s
These are the people who have a huge social following, who have credentials, and get consistent work in the industry. I see at most of them at the same events, yet every time they see me, they pretend to have just met me for the first time. (I’ll name names in my memoir).
These people have paid their dues in the industry, and have made it by most standards. You see them at major events (that you were not invited to), they have bi lines in the major publications, they are one degree from Beyoncé, and they always have the latest and greatest in designer digs. I’ve been in the same room with a lot of these people. There have been many exchanges of pleasantries, and threats to do coffee, but this never happens. Some of them are terribly unpleasant, and some are surprisingly welcoming. (I’ll name names in my memoir).
And then there’s me. I guess I’m somewhere between group 1 and 2. Closer to 2, but with the desperation of group 1.
I used to be much more self-assured that I belonged in the room where it happens. I was okay not being a part of either of those groups, because I was a paid Writer, who’d been invited by publicists desperate for coverage of their event. I was able to carry myself with some legitimacy, so my only anxiety came from getting a good interview and making my deadline, which I found thrilling. Now I feel like an imposter telling people I’m a Writer when I haven’t had a paying writing job in over a year.
That’s not for lack of trying; however, there is just as much rejection in writing as there is in acting, or any other creative field for that matter. I’ve become all too familiar with the old adages about rejection like, “You’ll get a thousand no’s before you get one yes, and that yes could be the one to change your life.” We’ve all heard, read, or listened to some rendition of that sentiment ad nauseam, but it’s different when you’re living it.
I’ve learned in recent years to look at rejection like an old acquaintance that I am wont to run into here or there, but it hits a little harder when it’s your work that’s being rejected. Then there’s the matter of money as a means to define talent. Maybe I shouldn’t use numbers (money, followers, likes) to determine my worth as a writer, but when no one is picking up what I’m putting down, what else am I to think? And if I’m not a good writer, then what the hell am I good at? I was hoping that in some sort of plot twist, the more rejection emails I received, the easier it would get, but you see how that makes no sense, right?
So here I am in an existential crisis, looking for the next networking event. For another awkward experience in which I’ll feel out of place and impostor syndrome will abound. For more story ideas to submit to editors. Here I am fighting through the sting of no’s in hopes of the soothing validation of a yes. But I can’t help but wonder, how do you know when it’s time to give up, and when it’s time to work harder?