During Fashion Week, street-style stars often “peacock,” the practice of wearing eye-catching ensembles to capture the attention of photographers. But stylist and activist Shayla Hill didn’t get dressed just to get her pic taken. Instead, her outfits amplified powerful political statements.
Hill started a very stylish demonstration known as Slay for a Change, for which she gathered her sister, April Joi, and her friends Kaye Washington and Labrea Gordon. The group went to shows at New York Fashion Week clad in matching looks that all had a message — one meant to raise awareness about the police brutality and injustice that people of color in this country face at the hands of the very agency sworn to protect them.
“Vogue doesn’t care about Ebony issues,” the back of a sparkly pink jacket cheekily read. “Racism is out of style,” a denim jacket proclaimed. “Zac Posen hearts black lives” was spray-painted onto a small black purse for some added flair. Hill and her cohorts are hoping to help spark a change, not only in the fashion industry, which still struggles with runway diversity as it continues to borrow, get inspired by, and appropriate other cultures, but also the world.
Here, Hill tells Yahoo Style what Slay for a Change is all about and what she hopes to accomplish with the initiative.
Yahoo Style: What gave you the idea to do this at New York Fashion Week?
Shayla Hill: The idea first began with the death of Sandra Bland. It was July of last year that she died and I felt really connected with the circumstance surrounding that story. She and I graduated from the same college around the same time. I knew that I was planning on going to Fashion Week and thought it would be great to make a bold statement that showed my solidarity. I ended up talking myself out of doing it last year. But when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile happened, I decided to move through my fear.
I wanted to use NYFW as my platform because I feel it’s a world that’s very silent about black issues.
I hear this is part of a documentary you’re filming. Tell us a bit about that?
My sister, April Joi — who also is the director — and I are producing a documentary entitled Fashion Weak. It’s a film that will bring racism and fashion to the forefront. It will discuss the lack of diversity, cultural appropriation, and the silence surrounding black issues. It shares my perspective on what it’s like to be a black woman that loves the artistry of fashion. Also, it will show our journey through Fashion Week.
How did people react in person when they saw your outfits?
I think when they saw us initially, they just thought we were four coordinated black women. Until we turned around! We had one guy shout out “All lives matter” and some rude stares, but for the most part it was all positive. I was happy to make those who were uncomfortable feel uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me to keep sweeping this unresolved issues under the rug.
How did they react on the Internet?
I accidentally bumped into my style icon and hero June Ambrose outside of the Zac Posen Show. The following day she posted a picture that caused a frenzy. I feel so overwhelmed from the love and messages I have received. So far, the reactions have been amazing.
Which shows and/or events did you attend in the outfits?
We never intended to actually attend any shows — only to stand on the outside of the events with hopes of capturing the attention of the media that’s always camped outside. The first day, we went to Skylight at Moynihan Station looking for the Prabal Gurung Show. But we later discovered we were in the wrong venue. The second day, we went to the location of the Jeremy Scott show. Later that night, we went to the location of the Zac Posen show. We were actually so caught up in the magic that is June Ambrose that we didn’t make it to the venue of the show.
I see you also took some time in the protest to show love to Zac Posen, who strongly champions diversity on his runway. Why was it important for you to give him a shout-out, and who are the designers you think are doing a good job with runway diversity?
I specifically remember feeling really frustrated and hurt by the silence from the fashion world after the death of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I love fashion with all of my heart. I’d like to consider myself a part of the community of fashion. And during that time, I felt my issues were neglected.
When I saw that Zac Posen posted about the issues, it really touched my heart. Marc Jacobs and Mara Hoffman also spoke up. Additionally, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Tracy Reese, Christian Siriano, and Kanye West are doing an amazing job with diversity on the runway.
What has been the highlight of this demonstration for you?
The highlight of the demonstration was meeting this little girl named Skai outside of the Jeremy Scott Show — her mother’s Instagram is @mommyinspires — and she came and took a picture with the four of us. That was a highlight because I feel like I’m doing this for her.
Fashion has a long way to go, but we’ve definitely been seeing a bit more diversity — in a number of ways — during NYFW. New York also tends to be the most diverse city in terms of runway representation. Why do you think that is?
I feel that New York is very diverse in comparison to the Paris runways. But I feel like a bit more diverse is just not good enough.
Diversity is even worse in other Fashion Week cities — any plans to take Slay for a Change to Milan, London, or Paris?
I want to make this movement global. I also hope other women feel motivated and start their own movement! From that movement, hopefully comes another, and so on.
What do you think it will take for fashion to get to a point where it is as diverse as the cultures it draws inspiration from?
I speak a lot about this in the documentary. I think people have to continue calling them out unapologetically. I always I love the artistry of fashion and not the industry. I also feel like some of our major African-American stars have to begin redefining their roles in the fashion. And say I don’t want to sit front row at your show if you’re not going to be front row to the issues of my community.
We noticed the the 9/11 jacket. Why was it important to you to mention 9/11 and the victims of police brutality in the same breath?
It was important for me to mention both because they both affected me deeply. When 9/11 happened, I mourned with the rest of the country. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news of 9/11. I also remember exactly where I was when I heard about Trayvon Martin.
I remember crying my eyes out and feeling sick to my stomach. That feeling has happened over and over again. So, I will never forget all the names listed on my jackets along with the names that couldn’t fit on it.
What do you hope to achieve in the end?
I want to challenge the fashion world for a change! I feel like though fashion is all about forward thinking and setting trends, the way they treat people of color is very old-fashioned and so last century. I have always said that fashion is my voice. I hope to achieve a message of enlightenment and awareness through my garments. I want to show the world a strong, positive image of four black women who are brave and ready for a change.