Mpona Lebajoa joins the FMA Media team! She is a talented PR & Social Media Manager, and a part of the FMA Members. Take a look at Mpona’s perspective on the industry.
Let’s talk about the beginning of your career. How did you get started in fashion and what first ignited your passion?
So, I first started in fashion in 2013 interning at Africa Fashion Week London. I used to go to shoots with my little sister who did some modelling and had always been enticed by the glitz and glamour side of fashion that you see on TV but I quickly learned that it was hard work. Nonetheless, I fell in love with the industry. I then moved on to intern for FAB Magazine, a proudly African fashion glossy magazine, as a fashion writer, then fell into PR as the owners of the magazine founded a PR company. The rest is history.
Who inspired you when you started out in the industry and how did you open the door to get in?
I was inspired by Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo, co-founder of FAB Magazine and S TWO PR. She’s this incredible writer and fashionista who pretty much created opportunities for herself because the industry was so closed off to her. She wasn’t mainstream enough but also wasn’t indie enough, so her best option was to create her own platform, and she worked with other like-minded creatives, many of whom shared the story of being shut out. She’s a powerhouse that’s never stuck to one thing, which is cool, and so millennial of her despite the fact that she’s a Gen-X. From her I learnt to keep manoeuvring the industry, trying out styling, production, being a booker and more, I learnt that I could be a jack of all trades, and ultimately it’s worked out very well for me in the industry.
What has been your best learning experience to date working within the industry?
My best learning experience in the industry by far has to be with B2B Media. Barbara doesn’t play games – in the best way possible. From the moment I joined the agency, I was thrown into the deep end, getting real hands-on experience, quickly learning from my mistakes, while being pushed to always want to do more and be better. B2B Media was a great place to really get my foot in the door. Not only was I surrounded by women that looked like me (unheard of normally, especially in PR), we existed in this world where we were the anomalies yet still took up space in all the right ways.
If you could go back in time, and give some advice to your younger professional self, what would it be?
If I could go back in time and give myself advice it would probably be to know my worth and never settle for less. But to be honest, I’d probably still give that advice to myself now.
Do you have any funny anecdotes you would like to share with us?
I don’t have funny anecdotes per se. I’ve had many great memories however with my colleagues, from having twerk off on a particularly long day to considering traipsing the streets of SoHo, NYC to find my boss a burkha to cover up her allergic reaction – everyday throws something different at you, and you always have to find the funny.
What would you say were your “milestone moments” so far?
My “milestone moments” would be my three promotions at B2B Media in less than two years. I always strive to do better and be a sponge so having my efforts validated and be seen has been awesome. Also getting to live my NYC fashion fantasy, again through B2B Media has been amazing.
What has driven your success?
My success has been driven by my upbringing I guess. We’ve always been taught to strive for more and own our amazingness at whatever it is we do. Also, being able to really tap into my creative side and do what I love is of course the best way to keep success at the forefront, as it comes naturally and doesn’t;t necessarily feel like work.
Why is intersectionality important for the future of the fashion industry e.g. ethics, sustainability, intersectional feminism?
Intersectionality in the industry is super important because quite frankly one cannot continue to exist without the other. We need intersectionality to be at the core of the industry not only for longevity and inclusivity but for the environment too. The industry happily benefits from the labour of black and brown people globally, yet they remain the most underrepresented group of people throughout the industry. Ethically, when looking at fashion some of the poorest countries in the world are at the core of the industry and yet still remain at the bottom of the barrel, and this without a doubt affects POC.
Speaking of challenges and change, what would you say were the main hurdles that you had to overcome working within an industry which is predominantly homogenous and how would you like to see the industry evolve?
My main hurdles to date would be the feeling of constantly having to prove myself and oversell myself in comparison to my peers. I saw this really come through when I came from travelling, trying to get back in the game, only to have almost everything on my CV questioned three times over. And the knowledge that I was getting the extra scrutiny because I was black didn’t go unnoticed, but nonetheless, I kept plugging on, until I found my next gig, still in PR but a real demotion. The bills sadly don’t pay themselves so I had to take what I could.
Do you have any hints or tips you can share for young people within the Black and minority community wishing to work in the industry?
Always put your best foot forward. It’s okay to not know everything, so be willing to learn and listen. And on that note, don’t take things too personally – fashion can be intense sometimes, so develop a thick skin, but still be you. Most of all, enjoy the ride, fashion is a business but it can still be fun, so don’t forget to enjoy the late nights in the office (pizza and wine always make this way more fun), the fashion week parties and VIP interactions.
What are you hoping the Fashion Minority Alliance will achieve?
I hope that FMA will open the industry up to accepting their role in how POC have been treated in the industry, but more importantly, I hope that we can change people’s opinions, open more doors and make it the norm for black and brown faces to be seen and heard.