Episode 4: Zinnia Kumar
Our fourth guest is Zinnia Kumar, who is the very definition of an indefatigable multi-hyphenate. A published scientist, accredited ecologist, activist, writer and model, she is simultaneously driving conversations around sustainability and authentic representation forward in her fields.
Her work has focused on the damaging effects of colorism within the fashion industry, and she is particularly outspoken about decolonizing global beauty ideals – especially for models of South Asian descent. Her aim has always been to be an ally to all underrepresented minorities working in these arenas, and to this end, she now heads a brand and talent agency that cultivates culturally defining content.
Listen in as she talks to NET-A-PORTER’s fashion director Kay Barron about shame, overcoming the stigma of where she came from, and why she’s now not afraid to stand up and be counted…
Read highlights from Zinnia Kumar’s episode below…
“What we try to do [with my talent agency] is create this ecosystem where, through visibility, we can kind of create community, identity, connection and belonging.”
“Because of my background, and where I’d come from, I kind of developed this level of resilience. I would always keep this really optimistic perspective, even when everything was going to absolute trash.”
“I don’t know if it’s responsibility or something, but I just really, really want to change the whole system for everyone else, so that everyone can get access and… feel like they can walk into a room and get what they deserve – without having all these barriers put on them.”
“A lot of people are used to being told, ‘You’re not very good, you’re not going to amount to very much’, and sometimes all you need is that tiny little bit of encouragement to just push a little harder and go a little further.”
“My rule is that there are no rules, right? So anything and everything is possible.”
Episode 3: Katy Hessel
For our third episode, we are joined by art historian, curator, writer and broadcaster Katy Hessel, who has made it her mission to reinsert female artists into the canon of history. That’s no mean feat: of 2,300 works in the permanent collection of the National Gallery in London, for example, only 21 pieces are by women – and these stark statistics are repeated in galleries the world over. Enter powerhouse Hessel, whose recent book, The Story of Art Without Men, is just part of her passionate campaign to paint an alternative picture of art history.
Hessel also hosts her own podcast, The Great Women Artists, which has featured talents such as Marina Abramović and Turner Prize-winner Lubaina Himid. Her commitment to telling the story of art through the lens of women – long sidelined and ignored in the industry – is as joyful and enlightening as it is perspective-shifting.
Listen in as she talks to NET-A-PORTER’s content director Alice Casely-Hayford about art as activism, the vital role of representation, and the history of the art world as you’ve never heard it before.
Read highlights from Katy Hessel’s episode below…
“A lot of the time, rule breaking is actually taking something that is broken and putting it right… The people who have been in charge have been breaking the rules for so long, and now we’ve got our power back… and it’s time to say, ‘Actually, let’s put things right.’”
“We learned about all these artists who basically use art as a form of activism. And it suddenly opened up my brain to this world that art could be something else… something about history that can be used as a force for change.”
“The fact that just 1 percent of the [National Gallery’s artist] collection is female – it’s insane. What does that tell us about the way the nation feels about us; the way that art history feels about us? It’s really not OK.”
“I think it’s about making sure that the collections that are building at the moment are also 50/50… and that all different genders are represented as well, and their stories are told.”
Episode 2: Grace Ling
Our second episode stars fashion designer Grace Ling, who is one of a new breed of designers putting technology at the core of their creative process – with startling, stunning results. Her unique aesthetic found an early champion in Jennifer Lopez, who not only wore one of Ling’s creations for a shoot in the New York Times, but then asked for a custom design to be made for an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
While Ling’s collections are a refreshing, unexpected take on intelligent femininity and eccentric elegance, what makes the designer’s nascent brand really stand out is her singular desire to make it truly sustainable. By melding fashion with technology – specifically, a combination of 3D tech and computer-generated imagery (CGI) – The New York-based, Singaporean creative is able to determine the exact amount of materials needed for her pieces, meaning sustainability is neither an afterthought nor a box-ticking exercise, but an intrinsic part of her design process.
As the brand joins NET-A-PORTER’s Vanguard program, which fosters and champions emerging design talent, Ling talks to fashion director Kay Barron about the unexpected joy of clothes as conversation-starters, what sexy means to her, and reveals her ultimate rule-breaker.
Read highlights from Grace Ling’s episode below…
“Sexy, to me, is a form of empowerment… When someone wears the clothing, they’re sexy for themselves and not for someone else.”
“When I’m carrying one of these bags, I walked through Soho and literally nine out of 10 people were asking me about the bag. And I think it’s just nice to laugh about it… I wanted to create these accessories as a conversation-starter. I just liked the idea of an accessory bringing joy to someone.”
“I think a lot about how the body is being portrayed – where I want to put the cutouts, the silhouette, the shoulders… The clothes are meant for you to feel sexy for yourself… and you’re charismatic and you’re empowered. And, you know, you’re a strong, modern woman.”
“When someone presents me with a set of rules, literally my first thought is ‘How do I break it?’”
Episode 1: Self Esteem
Kicking off our fifth season of the Incredible Women podcast is musician Self Esteem, aka Rebecca Lucy Taylor, whose star has steadily been on the rise since she left indie-folk duo Slow Club in 2017 to embark on a solo career. Her debut album, Compliments Please, established the artist as an exciting emerging talent, while her second, Prioritise Pleasure (the title of which is a rallying cry against a society that has made women believe they need to put the needs of others before their own) has been nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize, thereby recognizing it as one of the best British and Irish albums of the year.
Self Esteem may pen catchy, anthemic pop melodies, but hers isn’t music crafted for the sole purpose of chart domination – instead, it’s paired with unwaveringly relatable lyrics that tackle sexuality, relationships, toxic masculinity and millennial womanhood. It’s this candid approach that has singled her out as one to watch.
Listen in as the artist talks to NET-A-PORTER content director Alice Casely-Hayford about making her mark as a creative, and why she feels her future is truly limitless.
Read highlights from Self Esteem’s podcast episode below…
“Being able to validate myself, look after myself and love myself has changed my life.”
“Mass shame is a waste of time. I’m highlighting the things that I’m insecure about to save myself from the terror of it.”
“You know, I'm just knackered. I’m sick of pleasing everyone else. I’m sick of not being myself in order to make everyone else comfortable… But it has moulded the way I am and the way I behave and the things I need and all that.”
“I have tried to live by the rule of, like, ‘Be sweet and nice and seen and not heard.’ You know? In my twenties I was really, like, ‘Can somebody go out with me? Anyone?’ So a rule that I quit doing is trying to be what I thought – certainly what I thought men want girls to be like in terms of dating; I stopped doing that.”
“I’ve got this obsession with wanting to be alive for myself.”
The Rule Breakers
Hosted by NET-A-PORTER’s content director Alice Casely-Hayford and fashion director Kay Barron, we will hear from the likes of actor, singer and TV personality Keke Palmer, singer-songwriter Self Esteem, designer Grace Ling, model Zinnia Kumar, and art curator Katy Hessel. Listen in as they share their greatest inspirations and influences, the defining moments of their careers so far, and the radical ways in which they are tearing up the rule book.
Episodes of Incredible Women: The Rule Breakers will drop weekly from Tuesday, September 13.
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