In early 2017, digital entertainment company Kyra TV launched PAQ — a weekly, challenge-led YouTube show hosted by Dexter Black, Danny Lomas, Shaquille-Aaron Keith and Elias Riadi. Affectionately dubbed Top Gear for fashion, PAQ lifted the lid on the exclusive world of streetwear and framed fashion as an accessible means of experimentation and self-expression. Quickly attracting a loyal audience, the show propelled the boys to the forefront of London’s creative industries, providing them each with a platform to accentuate their own individual styles and identities, and ultimately make their mark by simply being themselves.
It seemed like the dream opportunity for anyone breaking into the entertainment world in their early 20s, and while PAQ was an undeniably progressive and successful venture — both for breaking down lofty ideals around fashion, and demonstrating that online shows could be just as impactful, professional and profitable as more traditional media outlets — this year we saw the cracks beneath it’s glossy surface. In the midst of both the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the financial strain of the pandemic on creative industries, companies from independent labels to global corporations have increasingly been held accountable for working environments that aren’t reflective of the values they claim to hold. Amongst those called out was Kyra, and as internal frustrations came to light, the PAQ boys decided to cancel the show that had been their life for the past three years.
Now moving into the next phase of his career, Watford-raised Elias Riadi is ready to introduce himself on his own terms. From months of self-reflection about his identity and Moroccan heritage, to presenting for the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and preparing to drop his first fashion label, the 23-year-old has spent the past few months figuring out what those next steps will hold. Preparing to show us everything he’s been working on and all that he is, he reflects on finding self-confidence, experimenting with creative freedom, and the lasting impact he wants to have.
Pre-order the new issue below…
Looking back, has style always been important to who you are?
I didn’t know necessarily that I wanted to be involved with fashion when I was younger, but I did love clothes in general. I think it started when I was in primary school when the school discos came around. I was like ‘Oh my god, this is my time to shine!’ Getting ready to buss it down on the year six dance floor.
What were you like in school?
I’d always question a lot of things. Even though you’d obviously go to school to learn and what the teacher says is supposed to be right and you’re supposed to take everything at face value, I was always very inquisitive to the point that I’d actually end up in debates with my teacher. And I think I was lucky with my social bubble in school. I still have quite a few of my friends, even from primary school to secondary school. We’ve all stuck together. It was really nice because we were a mixed group, all different backgrounds and genders and everything. So we were always championing each other’s own independence because we all had something different to bring to the table.
Growing up just outside of London, were you involved with the creative industries from a young age?
I started musical theatre when I was really young. With that there was people from all parts of the UK, so I travelled to different places and into London where I also met one of my best friends, Connie Constance. She’s a musician, also from Watford. Because she was a bit older than me she was venturing into London, and she was getting into modelling and this and that and I feel like I was always very inspired by that. So when I was like 15 I started jumping on the train and venturing out into London, and just trying to be about and experience things.
From there, what was the process and inspiration for starting PAQ?
Kyra were reaching out to young people asking them what they’d want to see on TV. All of us guys were like, ‘Well obviously fashion, like come on…’ There’s such a mad, massive community and culture around it but there’s nothing really in the entertainment sphere when it comes to it. I was a massive fan growing up watching things like The Gadget Show or Top Gear and I always wanted to be one of them guys having fun and just testing out things and doing cool shit. Fashion is a very powerful industry with so many people that adore it, love it or are into it, and also a lot of people that are scared to get into it. It is a very intimidating world. We just wanted to strip [it] back, like ‘You know what, at the end of the day, it’s clothes…’ Of course there’s an art to it and it is super important in a way, but at the end of the day it’s threads. Why do we take it to the point where it’s so judgemental and serious? We just wanted to create something that was completely different and that allowed anybody to be able to enjoy it.
It’s just entertaining.
Exactly, the main core thing was getting something that was entertaining, which was great because then we had so many different people from all different walks of life that ended up loving the show. The maddest thing was when I had some mums come up to me and be like ‘I watched the show with my kids!’
Was it surreal getting that recognition?
Yeah, it was super overwhelming. When the show first came out and bit by bit we started seeing the numbers rise and rise and rise, I was at home looking at these numbers and thinking ‘Oh wow, that’s quite a lot of people…’ You see numbers on the screen and you can’t relate that to humans because you haven’t met them yet. So moments when people would come up to us at events, actually seeing people there that supported the show, was the most overwhelming feeling.
Do you think having a platform has changed you in any way, positively or negatively?
Having your voice heard, I’m so grateful to have that. It’s super important to be able to be who you are and people love you for that. Before the show came out, even the early stages, I was quite nervous about how I was going to be received and how people were going to judge me or think about me. But I feel like actually getting recognised and people loving me being unapologetically myself gave me a different level of reassurance and confidence.
This year companies have come under a lot of scrutiny online, and a collection of people stepped forward about their negative experiences working for Kyra. How do you think we can improve the systems in place to make sure companies are more accountable?
Brands actually being more transparent and acting on their values is something that is super important. Accountability is a continuous process as well. With algorithms and data-heavy monetary platforms, they can blind a lot of things because people become so fixated on computer-generated results or the numbers and the money. When you start focusing on that side of things, you start dehumanising the people that are working there or the people that are in front of the camera. You’re judging everything purely from a computer rather than actual human emotion, which is when things become super complicated because you care about the numbers and that’s it. But you’ve got to realise, for the numbers to work, you’ve got to have the humans in front of that. Companies get so blinded by that that they forget the heart and soul of what we’re doing stuff for. At the end of the day, business is business and you’ve got to make money to get a certain amount of numbers, of course. But you can’t let that be the deciding factor of everything you’re doing, because then you’re going to implode yourself.
So you guys made the decision to stop the show?
Yeah, so we decided to cancel the show. To be honest with you, that decision was one of the hardest, long battles I think all of us experienced. It was weird, it was like a toxic relationship where you loved something so much but you also started loathing it so much. It was complicated because it was so hard to pull away, but at the same time you have to. When you try to make so much change and when you try to have patience, to know that things are never going to change overnight and things are never going to be perfect, you wait on that and you hope to continually progress it and allow for that change. But when you repeat yourself a million times or when you hope so much, there’s [only] so much you can do where you start going round a merry-go-round. And then you realise, actually, I don’t think there’s going to be any change. I’ve tried so hard and at the end of the day, unfortunately, we didn’t have the deciding decision to do certain things. So the only way we could pull away was to just cancel it. When you’ve created something that you love so much and then it starts turning into something that you’re no longer happy about or proud about, it’s soul-destroying, really. You care about it so much that seeing it move or be put out in a certain way affects you hugely, especially when you’ve got such a loyal audience that has been riding with you from day dot. You feel like you’re letting them down by not putting your best out or not being the best that you can be because of the situation that you’re in. We’d rather end it than to continue it and ruin that legacy we were creating and that amazing effect that we were having.
Now that you’re moving on, do you feel like this is a fresh start for you?
Yeah. It feels like I’ve got a complete brand new life. It’s the weirdest feeling ever. It feels like I’ve been birthed again, which is so mad! If anything, it’s super exciting because the best thing about it is that now I get to just do me, and I think that’s so important. I’m super excited because I get to truly show the world who I am as well. Even though I’m myself on PAQ, I’m also playing myself, if that makes sense. It’s an entertainment show. I’m not saying I’m acting differently, but I’m acting a version of myself for the show because it’s formatted in a certain way.
You needed to have your different identities for it to really work.
Exactly. So what I’m working on at the moment is I’ve been designing my own label, which is super exciting. I actually first came up with it three years ago, near the start of the show, which is crazy! But obviously when I was working so much on that it was a very slow process. Now I’m having so much more time, it’s so nice to fully bring it to life. It represents me in every single way because it speaks on history, it speaks on the future, it speaks on fashion but also my love of film as well. I’m a big film fanatic and I’m also going to be debuting my first directing debut with my short film that accompanies the release. It’s the first time that I’ve been able to do everything myself, which is very overwhelming because it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s amazing because I get to decide everything. I’ve got this world that’s always been in my head, but I’ve never been able to really show that to the world.
I saw your posts on Instagram about how you’ve also been looking into your heritage over lockdown. Has it been a time of self-reflection for you?
100%. It’s been so weird. From going to not having any time to yourself for so long to having infinite amount of time by yourself… It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced. It was amazing because it allowed me to look into myself deeper than I could’ve ever gone and I’ve ever gone before, so it’s been a super transformative process in every single way. One of the biggest things was learning more about myself and my family and my history. Obviously I’m half Moroccan, half Greek-Cypriot, but especially when it comes to Morocco, I had never really delved into the history of who my family are and where we come from. My dad always told me that we were Berber, but I never really looked deep into that. I felt that, especially when I was younger, was a thing that made me stand out so I kind of would shy away from that side and try to fit in more. So now, being super proud of who I am, I’ve been able to delve so much deeper […] So for me it felt like a mad purposeful thing, thinking ‘Wow, this is incredible. This is something that is super important to me and is who I am.’ I can’t wait to share that history to the world in everything that I do and represent. It’s stories that need to be told.
How do you think the industry can shift more towards positive cultural exchange?
I think education — but not systematic education because they so obviously don’t want to provide the resources that benefit everyone. I think self-education can be very good and something that we all have to do, but it’s easy to only look into what you agree with or what benefits you. The most important thing is actually that true education comes from conversation from all different types of people, and life in general and experiences. I think to learn and move forward as a human race, we need to make mistakes. Unfortunately, through social media the toxic state created by these mistakes with cancel culture [is] ruining the patience and compassion we desperately need to keep in consideration when we’re trying to help each other and move forward. I think certain people in certain companies need to be called out, but it’s about how we call out individuals and what actions we take to promote people bettering themselves, rather than just showing hostility and insult.
With your own work and presence, what impact do you want to have?
Now I finally feel like I really, truly have a purpose with my history and what I want to do with sharing that to the world. First of all, it is truly important to me to represent and empower where I come from and who I am. Also, being able to enjoy the entire process. I think that’s really important for me, because I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m doing something but my heart is not in it because there’s no meaning to it. I always knew that I’m going to do something great and do something fulfilling, but I think it’s so hard to know exactly what that is because you never do know… There are so many different things for me to fulfil within that, but because for three years I haven’t really had the time to work on anything truly for myself, now is the best time for me because all I’m doing is experimenting One important thing is I want to get the Tamazight language on Google Translate because it’s not on there, then also I want to get the Amazigh flag on the Apple emojis. But then in general, I’m excited for the future because I know that whatever it holds it’s going to be great and I’m just going to continue to grow within it. What I’m really excited about is the world seeing me for me. People are not going to expect what I’m about to do… Without saying too much, I genuinely feel like this is going to be a great run.