Wonderland.

CHARLI HOWARD

The model talks about the advice she would give to emerging models and her love/hate relationship with social media…

Taken from the AW20 Issue of Rollacoaster. Order your copy now.

These days, a forward slash on a job title has the tendency to provoke a 360-degree eye roll. You know? Model/DJ. Writer/poet. Lawyer/tarot card enthusiast. Instagram has spurred on a wave of fickle influencer job fluidity, where nothing holds true, and “jack of all trades, master of none” is the resounding motto. But for Charli Howard, who, yes, maybe a model/author/beauty entrepreneur/podcast presenter/body positivity ambassador/outspoken modern-day riot grrrl, every single impressive forward slash on her resume is actually yet another fully-fledged ongoing accomplishment – each one subtly subverting our perceptions of what we see and believe, and spreading messages of empowerment.

First up, there’s the modelling; and her 2015 public denouncement of the industry’s normalised body-shaming after she was dropped from her model agency for being “too big”, at a size 2. Her incendiary Facebook open letter exposed the dark side of casting and sparked widespread conversation. Next up, her two widely-acclaimed published books about body positivity and self-acceptance (with another on the way, FYI), including a heartwarming fictional children’s book with – at its crux – a message teaching girls to dare to be different. Her gig as a host for BBC podcast Fashion Fix has seen her fervently scratch the heads of key fashion insiders on topics ranging on everything from sustainable streetwear to the pitfalls of fast fashion. And her beyond-irresistible Glossier-style beauty brand Squish, was founded last year to critical acclaim, all retro noughties aesthetics; think hydrogel eye masks shaped like delicious oversized cherries, and acne patches moonlighting as colourful flowers bedazzled with diamantés. It is 100% photoshop-free, with the brand’s models showcasing every skin tone, texture, body size, shape and gender (cellulite, acne and scars included). In this house, flaws are a cause for celebration, not concealment.

The London-hailed, New York-based master-of-all has made it her daily business (in seemingly effortless fashion) to spin an unfathomable number of plates, all while spitting truth and calling out trolls on social media with tongue-in-cheek fervour. This is a woman absolutely after our own hearts.

We caught up with Howard and talked about the advice she would give to emerging models, how her first cherry eye mask prototype resembled… something a little more phallic, and her love/hate relationship with social media…

CHARLIE Howard

All clothing & accessories by ONITSUKA TIGER

CHARLIE Howard
All clothing & accessories by ONITSUKA TIGER

Hi Charli, it’s been such a weird and uncertain time – how have you been doing?
Last year, I was always on the go. Sometimes I was travelling back and forth to New York twice a week because I live over there, and I was becoming so drained. I think there’s this culture where it feels like you have to do absolutely everything. Social media always makes you feel like you’ve got to compete, and it was quite nice slowing down and knowing that everyone else was in the same boat.

We have to talk about Squish, which you founded last year. How did the idea of such a feel-good brand first come to you?
I’ve wanted to set up my own brand for such a long time but thought you had to have Kylie Jenner-like money to do it. My first product idea was the cherry mask, because I love using hydrogel masks but I didn’t feel there was anything for my cheeks. So I was living with my business partner at the time in New York, and had the idea that it would be really nice to have something that’s really soft and cold on your cheeks, so I drew up the cherry on his face and that was our first product. It took us ages because it did look like a dick to begin with. I just wanted to make something that was a bit more for Gen Z, because I feel like Glossier have nailed that millennial branding. What’s really interesting about Gen Z is they have all these Finsta accounts; they’re a bit more open to making fun of themselves and not taking themselves too seriously.

The diversity, the marketing, the inclusive ethos, how it’s 100% photoshop free – was this always a main preoccupation when starting the brand?
A few years ago I set up a charity – and this was before people were doing the whole mixing models of various sizes together – called the All Woman Project, and I was like, ‘oh, OK, people actually want to see really diverse bodies.’ And then I was like, ‘why have we never seen real skin in beauty campaigns.’ Because if I wanted to buy an acne product, I want to see real skin. So [for Squish], we used twenty models, which was where the majority of my budget went. I think it’s really important that you see yourself represented, whether that’s through your skin or your body shape or your skin colour. People want to see themselves.

We’ve talked a little bit about the impact of social media – what would you say your own relationship to it is like?
It’s a love/hate relationship because, on one hand, I definitely think there’s pressure there, but on the other hand, I think we’re now in a really amazing position where we get to choose the media we see. Because when we were younger, the only media you would see would be advertisements on billboards or front covers of magazines. It was always the same skinny white woman. Whereas now on your phone you’ve got the ability to really curate your own feed. If you just want to follow fitspo people you can do that. If you want to follow super curvy women, you’ve got that. Certainly during Black Lives Matter, it really opened my eyes up to women who don’t look like me but have got an amazing voice, and these are all the people you should be looking at.

You’ve always been very vocal about everything in your life. Things as personal and vulnerable as eating disorders, and you’ve been in the press recently for clapping back at trolls shaming you for wearing a see-through top. Does it ever get exhausting being in the spotlight, or do you just think you’ve got a responsibility to change and flip the rhetoric and help the next person?
First of all, I didn’t think the top was that see-through until I saw the picture, and was like ‘oh, OK.’ But also, I really like the top!

CHARLIE Howard

All clothing & accessories by ONITSUKA TIGER

CHARLIE Howard
All clothing & accessories by ONITSUKA TIGER

Being a model in the fashion industry, was there ever one particularly breaking point you had, where a light came on in your head, and you were just like ‘I can make a difference, I don’t just have to be in front on the camera, I can be vocal and speak and incite change’?
I was a straight-size model for ages. Seven, eight, nine years ago, you weren’t encouraged to have a voice. And I remember when Instagram first became a thing, it was like, only post this picture and make sure you post pictures of when you have expensive clothes on, because you want people to think you’re making loads of money. It was all very much image-based and I really struggled to be something that I wasn’t. I wrote the Facebook post in 2015 when I was dropped by my agency and spoke about how the modelling industry puts so much pressure on women within the industry to look a certain way. But that gave me the confidence to speak up. Now, it’s fascinating to me because in less than ten years, people now book you for having a voice and for having an opinion, whether that’s on environmental issues or women’s issues or plus size issues. I think it’s really important for young girls to see that you can’t just be pretty, you have to speak up and stand for something.

Love your podcast Fashion Fix. Do you have a best episode, or your most illuminating conversation that you’ve had?
One actually which did stand out for me was basically with a Bangladeshi worker who was in the Rana Plaza disaster, which was when the factories were built really badly, and the people who owned the factories made the workers stay inside even though there was a huge crack down the side of the building. Next thing you know, the building collapses, so many people died, and this is all because of this Western obsession with fast fashion. Since doing that podcast I’m really conscious of things I wear, and I do try really hard to buy just independent brands and support small businesses – I think all of us can make a small change with the way we consume. I’m a really big believer in vintage shopping, second-hand shopping and charity shops…

Where’s your favourite?
Notting Hill is great for vintage but the best charity shops are St John’s Wood and Hampstead, because all the rich women go there.

They drop their little Chanel suits off…
Like I found a vintage Vivienne Westwood corset in a shop in Hampstead for £75, and it’s worth £1600.

CHARLIE Howard

All clothing & accessories by ONITSUKA TIGER

CHARLIE Howard
All clothing & accessories by ONITSUKA TIGER

And you’ve published two books – MisFit and Splash – and you’ve got another one on the way. I love that Splash is a children’s book – like inciting empowerment and mindset change from early on. What made you want to do that?
The first year I moved to New York I was really bored, so I wrote this children’s book all about body image, and that was really just something for me to do personally. It got picked up by a small children’s publisher and then Penguin found out I’d written this book and they approached me because they didn’t have a book on body image, so I thought why not write a book about eating disorders, because there aren’t really that many around. It was really therapeutic for me to work out why these things happen, because it’s always a domino effect. They don’t just start from anywhere, and they don’t just start because you pick up a magazine and think ‘oh, I want to be thin.’ It’s always underlying issues and a lot of OCD and depression and external factors, internal factors.

So you’ve got another book coming out – what can you tell us about it so far?
So again it’s for children, and I’m going to continue writing for children, it’s just my passion. I’ve had some really cute letters in the post from children saying that they love the book.

What advice would you give to an emerging model just starting out, or even a young girl?
I’d say what’s really important is that you don’t just focus on your looks, because the amount of models that have been great for two minutes and then drop out, is just staggering. It’s a really expensive lifestyle. That’s why the majority of models you see from London are all quite aristocratic, because they’re the only ones that can afford it. So you need to have stuff on the side, whether it’s studying, or a job, or a business, make sure you do something else because it won’t last forever and you can get dropped tomorrow. I think people have these ideas that they’re going to become Bella Hadid…

Bella Hadid is also minted, she comes from a rich family!
Exactly! Because only people like that can really afford it. People have to be aware of this, it tends to be a really privileged business to be in to begin with. So it’s really really important you do something on the side and people won’t judge you for that. Also just be really careful with your finances. I think it’s important for women to have a get-out clause. And always good to never depend on a man. Have your own savings.

Model, author, beauty entrepreneur – you’re a master of all trades. What’s next for you?
I’ve been thinking about acting a lot, and yesterday on the Rollacoaster shoot I was thinking it’s so much fun getting to become a character. So yeah, who knows?

Photographer
Edward Cooke
Stylist
Kamran Rajput
Words
Maybelle Morgan
Hair
Bjon Krischker at Frank agency using ORIB
Make-up
James O'Riley at Premier
Photographers Assistant
Henry James
Stylists Assistant
Karran Rajani & Nami Galvan
Special Thanks to
Indra Studios
CHARLI HOWARD
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