MAKING WAVES: Shavone Charles
As our lives continue to evolve in new and unexpected ways, we’re learning to feel our way through the ambiguities that lie ahead of us. Feeling comfortable in the unknown is never easy but walking the path untrodden can take us in beautiful and unexpected directions. With this in mind, we sat down with multi-faceted creative Shavone Charles. Based in Los Angeles, Shavone is known for breaking boundaries, from empowering women in the tech industry to fostering community across multiple creative fields.
A BLENDED LIFE
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do and how you got into this?
I’d describe myself as a multi-hyphenate creative working within the tech industry, which essentially means that my work crosses over multiple areas. I’m currently the director of communications and creative partnerships at VSCO but I’ve been a musician and activist my whole life and I also dabble in modelling. Last year I also founded a creative collective called ‘magic in her melanin’, which exists to bridge gaps between underrepresented creatives and the corporate and creative industries. A lot of what we do is geared around amplifying underrepresented voices and empowering creatives to tell their stories through their own lens.
With such a mix of projects across different industries, is there any one thing that inspires your work?
I’ve always felt really inspired by the concept of community. Growing up, I watched my parents both work as small business owners in restaurants and hair salons. So, public service and community was everything for us. My dad has also done a lot of mentorship work in the community and that really inspired me to be passionate about civic engagement. It’s about realizing that it's not just all about me and whatever I'm doing - I need to lift others up, as I climb. That value system has definitely kept me grounded and humble. Now, I focus on making sure that whatever success I have is being shared and that I’m helping break down barriers for people who are disenfranchised or need access to more resources.
Having such a diverse background, what made you want to join these areas of your life together?
I think all these aspects have been running alongside each other at the same time throughout my life and then just started to naturally merge. Music has always been my biggest avenue for mental wellness and self-expression. I started playing the flute in the second grade and then high school saw me experimenting with poetry and rap. I've always been a writer and have loved creative writing and performing spoken word poetry since I can remember. Then as a millennial, I’ve grown up with the tech industry in real time. I used to work at Twitter, so that helped me develop more of a technology-first stance but my lens on tech has always involved music and culture. When I look back on my life so far, it’s amazing to see how everything sort of collided together into what my life is now. It definitely wasn't by design - Twitter didn’t even exist when I was in high school! It’s taken hard work and resilience but I made sure not to let having all of these different interests limit me. I’ve carved out a space where I can express myself in a way that makes sense to me, rather than try to fit into an existing box.
FOLLOW YOUR PATH
On the subject of self-expression, what does the concept of femininity mean to you?
I feel like I definitely express femininity in my own way. I lean more towards an androgynous expression when it comes to appearance but I’ve just always done my own thing, even if I was perceived as being a sort of cliché tomboy. When I think about femininity, I think about my parents and my grandmother, and how they’ve always empowered me to walk to the rhythm of my own beat with confidence. I also think about black womanhood, strength, resilience and the importance of supporting the women around me.
How does clothing and the concept of fashion fit in with how you choose to express yourself?
Fashion has always been my lens of self-expression. My family were big sneaker heads growing up, so it’s no wonder that streetwear has always been such a core part of my identity. How I dress depends hugely on how I’m feeling that particular day. As a result, I'd say that my style is quite eclectic - edgy but also comfortable. I’m fascinated by the structure of clothing and how it drapes on the body so I always make sure that I have at least one structured and one statement piece in my rotation. When it comes to accessories, I absolutely love wearing a piece of jewelry that makes you do a double-take and adds something unexpected. Ultimately, I think it’s about using your whole appearance as a palette for making a statement.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your professional journey as a woman of color in the tech industry and what, if any, obstacles you’ve had to overcome along the way?
Being a black woman in tech has given me such a vital perspective. It’s been incredible to start seeing the world finally evolve it's perception on just how critical people of color are to the internet. Being the first, youngest and often only black woman in every single tech role I've had has been hard, frustrating but rewarding for sure. It’s made me realise that my number one mission is to make sure that I'm not the last. I want to open the door for other black women and leave the industry in a better place than when I arrived. A lot of that work involves butting heads with folks who are stuck in an old mindset - but it’s worth it.
TAKE UP SPACE
What learnings or philosophies are you excited to take forward into the next phase of your career?
What’s been really powerful for me has been to be unapologetically black in every space I've been in. And, while that's been painful in some cases if you meet resistance, I’ve developed some pretty tough skin throughout my career because of it. It's always so much more beneficial for you to be your whole self in every environment that you're in, whether people like it or not. So, looking to the future, I'm excited to keep stepping in that direction.