This is the second series of Remarkable women, meeting wonderful women and talking about a favourite garment from their wardrobe. You will know that I am fascinated by the stories that we can tell simply by looking at the clothes we choose to wear and keep…even if they don’t necessarily fit us anymore. So, on in the month that celebrates International Women’s Day, I thought I’d introduce you to my first guest in this second series, Sophia. A. Jackson.
I have admired Sophia through the interwebs for a while now, signing up to her website Afridiziak Theatre News for my weekly update on all things African and Caribbean theatre. We’ve actually only met a couple of times in real life, yet on both occasions I was struck by her calm and positive energy. I do so love a good aura (don’t we all!) so I wanted to learn a bit more about Sophia and was thrilled when she said Yes to the Dress (metaphorical, you understand). Take a ten minute break to listen to our conversation or a few minutes to read it. Enjoy.
“Hello Sophia! Tell me a little bit about yourself”
Sophia - “I am mum to Mayah and she’s four and lovely. And takes up a lot of my time being a four year old.”
“Yeah I can imagine.”
Sophia - “She’s full of beans. So, yeah, so I’m enjoying parenting. At the moment. A lot. And I run Afridiziak Theatre News which is ten years old”.
“Congratulations! Are you having a celebration? Are we having a party?”
00:49 Sophia “At some point I should be celebrating but I’m going through a rebrand phase so all will be announced soon. yeah so that’s what this year is about really. Watch this space. It’s the UK’s only website that is dedicated to celebrating African and Caribbean theatre. So I do that in my spare time and I have a fantastic team and reviewers.
“You have spare time? Please”.
1:18 Sophia “Yeah its definitely something to do in my spare time. And I enjoy going to the theatre, when I can, and I also am an Events Manager by day. I work for The Society of Authors. and I love that job. I do.
“Oh that’s lovely! I’ve never heard of that. The Society of Authors”.
Sophia “Yeah we’re a trade union for authors including script writers and illustrators and traditional writers. We do lots of campaigning and we do lots of events and high profile authors. So that’s pretty much me”.
“How would you describe your style? And don’t make a face. That was the face you weren’t supposed to make, Sophia. Ok. Is there a difference between the way you approach fashion and clothing before you had Maya and after?”
2:29 Sophia “Well up until Mayah was two I breastfed so my clothes were based around easy access to my boobs”.
Sophia “…discreetly and I think I am more creative with my clothes than I was before Maya though”.
“What do you put that down to? Anything?”
Sophia “Perhaps I’m more comfortable with who I am… now. So maybe I experiment a bit more. I think my style is quite…it’s not fashion led. It’s more of I really like that so I’m going to buy it”.
“Oh that’s good. So tell me a bit about your favourite garment. You’re wearing it aren’t you?”
3:24 Sophia “Yeah so this dress, sorry this skirt, is about ten years old. And it still looks new”.h
“It’s beautiful. It’s really beautiful. The colours are gorgeous!”
Sophia “Thank you. And I bought it at Lambeth country show from a designer called Gitas Portal”.
Sophia “Yeah I think she was maybe quite new then? She’s huge. I mean she’s much bigger now”.
Sophia “And this is a skirt that I sort of wheel out if I’m going to somewhere where they’ve definitely not seen the skirt before and i know that it’s guaranteed that I’ll feel comfortable and confident and happy in it. Because it does get quite a lot of attention. I mean its quite unique”.
“Yeah it is. Is the netting part of the skirt?”
“Oh that’s so cool! That’s a South African fashion I’m sure. Well I’ve seen, like, netting. It’s batik isn’t it?”
Sophia “Yeah that’s right”.
4:28 Sophia “I think that’s when I started to appreciate African print more and feeling confident to wear African print after I bought this as well. Ummm …yeah i say i guess its my ‘Designer skirt’.”
Sophia “I’ve never seen anyone else wearing it. And I remember at the time it was probably more expensive than what I would normally spend on a skirt that I bought at a country show”.
“But pay per wear it’s certainly…you know…”
Sophia “I mean, yeah, I mean the zip’s gone a couple of times and I’ve had to get that repaired but, yeah, I’m holding onto this skirt for dear life. I love it”.
“Why do you think…you said something about feeling more confident to wear African print fabric”.
5:17 Sophia “Yeah I think… before this I don’t think I did wear any African print before. It’s a firm staple in my wardrobe now”.
“What’s more important to you? Comfortable or confident or happy. Or do all of them offset each other?”
5:38 Sophia “I think they all offset each other. I think because I’m a bigger dress size now than I was I definitely have to be comfortable. There’s no point in me trying to squeeze into clothes that don’t fit and then hoping that I’ll feel confident because I won’t I’ll just be more self conscious and…yeah”.
“No I hear you. I feel - you know that I have a thing about ‘wear your happy’ - and I feel that every time you wear something that you love it’s almost like it’s gathering and weaving new memories into it. So you’re choosing to wear it to certain events where you want to feel comfortable and at the same time every single time you put that skirt on you’ve got another happy memory to add to it”.
6:29 Sophia “Yeah and it does it’s quite a unique skirt so it definitely has that ‘wow’ factor which I think is nice. I think its nice to wear something that you know only you..well I’m only aware of myself that has it I haven’t seen anyone else wearing it and you can’t really pick it up from Topshop or anything. Not that there’s anything wrong with Topshop. But I think it’s nice to have something that’s unique to you”.
7:00 “That’s how I feel about. i mean I never, these days, go anywhere and see anybody wearing anything..obviously…like me. But I remember when I used to buy off the peg years and years ago now I mean I’m talking a couple of decades, before I made most of my clothes and when I was teaching. I remember going into one place once and seeing someone wearing an outfit, a dress, that I was wearing and absolutely feeling awful …I was so upset about it... and then having to convince myself that I looked better anyway and that whole kind of competing thing. But I feel that once I left teaching I became more..I just started to…I vowed to make most of my clothes basically and I think the combination of having less money anyway, having less income and also that whole idea of holding onto clothes that I love. The whole Marie Kondo thing. With sparking joy. Have you watched that?”
“I haven’t watched it because I feel…I know that..it’s basically…Marie Kondo is the lady that talks about not only streamlining your wardrobe but also streamlining your house so only choosing or keeping items in your house that spark joy”.
Sophia “Wow. Ok. That’s brutal.”
“And every single person..I haven’t watched it yet. And every single person I’ve seen who’s watched it has ended up spending the next few days streamlining their home”.
Sophia “I could definitely do that”
“And folding things…its on Netflix apparently its really good. But I’m scared to watch it”.
“Because I don’t want to…”
“…lose two days of my life streamlining my house! To be fair when i came back from Zimbabwe I did that”.
Sophia “Did you?”
“Because I felt like my house was too full of ‘stuff’. It felt really weird. And so I got rid of a load of clothes and things that were just sitting there. And found things from my past that I didn’t really need and actually could have done without having the energy in the house…that I’d forgotten. So there’s that as well”.
Sophia “I’m going to watch that. I need inspiration to de-clutter definitely”.
“Yeah watch it. It’s interesting. It’s really interesting. Do you have any other items in your wardrobe that you feel have happy memories?”
9:28 Sophia “There’s a Ted Baker dress that I bought probably about fifteen years ago. I don’t wear it now. And I used to wear it to loads of occasions. Like media events, birthdays, family occasions. I loved that dress so much. But it literally got to the point where my friends were like, ‘Reeeeally? That dress again?’”
Sophia “I was shameless! but I was, like, I really like this dress”.
“This is the thing!”
Sophia “And it cost me so much money. I’m really going to get the most out of it. I just didn’t care. But they obviously cared. But, yeah, if I mentioned it to my friends they’d be, like, ‘Yeah we remember that dress’.”
“And you’ve kept it”.
Sophia “I still have it”.
“That’s interesting. Why have you kept it?”
10:18 Sophia “That was definitely a dress that was in fashion at the time. Like that style - paisley print. I don’t know? I’ve just got happy memories I can’t throw it out!”
“That’s interesting isn’t it?”
“Because you’ve said it doesn’t fit you…”
Sophia “It might do but I don’t think…”
“…and your answer wasn’t…because some people keep things because they say ‘I’m going to slim back into it’…”
Sophia .”…and I would never wear it now.”
“Exactly. I know people who have kept things and had them made into something else”.
“Or some people, like, my daughters have been into my wardrobes. So now all my clothes are vintage. I’m vintage! So when they were living…not so much Maheni. I’ve got two daughters, 23 and 28. So the 23 year old still lives with me. She doesn’t go near my wardrobe unless its for scarves. She likes scarves. Whereas my eldest, when she was living with me, one of my bugbears was she just felt that the other two wardrobes in the house were hers…”
Sophia “That’s good! Because that means that she likes… like I would not, no offense mum, but I wouldn’t wear my (mums clothes)”.
“Well you say that…it’s good until you want to find something that you want to wear!”
Sophia “Not at the moment”.
“I’m flattered now. But at the time. I’m the kind of person…say I’m rushing home and I’m thinking I’m going to wear this and this and I go in my wardrobe and one item is missing”.
“And she wouldn’t go for anything cheap. She’d go for the designer stuff or the stuff that was important to me”.
“And of course I miss that now because she’s not living with me anymore.”
Sophia “Oh but at the time you didn’t appreciate it”
“I didn’t appreciate it at all! At all”.
“So would you say that you appreciate slow fashion. Slow fashion is not just the way something is made but also about keeping things and sustainability and that kind of thing. Would you say its more about sustainability or it is literally about ‘Well this feels good and I’m keeping it’.
Sophia “And also an emotional attachment for whatever reason”.
Sophia “And also I just really liked those items”.
Sophia “At that time but they just haven’t been able to stand the test of time for various reasons. I think recently I bought a dress by Live 360”
0:46 Sophia “And I LOVE it. It’s bold though. It’s the rainbow skirt”
“Oh I know. Oh lovely! The pink one”.
Sophia “Yes. I remember when I wore it for Mayah’s fourth birthday and one of my aunts was, like , you look like a clown!”
“Oh my God! That’s such a gorgeous dress. Sometimes when people make comments full stop it says more about their upbringing and them, what’s going on there than…how did that make you feel though?”
Sophia “It was fine because it’s my Aunt who I have a very playful relationship with. When we’re together my Gran would say ‘You two cannot sit together’. Even though she’s my Aunt and obviously she’s older than me but we’re very silly together. But coming from her it’s, like, ‘I expect you to say that’ and I just laughed it off. But I think if somebody else had said it I probably would have been really offended. But I was, like, it’s fine. But I owned that dress. I really love it”.
“Oh good. I was hoping you were going to say that. Because, in a sense, it’s one of those dresses that is so playful, and yet. What I was saying to you earlier about giving adults permission to play. We get to a point where, you know, when we’re young we want to get older and when we get older we realise its a trap. But also that whole feeling that we’re so busy ‘Adult-ing’, that we don’t have time, or we think we don’t have time to play. So if you can be playful with clothing or put on clothing that feels playful or that makes you feel playful you’re kind of halfway there”.
2:22 Sophia “I do feel quite confident when I wear it. The first time I wore it was for the biggest event we do at work. We do an annual authors awards and as the event manager that’s the biggest event I’ll do at work. I just wanted to wear something that i knew that I’d feel confident and I did. It was good choice. And it was very summery because the event was held in July”.
I now have to confess that this was the first time I had recorded an interview in a while and was using new equipment. Our conversation cuts off rather abruptly because I ‘lost’ a part whilst excitedly trying to edit that same afternoon! I wish we’d had more time to chat and I also wish I’d pressed to see that Ted Baker dress before I left! I am extremely grateful to Sophia for allowing me into her lovely home for our interview.
Do you have a favourite garment that you’ve kept despite not planning to wear it again? What memories does it hold for you? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts.
Thank you for dropping by. You can read the original Remarkable Women series 1 starting HERE.
Next time: Graphic designer, Mo Choy, and I discuss her favourite vintage garment and why she just can’t seem to let go! In the meantime….