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The BoF Podcast | Gabriella Karefa-Johnson on Building a Better Fashion Industry



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Background:

In the dynamic world of fashion magazines, Gabriella Karefa-Johnson has always stood out. In January 2021, she became the first Black woman to style a cover for American Vogue, featuring Paloma Elsesser, photographed by Annie Liebovitz. Later that year, she worked on the cover shoot featuring US Vice President Kamala Harris.

But recently, Karefa-Johnson decided to leave Vogue. “The truth of the matter is we grow and sometimes our containers don’t grow with us. And so I am excited to build a new container for all of these ideas and this energy,” Karefa-Johnson says.

This week on The BoF Podcast, Karefa-Johnson joins BoF founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed to discuss her professional journey, how she harnesses her creative energy in a high-pressure industry and why she is laying the foundation for the next generation of fashion creatives.

Key Insights:

  • On excelling in the demanding, hyper-creative world of fashion media, Karefa-Johnson avoids burnout by focusing on her inner self. “Staying true to who you are and… really maintaining the purity of that creative exchange is something that keeps me grounded,” she says.
  • Looking back at some of her most challenging assignments, Karefa-Johnson recalls the 2021 cover shoot during the Covid-19 pandemic with US Vice President Kamala Harris. “It’s very hard to communicate with your subject, which is super crucial in executing an image. You need to have a relationship and a rapport and there needs to be mutual trust,” she explains. “But it’s hard to establish that between 15 masks, because it was during Covid, 14 secret service agents, a press secretary and a chief of staff.”
  • Reflecting on her decision to leave Vogue, Karefa-Johnson is excited about what lies ahead. “I just hope that whatever comes to be of this career of mine is something that models possibilities for the next Gabriella Karefa-Johnson,” she explains. “I can’t wait to take those tools and apply them in ways that are really just true to who I am, serve me and serve people who look like me.”
  • Karefa-Johnson is passionate about nurturing emerging talent and has used her network to support the development of Central Saint Martins graduate Torishéju Dumi. “It’s very easy to feel invisible in these cities as a young designer, period. Full stop. But as a young black female designer, I knew that the hurdles she was up against would be exponentially bigger than some of her colleagues,” Karefa-Johnson says. “I wanted to be able to bridge the gap. I wanted to be able to give her a leg up, which I think in a lot of ways is something that has produced so many of the most enduring young designers.”

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