After Burberry drew controversy for an ad featuring a trans man, B&T sat down with trans activist Grace Hyland to understand how the advertising industry can be more inclusive.
“People love to – with cancel culture and everything – bash brands,” Grace told B&T in an exclusive interview following the Burberry campaign.
“But at the end of the day, a trans person – I don’t even know if they are trans, someone whose gender nonconforming – is being titled in a high fashion campaign and that is what matters.”
For Grace, Burberry’s decision to include a trans person is particularly significant given the brand’s associations with conformity.
“[When we think of] Burberry we think of the royal family, we think of having it together, we think of very, very classy, but very, almost like sensible. These are not adjectives that we use to describe trans people ever. So I think it’s very tactical. And brilliant Burberry would include gender non-conforming people.”
After a short conversation with Grace, it’s clear that she is immensely passionate about the rights of trans people. Despite only being 22, Grace has already shared her own story on The Project and amassed more than 600,000 followers and 20 million likes on TikTok.
In one video, Grace pokes fun at J.K Rowling by posting the caption “why JK Rowling thinks I transitioned” alongside a video of her peering over the wall of a toilet door cubicle.
“As a trans woman myself, I don’t care why you include trans people in your campaign,” she said.
“I don’t care if you’re doing it to start a conversation. I don’t care if you’re doing it because you genuinely support me. I don’t care if you’re doing it because you’re trying to achieve more customers in the LGBT community, so long as you’re doing it with respect, and actually being done, right?”
Fashion Is About Selling An Ideal
Whilst fashion is ultimately about selling a product, for Grace ads have to “sell an ideal”, and this is most true when it comes to luxury fashion.
“You hear the name, Burberry, the name, Louis Vuitton, the name Prada and there’s no explaining. We all know that these brands are that ideal of the ideal. In terms of fashion, we all know the connotation.”
Therefore, she goes on “when you put trans people in the same atmosphere of these brands, you’re saying without words, that trans people are amazing.”
For Grace, it is not about trans people continuing to shock in adverts, but more about trans people being so commonplace in ads that no one looks twice.
“I guess the goal is for it to not be seen as a big deal, because now it’s such a big deal,” she says. “We want to aim for a goal where it’s just like oh yeh it’s an everyday thing.”
“It used to be, Oh, my God, there’s a black woman in a fashion campaign. That’s crazy. Like, oh, my God, that’s so inclusive. And now it’s like, you don’t really question it”.
And what brand would Grace most like to work with?
“I would love to work with Chanel. Yeah, that would be a dream come true. Honestly, I just love all the Tweed. I love the suits.”
Luxury Is Power
Like most women, high fashion has a special place in Grace’s heart.
I didn’t come from money so I didn’t have access to high fashion. But I would always go to Chadstone and walk past all these malls. I would walk past Chanel, Prada, Burberry, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, just dreaming of the day that I could walk in and buy a bag.”
“To have trans people associated with that power, that is how empowering fashion is. It’s beautiful”.
Films such as the Devil Wears Prada have painted the fashion industry as a bitchy, competitive world, but for Grace, this comes down to sexism about power in women.
“Luxury is associated with power. Yeah. Power and a woman being a bitch. That’s why we can’t have a strong woman without people being like, Oh, she’s a bitch.”
How The Advertising Industry Can Be More Trans Inclusive
I asked Grace how the advertising industry can be more trans inclusive and her response is clear cut – “the best thing to do would be to actually include trans people” in the process.
“Because then you’re not guessing. You’re not nervous, if you have an actual trans person with you, who’s approving it, and it’s helping come up with the ideas. And then it’s not people speaking for trans people.”
Acting as a trans consultant is something Grace herself has experience of.
“I’ve been hired by writers for an upcoming Netflix shot that’s going to have a trans actor as one of the leads. They hired me to come to the writers’ room, and just go through the scripts going through ideas. So they could ask me questions, and then double check everything and make sure it’s not offensive.”
One thing is for sure, whatever brands decide to do, it’s not going to stop Grace having a voice.
“If brands aren’t going to do it the way I want I’ll just do it myself, “she says, and you better believe that’s true.
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