Photos by Madara Freimane, story by María José Contreras
We are constantly inspired by the women who are questioning the old fashioned rules that prevail across so many different industries. And we are particularly moved by those who cultivate a sense of community around them in doing so. In 2015, Dior Bediako left her entry-level job at Burberry and started Pepper Your Talk, a project that aimed to educate young fashion creatives and grant them something that the industry usually keeps away from them: access to an inclusive network.
This week we meet the stunning Dior at Barbican to go for a walk and have a conversation on the challenges that come with entrepreneurship, inclusivity in the fashion industry, and the importance of leaving a legacy behind.
Happy belated birthday Dior and thank you so much for meeting us today!
Could you please tell me a bit about how did you go from being an assistant at Burberry to becoming a CEO?
You know what? I was so naive - I had no idea how to run a business - and I just thought “I have an idea and I need to do it”. That’s it. It wasn’t anything like “I want to be a business woman”. I just knew that I wanted to get that idea out of my system. I was working as press samples assistant at Burberry, and I realised there was no room for me to move within the business. I was in the PR & Marketing department and I didn’t really want to stay there anymore; What I really wanted to do was brand’s partnerships, but Burberry doesn’t really have a brand partnerships department and there were no vacancies in any other companies. So I thought that I would leave for three months, do this business, and whilst I was setting it up, I'd look for another job. The plan was always to go back to work, but...I didn’t.
And then you had to design a business plan. How did you deal with putting yourself out there with your own company and having to fight for it?
It was so hard. You can imagine. Going from Burberry, where you have this amazing @burberry.com email address which everybody answers to, to just being a nobody - plus, my first name is Dior, which is quite weird if you are working in fashion. It was definitely daunting. I developed very thick skin and it thought me to be very self confident - I don't need anyone to congratulate me anymore as long as I feel good about what I’m doing; But at the same time, it's made me built a wall and become too tough. I'm not as fun and bubbly as I was when I had no cares. Now everything is business, everything is serious, everything is about Pepper Your Talk and The Junior Network. It’s good to be so confident with myself, but it’s bad to loose the human touch, that everyday happiness which now it’s become a synonym with my business doing well, rather than just being happy because I’m alive. So I’m getting back to that now. I’m also trying to really commit to our audience. I’m fascinated about the idea of community, but I’m not really sure how to build one, and when I look at other people who’ve built communities around their businesses, I think it’s because people connect with their products so much and they love their products so much. But we don’t have a product, because we are a service business.
You were talking about the confidence that has come with building your own company. The Junior Network is built around a community of entry-level professionals - a stage where the fashion industry can be particularly harsh and difficult to navigate, which can definitely put down many people to pursue a career in fashion. How do you work on these confidence skills with the members from The Junior Network?
My issue - which is something I'm dealing with - is that a lot of the things I wanted to do, I’ve done them now, but I’m still not happy. I still want more. And that has made me realise that happiness cannot be a destination. If there’s a 'when' attached to your happiness, it’s never gonna work. So what I tell the girls now - and what I hope they are understanding - is to not work on their careers but on themselves. Every other avenue in their lives - love, family, career - will flourish as a result of them being focused on themselves. What makes you happy? Is it waking up and going to a park and just chilling there? You need to ingrain that in your routine. You cannot bring a broken person to a great job. You’ll fail at it. So I try to tell the girls to focus on themselves, to ask themselves what is it that they enjoy about this life and do it. It’s like a chair - in order for the chair to function, each leg needs to be perfectly balanced. For us to sit comfortably in life, whatever our legs are, they need to be balanced….if one is completely pulled away, the chair won't work.
Let's talk about inclusivity. We constantly hear that interning to kickstart a career in fashion is, in a nutshell, ; but when you look at internships in fashion, companies usually request full-time commitment, for extended periods of time, and no compensation in return; thus making internships - and therefore a career in fashion - only affordable and accessible to the middle and upper class.
It’s a very middle-class industry. That’s why the salaries are so low, because the people who are actually working at many of the great companies we love and admire, have got money, their families have money, they have an allowance and the money they make at work is their shopping money. But at the same time, we shouldn’t let that deter us. You actually hit the nail on the head, because The Junior Network is about granting access to the industry to everyone, based on how passionate you are rather than who you know. When I was at Burberry, I could see how everyone was rotating jobs, but these people knew each other from private schools and were just sharing the opportunities among each other. So the people who come from a background like mine, with no connections, and no wealth…how do we get connected
Do these contacts only pay off at an entry-level stage?
With contacts you are protected. You have nothing to loose. You have confidence and confidence is so attractive. I mean, you can definitely climb the ladder and know nothing but the right people. I’ve heard stories of people who have really messed up at work, but because they’re so well connected - especially when it comes to PR roles - companies don’t let them go, so these people are not necessarily good to the job, but they are useful to the business. But at the same time, I know very privileged girls who’ve worked their ass off and they’ve climb the ladder and a lot of people who are assholes and haven't got there. Not everybody wants to climb anyway, not everybody wants to make it to the top.
What does the future look like for PepperYourTalk and The Junior Network?
They might become separate. The Junior Network might become a charity. Ultimately, I want Pepper Your Talk to be a tech business. There is so many people we can reach, but it’s not possible without us having a very strong online presence first. I need to think how am I going to take what we do and develop it as an online training program. So I’m giving myself time to figure it out, which is why The Junior Network is my focus for this year, I need to make it to make sense. And once that’s done, I will focus on building Pepper Your Talk as a tech platform.
I think is amazing to have a project you’re so passionate about
Yes. And it’s also about leaving a legacy.
What do you want the world to remember you for?
That’s such a cool question. I don’t know. I have never given a definitive answer to that question, but I just want to be remembered. I want to leave something behind. I want my life to transcend my family, barriers, countries. I want to have an impact, that’s always been one of my key values.
Any advice for someone who has that entrepreneur bug inside?
You know what? I wish I had thought bigger from the beginning. You have to start small, because it’s in the small thinking where you become really creative, but your mind should always be thinking big. And I think I’m still quite scared of that. I say I want to have legacy and impact, but it does scare me because that comes with a lot of responsibility. You are offering yourself to the world, which is something huge. But yes, have an idea, but think about the craziest, wildest, possibility of it.
Dior is wearing the Frederick top in black, the Theobalt skirt in ivory, the Helmut top in blue, the Karl trousers in navy, and some HANNA FIEDLER bespoke dress and vest.