Emani Edwards is a creative director, stylist and part-time model and photographer. We spoke to her about how she uses style as a form of protest.
How did you first get into fashion?
Since high school, I’ve dreamt of working in fashion. I’ve always loved dressing up and styling others.
I spent lots of time reading magazines, watching fashion shows and organising modelling contests with friends. I was intrigued by the styles coming out of Europe and America and wanted to travel there.
Most of my knowledge about fashion is self-taught. Being trans, I haven’t always had the support of my family, so I’ve had to find opportunities for myself.
I started working with TransWave Jamaica in 2019 and get lots of support from the team there. I’m always applying for grants online to fund my work.
What’s the trans community like in Jamaica?
Despite there being a big trans community, we experience discrimination because of how we identify and who we love.
For example, I’ve found we don’t have equal access to healthcare or jobs. My experience of using public healthcare as a trans woman in Jamaica is that people stare, make derogatory comments and can even turn violent. If I have the money, I prefer to use private facilities, but not everyone has that privilege.
We’ve had to carve out a space for ourselves in society by being creative and breaking down barriers – which is where my work comes in. Every day is a reminder of how brave we are. I live by the motto that our presence is our resilience.
Because of this, my trans sister Kim Savage and I created United Trans Creative. It’s a community for Jamaican trans, non-binary and LGBT creatives pioneering fashion activism and social justice.
How do you use fashion as a form of protest?
I wanted to combine my interest in fashion with my desire to do something positive for trans people.
I use my creative direction as a stylist to express who I am and how I want to live my life. I use my work to give visibility to marginalised groups, including the trans, non-binary and LGBT communities.
In Jamaica, it’s my experience that most people have a traditional view of gender roles, so they think men are supposed to be masculine and women feminine. My work is about challenging those stereotypes. For example, I recently did a photoshoot for my website where I styled myself, partially nude, in earrings and heels.
I recruit trans, non-binary and LGBT creatives as much as possible – hairdressers, makeup artists, photographers, etc. I want to give them a platform to show their talents, and an opportunity to progress their careers.
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How do you stay positive?
It’s easy to get frustrated and lose sight of what you want to achieve when faced with adversity.
I try not to focus on the negative comments. I take time out to remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing.
My advice is to believe in yourself and work hard. With fashion, like anything, it’s not all about the glitz and the glamour.
When you’re having a bad day, try to achieve just one thing. The more work you put in, the more you get out.
What’s your ultimate goal?
I want my work to act as a legacy for up-and-coming creatives from marginalised groups, to make it easier for them to access resources and make connections. I hope I’ll help them to continue the work.
Through our efforts, I’d like to see a Jamaica where trans, non-binary and LGBT individuals are treated equally and protected against discrimination. A society where we can live and be free.
Find out more about Outburst Queer Arts Festival.
Emani Edwards is a creative director, stylist and part-time model and photographer. She is an Ambassador for TransWave Jamaica and Connek JA.
Follow emanithegenderlessstylist on Instagram.