As part of our Working Women series, we caught up with ultimate style icon and owner of vintage venture Selena’s Shop, Selena Williams. We chatted about how fashion is woven into the fabric of her upbringing, her journey from clothing aficionado to cultivated content creative, and the unique friction felt as a young woman of colour moving skywards through the working world.
We’ll start with something light-hearted. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
When I was 18 I worked a summer in Ayia Napa. I landed a job as a promo girl for a busy bar and it was my responsibility to get as many people in the bar as possible, we worked on commission and I think we got paid a euro per person. We would be asked to target groups of guys and get them straight to the bar for a shot. Thinking about it now makes me massively cringe and it’s by far the weirdest job I’ve ever done.
Selena, prior to lockdown many of us had no idea what it really meant to work from home. You’ve set up an entire business that enables you to ditch the dreaded 9-5 of office life. Was that always the plan?
I’ve always known that I wanted to work for myself, but I didn’t know exactly what I’d be doing, Selena’s Shop has grown very organically. I’ve found that every job I’ve done just hasn’t felt right, I don’t tend to handle criticism very well or like being told what to do. I’m also pretty introverted and I’ve always just felt far more comfortable at home in my own space.
You’ve got nearly 30 thousand followers on Depop at the time of writing. You have an incredible eye for fashion, which must have helped you build your brand. Has style interested you from a young age, and is there anyone who you may have drawn inspiration from as a child?
I’ve been interested in fashion for as long as I can remember. Being a kid, dressing up and playing in my mum’s wardrobe was always one of my favourite things to do. My mum was probably my biggest inspiration in terms of fashion. I remember always thinking how unbelievably beautiful she looked and she always seemed to wear the best clothes. My mum was a single parent and we didn’t have an awful lot of money growing up, so our shopping trips would consist of charity shops, car boot sales and clothing markets. To me I didn’t know any different — I would always get so excited whenever we went for a good rummage. Hunting for treasures has been so inbuilt in me, it’s just become second nature.
Have you ever experienced prejudice in the workplace, in any job as a young woman? If so, please explain what it was and what it’s taught you in your new business and in life.
Being a mixed raced woman and more often that not, being the only woman of colour in the workplace, I feel like I have been subjected to prejudice on many occasions. In one of my last places of work I worked in a very busy bar and restaurant. We had a team of over 30 staff and I was the only person of colour. Firstly, I think that says it all. Straight away one of the managers took a strong disliking towards me, she always made my time at work very difficult, she would micromanage me and constantly criticise my work. One incident that I remember clearly was at the end of our shift on a Friday night. We were allowed to buy a drink and have it while we were closing down, however this night in particular she decided we didn’t deserve a drink. A few others had already poured themselves a drink and had them resting on the back bar. I was half way through pouring one and she asked me what I was doing and said I haven’t said you can have a drink, pour it down the drain now. I mentioned that everyone else had poured a drink and she replied by saying “I’m telling you to pour your drink away.”
This then escalated to a heated discussion, during which she said I was always difficult to be around. She didn’t say anything to anyone else, so I knew very well she was being prejudiced to only me. This was the final straw for me as it wasn’t an isolated event, so I explained to another manager what had happened and handed my notice in the next day. This experience taught me that I’m capable of working for myself and I don’t have to put myself in positions of discomfort, or work for people who don’t show me respect and basic kindness.
Many people are feeling pretty lost at the moment. What advice would you give to someone stressed about finding the perfect career path for them?
I have been in this position myself on many occasions and my advice would be that you need to find out what you really enjoy and try to pursue that – it really is that simple. I’ve always felt myself get lost in the folds of the fashion world, mesmerised by the magnetism of vintage clothing. I don’t have a degree in fashion and I always thought it would be impossible to ever have a career working in the industry without one, but I truly think when you’re drawn in and devoting yourself to something, everything else can fall into place. I would also say don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I’ve done so many demeaning jobs and felt hopeless on countless occasions — I’m now 28 and feel for the first time that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.
We are huge fans of @selenasshop and can’t get enough of your vintage items. How important is sustainability to the philosophy of your brand?
Sustainability is so important to my brand. I want to sell items that are super high in quality, I want my customers to be able to enjoy their item for many years to come and when they’ve worn and loved it, I want them to pass it onto the someone else to enjoy. I want to create a brand that’s as sustainable as it can possibly be. I use compostable packaging, biodegradable tissue paper and also use inserts that have been made from recycled cardboard. I think it’s so important for us to ditch fast fashion brands and enjoy the uniqueness of vintage and pre-loved clothing, while showing our planet some love.
How has lockdown impacted your purchasing process?
I personally handpick all the vintage items for my shop. I have a handful of reliable vintage wholesalers who are dotted around the country and I also tend to go to car boot sales and flea markets to look for extra special one-off treasures.
In the first couple of weeks of lockdown I had a bit of a panic, as my wholesalers had to follow government guidelines and close down for the foreseeable. I had a bit of stock to last me, but it definitely wasn’t enough. I managed to get hold of a new supplier who was doing handpick items via video call. It’s been so hard not being able to get out there as much to rummage at markets and car boots, but slowly and surely the workings of ‘normal’ life are etching their way back onto the canvas of the days ahead.
The news cycle recently has been pretty upsetting. How have current events made affected you and what advice would you give to anbody who’s struggling?
It’s been extremely hard watching what’s been going on and I’ve honestly felt really heavy for the past few weeks. For me it’s nothing new — racism is something I’ve had to deal with on many occasions and I’m aware that it’s something that goes on every day, not only in America or the UK, but all over the world. My advice to anyone struggling is to logout if you need to. Taking a small break from social media will definitely help and it’s not your job to personally educate your white friends, let them do the work. Finally, try and find something to take your mind off it all, do something creative, try yoga or spend more time out in nature, these are a few things that I’ve found light relief in.
Many potential white allies are likely to be scared to say the wrong thing and are thus perhaps staying silent right now. What advice would you give to them?
I think staying silent is far worse than wanting to speak up, but not out of fear of saying the wrong thing. We all have work to do and we all have to unlearn and relearn a lot about racism. There are plenty of resources that have been shared on social media, if you search the BLM hashtag, you’ll find an unending wealth of information. There are also copious documentaries that are so easy to access (Netflix) and plenty of books worth reading — if you want to help but are unsure how, there are petitions you can sign, charities you can donate to and just even speaking up when you’re in the presence of racism will make its mark on chipping away the workings of this insidious problem.
One last thing that we like to ask all of our interviewees…
Can you please name three people who you think make you a better feminist and tell us why?
My first is Angela Davis, she had a huge voice and presence for the black power movement in the 60s and 70s and she still fights for women’s rights to this day. Also, she’s just an outright style icon. My number two would be Oprah Winfrey — she basically built an empire to help women grow, develop and thrive! Plus, she’s just an awesome all-round human. Lastly, my mum — she was the biggest tom boy and never pushed me to be a typical girly girl. She would always encourage me to partake in sports and would always let me wear whatever I liked, even if my outfit made me look masculine.