When creative graduates miss their degree shows, they also miss the important exposure to potential employers. We’ve teamed up with The Drum to help.
If we think back over the events of the last two years, it can be overwhelming. High profile arrests, the escalating climate crisis, rolling coverage of the most extraordinary US elections in history, and the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests. All while a global pandemic raged. Like Covid, some of these things caught us by surprise, derailed us and changed our lives – personally, professionally and emotionally.
In March 2020, Wendy Asumadu took a big decision. Buoyed by the success of her side hustle as a make-up artist and content creator, she quit her job and went freelance. When the first lockdown was announced in the UK, it suddenly felt like the worst possible decision. “It was the most terrifying thing,” she recalls. “I wasn’t entitled to any of the self-employment schemes, I had no money. I was at my mum’s house, crying, ‘what am I going to do?’” In her heart, a life devoted to creativity was absolutely the right choice, but the world as we all knew it was turning upside down and she feared she’d made a terrible mistake.
Wendy had already spent years immersing herself in the bold colour that she was to become known for. “I’ve always been obsessed with art and colour,” she says. “Even when I was 14, I knew I was a creative.” Her Ghanaian heritage meant that life naturally presented a rich world of artistic influences. Her mother insisted that Wendy wore bright clothes to church (“It’s a celebration of god, Wendy, so you’ve got to wear colour!”), complementing her vibrant and densely patterned Kente and Dutch Wax fabrics that are synonymous with African fashion. But it was only after she graduated from university with a degree in Fine Art that she began to combine the bright colours of her home with the abstraction that she was drawn to as a painter – using her own face as a canvas (“My sister always did my make-up, but I needed to learn for myself because it always made us late!”). People noticed, complimenting her make-up when she worked in a fashion store after graduating. Her confidence grew, she began to document her handiwork on social media and Wendy’s World was born. “I was like, ‘people can take pictures of themselves and make money out of it? What is that?’” she laughs.
As it turns out, they very much can. The growth of Wendy’s community led to the exciting opportunities that fuelled the decision to be a make-up artist and content creator full-time. However, it was a decision that put her firmly on ‘the coronacoaster’ and no one could have predicted what would happen next. Initially, she had to take an office job to get by, reversing her decision to create full-time, but even working nine to five, Covid restrictions meant that she had far more time to devote to Wendy’s World, as well as the wider community of Black content creators. “I’d seen issues of Black creators being ripped off and not credited,” she explains. “I wanted to to amplify dark skinned and Black creators because we all know that colourism is a big issue.” To this end, she organised a collaboration with a group of dark-skinned creatives who were involved in editorial make-up. However, both Wendy’s World and this new project were swept up by the wave of support for Black Lives Matter. “White creatives were sharing Black content creators and my name got in the mix of it. It just skyrocketed my page,” she says. It was a time of enormous visibility for the community of creators, but they were also exhausted. “And traumatised,” adds Wendy. “Because of everything that had happened and protesting.”
The initial collaboration went on ice while they coped with the events that were unfolding around them. “Weeks passed and I thought ‘what’s important right now?’ Right now is about amplifying all black creators. We need a space for visibility and a space that’s consistent.” She created the hashtags #EditorialBlk and #AvantGardeBlk and straight away it opened up an entirely new channel for working with her contemporaries in the industry. “That’s when I realised how important this was. The hashtag was used immediately, and I was getting all these messages [from fellow Black creatives]. Because if you go through hashtags you will struggle to find Black creators.” And so began @EditorialBlk, which was initially intended to simply repost the content of others, but quickly escalated into a showcase for collaborations between Black artists in the beauty industry. “Every week for twelve weeks, I collaborated with five black editorial artists each week. We had a theme – a colour, a design or whatever – and it was a way to boost the platforms of each creator,” Wendy explains. “I mixed up with people with a bigger or smaller following, but we all did the same thing. And this really created visibility.”
It’s crazy because lockdown actually escalated my career in some ways. It de-escalated it, then escalated it.
At the same time as Black Lives Matter marches were taking place all over the world, over 100 planned Pride events were postponed or cancelled. Instead, they went virtual and took the message of Pride online, with a real focus on highlighting the lives and works of Black creators in the LGBTQ+ community at the same time. This was when Iman, the Somali supermodel and wife of David Bowie, chose to share a video of Wendy. Over just five seconds, Wendy looks directly to camera and confidently paints rainbow colours across her eyes with a single sweep of a brush. “Iman the legend!” she beams. “I was just experimenting with colours and then everyone was sharing it. When that went viral, I was overwhelmed with so much work!” And this work allowed her to finally follow her dream of being self-employed, while at the same time giving so much more to @EditorialBlk. What began as a means to amplify the work of Black talent in the beauty industry quickly became a project that builds relationships between Black artists and brands, offers advice and creates paid working opportunities. “During Black History Month we did activations with Glisten cosmetics and were able to pay eight Black creators based in the UK and Europe. And we’ve done other things in the US and Africa as well.”
A lot of art is about doing the right thing at the right time, and at the tender age of 26 Wendy’s ten years of painting, studying, creating and collaborating found its moment. Success, of course, is subjective and social media success particularly is often misunderstood by older generations. At first, Wendy’s parents found her choice of career less than ideal. “A lot of immigrant families can relate. Your parents come to another country and all they know is that you need to get a good sustainable job, which is like a doctor or a lawyer,” she explains. However, Wendy’s World now has a seriously impressive client list – from Max Factor and ASOS to Pinterest and Gucci Beauty and her family can see her work and studies pay off. When her father recently visited after being stuck in Ghana due to the pandemic, he was able to tell Wendy directly how he felt. “He was like ‘well done. I’m proud of you.’ And that means a LOT coming from an African parent because a lot of the time they don’t say these things,” she laughs. “But he was like ‘honestly, well done, you’ve actually created a business and you’re supporting people around you and it’s amazing’. And it’s not easy at all, trying to make a career in this industry. I’m all about uplifting people.”
Discover Wendy’s World and EditorialBlk on Instagram.