The designers, musicians and artists who raised the creative bar in an unprecedented year.
By Marissa Lee.
Years from now, students in history classes will learn about 2020 for what it was: a foray into the second round of the roaring ‘20s, filled to the brim with sickness, a monumental election, and plenty of civil unrest. If you’re anything like the author, you may be a little sick of living through ‘unprecedented times.’ Unfortunately for us, they seem far from over.
However, when navigating protests, stay-at-home orders and other circumstances that rocked society’s metaphorical boat, certain creatives made it their mission to make some good from the bad in capacities philanthropic, creative, and artistic. Below are ten of Mission’s favorite creatives who made art out of the unprecedented during this utterly strange year.
- Kai-Isaiah Jamal // @kai_isaiah_jamal
Kai-Isaiah Jamal has had quite the year, from gracing the covers of a number of magazines to collaborations with the British Fashion Council, all the way to appearing in Mission’s fourth issue alongside their fiancé Cora Delaney. As a Black trans person, Jamal’s identity offers them a perspective not many understand, but could surely stand to learn about. Throughout this whirlwind of a year, the spoken-word poet and trans visibility activist has used their platform to cover topics of identity, discrimination, and dysphoria, and became London ICA’s first poet in residence. Currently, Jamal is putting together their first poetry anthology, working with a Black-run publishing agency that spotlights writers of color.
- Arlo Parks // @arlo.parks
Arlo Parks was music’s gift to the world this year. The 20-year-old British lofi artist makes more than just music; if you’re in the need for enchanting queer poetry layered over breathy lofi backing tracks, give Ms. Parks a listen. Besides gaining listeners by the millions this year, Arlo also released some of music’s most salient singles, including ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Eugene,’ which deal with topics of mental health and sexuality. She cites artists such as Portishead and Earl Sweatshirt as her inspiration, however has herself become an inspiration to many.
- Ellie Goldstein // @elliegj16_zebedeemodel
Ellie Goldstein is a force to be reckoned with. The 18-year-old model is signed with Zebedee Management, a U.K.-based model management company which specifically represents individuals who are disabled and commonly left out of the larger media narrative. Ellie herself has down syndrome, and after appearing in Gucci Beauty’s editorial campaign for L’obscur Mascara, became one of the first disabled models to be featured in the high fashion media lens. Most recently, Goldstein appeared on the cover of Allure magazine, continuing to trailblaze through the high fashion world. Ellie not only provides visibility for individuals such as herself, but paves the way for models of all abilities in the high fashion space.
- Sault // @saultglobal
Sault is a British music collective which emerged in 2019 and makes hauntingly beautiful R&B hymns about the Black experience. Although they have garnered over 1.1 million monthly listeners through their Spotify, Sault is about as elusive as they come. No one knows who the actual members are, although famed piano virtuoso Michael Kiwanuka is rumored to be a member. Their Instagram page solely features video upon video of hands folded in prayer or making a Black Power fist as the words, “But we will never show fear / Even in my eyes / I will always rise / In wildfires,” play in the background.
- Sarai Garcia // @file.jpg
Sarai Garcia is the definition of a rising star. This young photographer and recent FIT graduate uses her lens in a candid and artistic way, offering a breath of fresh air to fashion photography. Her youthful eye allows her to take photos that are artful and elegant with a side of eclectic Gen-Z flavor. Although still in the beginning stages of her career, Garcia has an impressive portfolio under her belt, oftentimes producing self-portraits centered around beauty and the human body. Garcia’s work was recently featured in The Cut’s ‘They Seem Cool,’ solidifying her as an up-and-comer in the contemporary fashion photography game.
- Gabrielle Richardson // @fridacashflow
Gabrielle Richardson, better known by her Instagram moniker Frida Cash Flow, is a model and activist who made waves in the activism community the past year. As a model and curator at Art Hoe Collective, a safe space for QPOC creatives of color, Richardson garnered both a platform and an initiative. This year, she founded Brown Girl Butterfly Project, a space that “aims to create a community of black and brown womxn and non-binary folxz through healing, nurture, and soft protest.” Using this platform, the BGBP hosts panels, meet-ups, and community events with the goal of uniting creatives of color.
- Aurora James // @aurorajames
Aurora James is many things— designer, innovator, and philanthropist. As the founder of Brooklyn-based sustainable fashion brand Brother Vellies and e-founder of the 15 Percent Pledge, James knows a thing or two about using her platform for good. Through her fashion brand, James partners with artisans and creatives on the ground in Nairobi, working on job opportunities, creative development, and community building. This past year, the young designer founded the aforementioned 15 Percent Pledge, offering visibility and support to the Black businesses of the United States.
- Aaron Philip // @aaron___philip
The list of 2020 changemakers is not complete without mention of Aaron Philip, the transgender wheelchair-bound fashion model. Philip began making waves in 2018 when she became the first Black transgender disabled model to be signed to a major modelling agency. Since then, Philip’s career has skyrocketed, and she is now represented by Community New York and doing collaborations with brands such as Gucci and Telfar. This past year has been especially amazing for the model, as she used her voice and platform to call attention to the racial injustices plaguing Black Americans while continuing to model and make art through the pandemic.
- Warriors in the Garden // @warriorsinthegarden
Warriors in the Garden is an activist group hailing from New York City who met as a group of strangers at the George Floyd rallies in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The group quickly became an activism-fueled force of nature, forming a “collective of non-violent activists dedicated to protecting [their] community from all forms of systemic oppression.” The groups started by organizing rallies and protests, and have now transitioned into organizing community events such as holiday coat and food drives, Black business fairs, and sharing polling information surrounding the election.
- Telfar Clemens // @telfarglobal
Telfar has effectively changed the way luxury fashion works in 2020, bringing the always-out-of-reach concept of accessibility into the high fashion picture. The Telfar Bag, which was deemed ‘the Brooklyn Birkin’ thanks to its extreme popularity this past year, became nearly impossible to nab due to its low price and the frenzy surrounding it. Telfar then switched up the narrative, introducing their tagline ‘Not for you, for everyone.’ They made the bag available to any and everyone for pre-order, and every order was delivered. They have one of the most inclusive brand images, highlighting Blackness, disability, youth, and community, and are arguably one of the biggest and most innovative things to happen to fashion in 2020.