2019 has been a year of progression and change; the ‘Fenty Effect’ has reached full swing with ‘Inclusivity’ being a cornerstone of 2020 Marcomms. For our final edition of the 2019 Unmistakable Characters, we look at a changemaker who began propelling D&I at the core of her business strategy before the ‘inclusivity wave’ hit the mainstream.
In 2016, Vabyanti Endrojono Ellis co-founded Nunude, an inclusive nude underwear brand, who broke the boundaries of body and beauty standards. The company uses models of all skin tones, ethnicities, sizes and abilities in all their campaigns, to encourages women to have self-love, & believe in unity and diversity. Nunude made waves by inspiring many other companies to do the same and created an active social media movement of over 100,000 followers around the world who believe that whatever your ethnic background shape or size you are beautiful and you should be represented in the media.
What's your name and what do you do?
Vabyanti Endrojono Ellis, Entrepreneur, Musician, and advocate for leveling the playing field.
How does your identity affect your work and your life in general?
My identity is made up of my gender, my network, my heritage and every person and institution I have come into contact within my life. My identity is multi-faceted and each part of my identity affects my life in a different way. As a mixed-race woman (South-East Asian, Irish & English) I empathise with and truly understand the biases and stereotypes that come with being an Asian. I watched my mum build her career and make light of the pretty serious encounters with people at her workplace. I also deeply understand the cultural aspects of Asian culture and as a result, really get on with Asian people in the workplace.
I think it’s important to educate yourself about other cultures. In doing so you can begin to understand where people are coming from, what their viewpoints are and how to accommodate them in your work. I’m proud of being mixed-raced - it gives me an edge and allows me to see two sides of the same coin. Mixed-raced people can be quite instrumental in bridging cultural gaps and helping different communities integrate.
Who have been your role models and why?
I always say I don’t know well-known people well enough for them to be my role models, but I do respect and I am in awe of particular achievements carried out by people. Greta Thunberg has ignited the campaigner in all of us to fight for a cause that will affect our futures, Malala Yousafzai has stood up for women’s rights and (this might be a curveball) Missy Elliot for being a creative bada** in the music industry. My role models are more grassroots, my family, my mother (Meuthia Endrojono Ellis), my partner (James Wong), my sister (Fifi Anicah), my auntie (Irma Endrojono) and my grandmother (Icana Loebis), these are people who I believe to be unapologetically themselves, those who are confident in their skin and are at one with themselves.
Do you think other people see you differently to how you see yourself?
Maybe, I don't know, I've never asked. My mum thinks I'm amazing and she's always telling me that I can't see what others see, so there might be some discrepancies.
Do you see yourself in advertising and marketing?
I do more and more. When we released the Nunude campaign in 2016, I saw hundreds of companies follow suit and push to be more diverse and I started to see women like me. I hope it’s not a trend though - I want to see these kinds of diversity initiatives stand the test of time, not just a one-off marketing campaign.
Are you tired of hearing about Diversity & Inclusion?
Yes! It’s such a standard thing for me. It’s the golden thread throughout every organisation. It’s like a car with no engine, it won’t work (well at least not for the long run anyway). Don’t talk about diversity and inclusion - just do it. It’s not debatable. I know it can be difficult sometimes though as the problem often comes before the hiring process.
What one thing would you say to your younger self?
Be brave, have trust in yourself. Be grateful for the skills that you have and run with it.