Susan Bender Whitfield
We are thrilled to spotlight Susan Bender Whitfield, our latest Marfa Muse shot by Alex Cameron.
Susan is a Creative Director, Contributing Editor at British Vogue, Freelance Stylist and luxury brand specialist whose career rocketed in the early noughties by styling fashion shows with Charlotte Stockdale. Susan reflects on how diversity is needed at board level and how fashion brands won’t achieve true change until they build circularity into their business models.
Did you always have your heart set on a career in fashion?
Growing up I wanted to be a stunt woman, my father wanted me to be a lawyer. We lived in a 3 storey Victorian house and I was always throwing myself off the bannisters, landing on the next floor. I was a tomboy, the youngest and a bit of a daredevil.
My parents weren’t creative, more academic but my mother was very stylish, always making and mending. I wanted to be a fashion buyer and I had no idea that a fashion stylist job even existed.
I then studied acting before getting some work experience with Charlotte Stockdale and Katie Grand. It really lit the fire in me and when I left drama school, I helped her and then it got to the point where I had to choose which I wanted to do more.
What were you doing when you first started out in fashion?
I assisted Charlotte and Phil Poynter and also helped with the styling and editing of a book at Dazed. Charlotte’s career really took off and she was doing a lot of shows. She was doing Dolce and D&G and then decided she couldn’t do both so I ended up doing D&G. It was a real boost to my confidence, how much she believed in me and after that, I started doing shows.
When you look back, what are the pinch-me-moments?
Working on Fashion Rocks for the Prince’s Trust was special at the Royal Albert Hall…it was a stellar cast of every designer you could imagine. At one point I was dragged into the lift and I was chatting away to my team completely oblivious that Giorgio Armani and Beyonce were behind me. Oh and when Grace Jones growled at me…And I recently met Prince Charles for a sustainable marketing initiative and you know, to think that one day he will be the King of England.
Has the fashion industry been slow to develop its eco-credentials?
I think there is so much greenwashing. There is a lot more to do yet. Why are brands still producing 3-4 collections a year? For me it’s about supply chains and business models and many haven’t changed. We won’t see true change until we can start being circular.
Also, a lot has to come from high street retailers; producing a capsule collection of organic cotton clothes is not enough. You need to change your whole business model.
Other issues which need to be embraced?
(Laughs) Where do I start?
I don’t really see change at board level. And at board level and in design teams is where this needs to happen because that way, brands can communicate differently. If your board and design team are all white, well that’s where brand can make mistakes. A more diverse community represents different viewpoints.
Size inclusivity is important too. If you are going to offer something, offer it in all sizes. Women will buy more if they can see a reflection of themselves. You need different sizes so that women think “I’m more like this shape, actually that will work on me.”
What is the next Tik Tok?
Everything is in the meta verse darling.
How will consumer habits change in the next few years?
Hopefully we will consume less because we will be living in the metaverse so we won’t actually need clothing…
Can you tell us how you are instigating change in your personal or professional life?
In general, I would love to do more philanthropic work, I want to work with purpose and create projects of purpose. I’m involved with the Coco Foundation in Camden and I want to bring my creativity to inspire the next generation. And I’m also a member of the 5am club, great for actually finding time to be creative.
Photography by Alex Cameron
Interview by Carolyn Asome