July 26, 2023
Creating Space: Ep. 1 -Kelliesha White of Depop Speaks On Nurturing Black Talent

Introducing ‘Creating Space’ AMAKA’s digital written series spotlighting media, tech and creative leaders championing diversity and inclusivity across Africa and the African diaspora. From agency executives to directors in global tech platforms, we connect with our guests to gain insights on the role of diversity, equity and inclusion in the creative and tech industries, how Black and African youth can access career opportunities, and share anecdotes on their career trajectories. We will discuss emerging cultural and market trends across global territories and how they impact African and Black audiences worldwide.

For the first of our Creating Space Series we have, Kelliesha White, the Global Senior Brand and Cultural Impact Manager at Depop. She advocates for impact and inclusion in the creative and marketing sectors.

The award-winning marketer taps into cultural insights to understand consumer engagement and existing trends that incite youth today. From promoting circular fashion and challenging traditional perceptions of secondhand items at Depop, amplifying and mentoring Black talent, to delivering talks that centre community and innovation, cultural impact remains integral to White’s personal and professional identity. Her keen sense of cultural awareness was cemented in her days at the Black-British music culture platform GUAP and the next-gen youth marketing agency NERDS before rising the ranks at Depop.

I sat down with Kelliesha White to discuss her career trajectory, the importance of mentorship and forging a stronger sense of cultural competence and inclusion when approaching equity and diversity for Black and diverse talent.

Photo courtesy: Jahnay Tennai
Photo courtesy: Jahnay Tennai

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Adaorah Oramah: What does being a Global Senior Brand and Cultural Impact Manager at Depop mean for you?

Kelliesha White: The thing that gravitated me to Depop was the fact that it's fashion, and I've always loved fashion. But also that they're trying to do fashion in a better way. I always felt like marketing, essentially on a very foundational level, is about consumerism. Inherently, with the way I was brought up, I don't necessarily believe in that. I'm not the most materialistic person. Obviously, I like nice things, but I don't necessarily believe in overconsumption. So, I think Depop was a nice sweet spot for me, where I would still get to work in fashion, but I was also able to do work that was going to impact the world positively. In no way is it a complete solution, but it's a better way of doing something.

I'm always inspired by people who are making an impact culturally. So, whether it be people who are shifting the narrative within the Black diaspora and letting people know you can thrive, you can be successful, you can have generational wealth. You can do jobs that you didn't know existed when you were younger. Or it's people that are trying to raise the profile of Africa or the Caribbean and saying it's not just a place where you can come and vacation, but you can come and invest here. I was always interested in those conversations.

When you think about it, Depop is the reason why this whole Y2K aesthetic came back. We see things trending in Depop before it hits broader culture. That’s why I wanted to work at Depop.

Adaora Oramah: How and why did you develop your career focusing on measuring community engagement and cultural impact?

Kelliesha White: Cultural impact is hard because you can't really measure it. It's this thing that you do to build affinity within your brand, to build strong community ties. For me, I just didn't want to be another marketer. I just didn't want to be another person who was selling stuff to people. So, that's why I navigated towards the space of community and culture.

I just wanted to contribute positively to the world and have some positive impact. When you do this work, it means that you are able to bring in people who are not established, photographers or well-known videographers. You can start to tap into communities, up and coming talent [and] collectives. It allows you to work with people who don't necessarily always get a shot [...]. I don't really care about working with massive stars. That doesn't really mean anything to me. I like to see creatives grow.

Adaora Oramah: What previous campaigns have you worked on that focused on community and cultural impact?

Kelliesha White: I can talk about one that was really community driven at its heart - the Depop Collaborators - which was essentially about tapping into different subcultures and empowering them to bring more people from their community into circular fashion. We worked with five creators and collectives across New York, L.A., and London. We gave them a grant to come up with an idea that would bring more people into the world of circular fashion. They all created their own different events. We did screen printing workshops where people had to bring old garments to get exclusive prints from a brand called Stitch.

Photo courtesy: Jahnay Tennai
Photo courtesy: Jahnay Tennai

We worked on an event in L.A. where the designer made sculptures from waste in the L.A. fashion district and then connected that to the health issues that happen in [the city] because of the fashion production and the waste and the pollution that's going out into the areas.

We also worked with two designers in London that made a collection from upcycled and dead stock materials. We exhibited the garments and had a party to launch the exhibition.

That was one of the things that was really cool, we were leveraging the voices of credible people within the culture, bringing more people into the world of circular fashion while giving them a platform to show their creativity as well.

Adaora Oramah: What more would you like to see in the creative, tech and marketing industries?

Kelliesha White: It's about creating inclusive cultures. I think there's been a huge push from a diverse hiring point of view, but I think retention is a huge issue. You invite people to these companies you understand that you need to have a diversity of thought in your teams in order to speak to this new generation. Gen Z is the most ethnically diverse generation yet, so you need that. It's not a nice to have, it's a necessity in order for your business to grow; in order for you to stay in tune with the next generation.

Then we need to think about internal mentoring. What kind of schemes can you set up internally? Can you bring coaches in to help those marginalised groups within your company? Can you set up ERGs (Employee Resource Groups)? Can you set up mentoring between people in your C-suite and junior members of your company?

That's the sort of stuff that they can do. If you're a company that says you care about people, you care about the planet, then that's some of the things that you could be doing.

Adaora Oramah: Any advice for those interested in following a similar career path?

Kelliesha White: On a very basic level, it's understanding the opportunities that are out there. Sign up for newsletters like the Livity newsletter or the POCC newsletter, or join mentoring schemes so that you are exposed to roles in the industry, internships, and junior roles for entering the industry.

Secondly, find a mentor in the kind of job sphere or the creative sphere that you want to go into. Find them on LinkedIn, message them or go to events that you know they're going to be at. Be brave; go and speak to them. Most people are honoured when somebody asks them to be their mentor.

Thirdly, put yourself out there. Make sure you're active on LinkedIn, or make sure you've got some sort of professional profile on Instagram. Try the Dots. People sleep on The Dots, which is good for [searching for roles] in the creative industry. Post actively, and create a name for yourself. If you want to be, I don't know, a director, then build that lane on LinkedIn.

Adaora Oramah: We recognise the importance of creating space for diverse talent.  What does ‘Creating Space’ mean to you?

Kelliesha White: I think on a very foundational level, taking up space is being in spaces regardless of whether or not they were built for you. [It’s] being 100 per cent yourself and trying to change the narrative and open up the doors for those who are coming up behind you. I think it’s really important. We have to take responsibility for ourselves as a people.

We will be interviewing more changemakers in the creative and tech industries. If you would like to stay updated on our Creating Space series, you can sign up for our Brand Partnerships mailing list.

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