Olori Swank is the 2023 Melanin Beauty Awards “Changemaker” award winner.
Cultivating change within an industry comprised of systemic barriers is an uphill battle that can discourage even the best of us- yet Olori Swank independently developed a successful career path in fashion in which newer stylists can walk with greater ease. Barriers be damned.
Like many other businesses in America, the fashion industry presents unique challenges for Black women. In fact, in 2020, Harpers Bazaar published a story detailing the myriad of ways the fashion industry is “failing Black people.” Black stylist recounted their experiences in the fashion world. Chief among their concerns is the industry’s illusion of inclusions. Or, as the feature noted, the Fashion industry’s ability “to capitalize off Black culture while not welcoming Black talent through its doors or providing those of us who manage our way in with opportunities to grow.”
Swank is the rose that grew from concrete. The self-identified “serial entrepreneur” relied on her innate gifts and talents to advance within an industry that is reportedly anything but a nurturing space for Black women. Swank’s achievements include building a clientele of artists like Young Jeezy, Teyona Taylor, Keisha Cole, and more. A clientele of this magnitude is unsurprising for a woman with her tenacity. The blue-haired fashionista crafted a unique career trajectory that was sparked by her personal style.
Olori Swank told HelloBeautiful, “Fashion and style have been a fundamental part of my life since childhood, thanks to my parents. They had an impeccable sense of style and dressed my siblings and me with a keen eye for Fashion. So, for me, being stylish was as routine as brushing my teeth – a daily ritual. My unexpected entry into fashion styling happened quite serendipitously. After graduating from the University of Georgia, I was in a gap year before pursuing medical school with dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon. At that time, I was simply enjoying having time off school since I’d never taken a summer break in all the four years I was in college.
Olori Swank – Goal Getter
Pursuing any type of career, especially one in Fashion, was the last thing on my mind. As a matter of fact, the concept of fashion styling as a career was completely unfamiliar to me. I had never heard of it. Then, almost out of nowhere, a pivotal moment occurred. The VP of A&R from Jive Records, having seen me out a few times and taken note of my personal style, asked me to style an artist newly signed to the label. Initially, I mistook his request, thinking he meant hair styling, to which I responded, “I don’t do hair, sorry.” But he clarified, “Just dress her like how you dress, and we will be fine.” That’s how I took on the challenge and dove headfirst into the world of fashion styling. It was a field I had never considered or imagined, yet as I grew in it, I found it both fulfilling and invigorating.”
Swank’s willingness to pivot professionally speaks to a more prominent character strength that can serve other Black women well. Our professional goals can turn into handcuffs if we fail to allow room for serendipitous moments, redirection, and even mistakes. In Olori Swank’s case, one mistake resulted in what is now part of her signature blue hair. She told HB, “The story of my signature blue hair is just as happenstance as the story of how I found my start as a fashion stylist – it is the result of an accident back in 2008. At that time, pink hair was all the rage. I wanted to join the wave but also stand out, so I planned for a unique twist: pink hair with purple highlights. However, to my absolute dismay, the hair coloring session took an unexpected turn, and I ended up with blue hair – a result of a coloring mishap It’s funny how this unexpected mistake turned into a defining moment for my personal style.”
Choosing to reframe challenging experiences and turn “unexpected mistakes” into defining moments is the mark of a strong visionary. And Swank, as her career proves, is an undeniable visionary. HB spoke to the creative fashion group about how she maps out her vision when styling celebrity clients with such distinct backgrounds and aesthetics. She responded,” Styling artists, especially those with their own unique flair like Rae Sremmurd and Jeezy, starts with getting to know them on a personal level. For me, style is a deeply personal form of expression, so it’s crucial to understand who they are, how they view themselves, and how they want to be seen by the world. I dive into their inspirations, asking about people or characters they feel connected to. But it’s not all deep and philosophical – I also get into the nitty-gritty like color preferences, styles they can’t stand, and which parts of their body they want to flaunt or not. From there, I blend what I’ve learned from them with my own fashion know-how to create looks that hit the mark. The occasion and the practicalities of what they’ll be doing also play a big part in my decisions. There’s a world of difference between styling for a red-carpet event and an energetic concert performance. It’s about finding that sweet spot where their personal style, the demands of the event, and my vision come together in perfect harmony.”
Olori Swank Is A Changemaker
The creative designer understands how critical harmony and balance are in fashion. Particularly when merging hip-hop and fashion—which is the 2023 Melanin Beauty Awards theme. Hip-hop and fashion are an undeniable pair. Or, as Swank noted, “Fashion and hip hop are like dance partners – constantly influencing and energizing each other. It’s more of a cyclical relationship than a one-way street. Hip-hop artists express themselves through Fashion, setting trends, and making statements. On the flip side, fashion designers are tuned into the pulse of hip-hop culture, often drawing inspiration from it for their collections. We’ve seen this play out over and over again. From luxury brands teaming up with hip-hop artists to the infusion of streetwear and urban aesthetics into high Fashion, the two realms are deeply interconnected. This exchange of ideas and styles goes beyond just clothing – it’s a reflection of cultural shifts and artistic expression. Fashion and hip hop together create a vibrant landscape that continues to evolve and inspire.”
The continued ability to evolve and inspire was at the core of the decision-making process for identifying the 2023 Change Maker honoree.
The editorial team at MadameNoire and HelloBeautiful wanted to honor a visionary who cultivated a non-traditional career path that could inspire younger Black stylists. Olori Swank relied on her unique skillsets and ability to pivot mentally and professionally to launch a career in an industry that has been especially difficult for Black women. In doing so, the young stylist demonstrated what is possible for future stylists. Her story has the potential to speak to the hearts and minds of young Black girls who are struggling to see that obtaining a dream of being a celebrity stylist and an entrepreneur is possible. Systemic barriers have a way of blinding even the most optimistic of us. Olori Swank’s light shines bright enough to empower a new wave of Black women in the fashion industry and beyond.
Visit the 2023 Melanin Beauty Awards hub, here.
Olori Swank Is Our 2023 Melanin Beauty Awards “Changemaker” was originally published on hellobeautiful.com
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