Meet Salima Breie Jobarteh, a 27-year-old Norwegian-Gambian stylist, and self-made businesswoman living in NYC. After years of hard work in Oslo, London and New York, she now calls NYC home. Only a couple of years ago, Salima and I were assistants to a well-known fashion model, (who I’m pretty sure ‘til this day, does not know our names). That was a lifetime ago, because this goal-oriented, funny New Yorker is going to be a household name really soon. Gal-dem caught up with Salima after the recent launch of her styling company, Arcada Exclusive as she discusses how a chance meeting with Grace Jones encouraged her to become, in her own words, ‘’The Queen of [her] Own Empire’’.
Yero Timi-Biu, gal-dem interviewer: What made you want to work in the fashion industry?
Salima Breie Jobarteh: I’ve always been a creative soul and grew up in a creative atmosphere. My mother being a music journalist with her own radio show and my dad, a musician. My grandmother was a central person in my childhood and seeing the utmost respect she had for clothes made a huge imprint on me. Clothes could always be salvaged in her eyes, she never threw anything away, either by replacing or adding fabric. I believe she was the one who made me realise that the clothes you wear represent you. She would never allow me to dress like a slob. She always said “Dress properly!”
What was your fashion journey, have you always wanted to work in the industry?
Yes, I always knew that was the way for me. I moved to London to study for a BA in Fashion PR at London College of Fashion. I always had my eyes set on NYC, but as a 19 year old who had never been to the states and frequently visiting London, it was the best choice for me at that time. And I don’t regret it one second. I love London and always will. I don’t necessarily know exactly what I want to do, I’m still young and trying to figure it out. But, I know I’m on the right path.
As a WoC in the fashion industry, have you ever faced any discrimination?
No, not at all. I don’t let it apply to me. I grew up at a school and neighbourhood that made it very clear that the colour of your skin didn’t matter. And I was in a class where I was the only mixed kid until 4th grade. All that mattered was that you were a good person who protected your friends no matter what, at least that’s how I understood it.
Are there any women you look up to, or have helped shaped you to become who you are?
Oh dear, so many. But what they have in common is their self-respect, they know their own value and won’t settle for less. They never give up on their goals and dreams and they have no time for bullshit. I would say the strong females in my family have definitely shaped me and my closest girlfriends, who are all independent and incredibly smart. As for famous people I look up to: Grace Jones, Diana Ross, Patti Smith. Those who know me know I consider Grace Jones my goddess/spirit animal.
Rumour has it you met her and you had a crying session together. Explain.
Don’t get me emotional. I met her at the Barnes & Noble book signing beginning of October. She was signing her biography ‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’, I did not anticipate my own reaction when I went up to meet her. I completely broke down. In front of an ocean of people. I just kept saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for being such an inspiration – and sorry for crying” She looked up on me and said “Don’t worry! I’m crying too!” followed by “Read my book and you’ll understand. Turn all negatives into positives and you will do great”, which always has been my mantra, but it’s easy to forget. That was a solid reminder. God I love that woman.
There’s often a negative perception of the fashion industry and it can be deemed as cutthroat, do you agree?
I mean, isn’t it like that in all industries? It is what you make it to be, what you chose to focus on and what you put out there yourself. Like most industries, it is competitive as hell and competitive is cutthroat. You’ll find shitty people everywhere and people tend to focus on the negative rather than the positive, especially when it comes to people outside of fashion looking in. A lot of them view the industry as shallow. Which in some areas it can be, but there are so many other beautiful layers that they don’t see or understand. It is a beautiful ecosystem where all departments depend on each other in the end.
So what made you want to start up your own business?
As much as I love being a stylist assistant, constantly learning, I thought it was time to start something new on the side. Be the queen of my own empire for a change – it’s scary for sure, but exciting at the same time. I saw a gap in the market for my target audience, so I seized the opportunity.
Any tips for newbies who want to start up their own fashion businesses?
Prepare to work your ass of for zero dineros in the beginning, long hours and a lot of yelling. Be nice to everyone you meet, but don’t be stupidly nice. People will take advantage of it. Reflect and learn from every situation you’re in, that’s the best way to prepare yourself for a possible new job, I think. Look out for yourself!