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Maïna Cissé The Underarguments

POC around the block 6: Maïna Cissé

In this series, our columnist Anna Jin brings attention to the unique and talented people of colour working in fashion.

The face of fashion is changing as brands are making a conscious effort to become more inclusive in who they represent. Luxury empires and high street retailers alike are increasingly promoting diverse models on their catwalks and in their campaigns.

However, this was not enough for Maïna Cissé. As a woman of colour, she felt that nobody was taking risks, so she decided to test out a completely new way of hiring models.

While other underwear brands look at photos, measurements or modelling experience, she is only interested in casting someone who has an interesting story to tell.

Maïna Cissé founded the lingerie brand and content sharing platform The Underargument in 2015. Her goal, and her company’s motto, is to inspire women to “embrace their individuality”. 

She did not intend to challenge the fashion industry status quo when she first started her company, but her radical approach to casting models challenged norms nonetheless.

Woman modelling black lingerie set from The Underargument
Photo: Maïna Cissé

Maïna first created what she now calls “anti-casting” in 2017 because she was frustrated with the conversation around diversity that existed at the time. 

“I’m fed up with people defining what diversity is”, she says. She wanted representation to be sincere, rather than an attempt to tick the right diversity boxes, or to conform to the industry’s traditional beauty ideals.

Maïna invites women who want to model her lingerie to submit stories that suit one of her collections and her brand’s message.

The chosen writers are invited to a professional photoshoot in The Underargument’s studio in London, and their stories are shared on the brand’s website. 

Woman modelling black lingerie set from The Underargument
Photo: Maïna Cissé

“The reality is that we’ve shot over 50 people so far, and we haven’t had any shoots that were difficult or had issues finding photos that were perfect,” says Maïna on the success of anti-casting.

“We realised that when we give respect, attention and appreciation to someone, they literally shine in front of the camera. So that debunks a lot of the myths that we believe in in terms of beauty standards”

Woman modelling black lingerie set from The Underargument
Photo: Maïna Cissé

Maïna is not fighting for the elimination of professional models, nor is she trying to convince everyone in the fashion industry to follow her example.

However, she is hoping to show that there is an alternative way for fashion brands to champion diversity and create beautiful images outside of the status quo.

You can find out more information about anti-casting here.

The Underargument’s products can be ordered via their website, and they can also be found on Instagram and Facebook.

Tags: diversity, inclusivity, POC around the block, small businesses, the underargument, WOC

Anna Jin

Instagram & Twitter: @annahanjin
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