Welcome to ‘One of a Kind’, a new series in partnership with Tia Maria celebrating the uniqueness and self-expression of some of the UK’s brightest creative talents. Here, we’re given first-hand accounts from three ‘One of a Kind’ creatives on the come-up, exploring how their unapologetic approach to their respective crafts elevated them to where they are today. Next up, it’s burgeoning fashion stylist and creative Coco Mell, who is looking to inspire a new wave of sneaker enthusiasts and stylists with her bright, breezy looks and by challenging style's status quo.
Stylist, sneakerhead and podcaster Coco Mell's creative output has remained as consistent as it has been colourful throughout 2020, a crazy year that she has navigated with sheer force of will and a flurry of fire fits from start to finish.
Coco has spent the last ten years cultivating her own personal ascension in the fashion industry. Going from retail management to becoming one of the most exciting stylists in the game, Coco's perseverance has seen her work for a number of brands—including Adidas, Converse and Footlocker— while continuing to challenge the fashion industry to do better.
Not only dropping off influential looks on the gram and launching the Sole Intent podcast, Coco has been inspiring a next generation of creatives and sneakerheads to be vocal during the recent Black Lives Matter movement. Reading through the lines and calling out performative behaviour from big brands unapologetically, Coco has made it her mission to change the narrative in a scene which has needed shaking up for a minute.
We caught up with Coco to gain some insights on her creative process, her fashion industry do's and don'ts and what makes her approach truly 'One of a Kind'.
COMPLEX: When did you first get into styling?
Coco: I was in retail for 10 years, working in and around London – and that sort of gave me a perspective of the industry and what it’s about. After doing that for a while, I said to myself: “How do I take this up a notch?” – because as much as I loved it, I began to get fed up with dealing with rude people – it got a bit much to try and refrain and not respond to them.
After doing that for a while, I decided I wanted to keep the fashion vibe, but less the whole ‘doing as you’re told’ type of thing. People were telling me “your style is really cool” and “where did you get this from” and all of that… so I just thought to myself, maybe this is something that could actually be a career for me.
I was very much ‘education, education, education’ growing up – but styling very much fell in my lap. I wanted to be a buyer, originally – I did a short course on it but quickly realised that back then you needed to have a specific degree. Growing up, it was very much about earning your keep so I had to make myself some money – but then the universe aligned down the direction it did, and here I am now!
When you were working in retail through to now, who have been some of your biggest style inspirations?
There wasn’t any one, distinctive person – I just gravitated towards anyone that seemed creatively inclined to want to push boundaries, break down ideologies… all of that. I wanted to be thought-provoking, triggering inspiration for others.
Locally for me growing up, representation was non-existent. There wasn’t really anyone doing what I'm doing now. I was making my own mistakes, daily, trying to work out the do's and don’ts of the industry. Working out what emails would get me attraction, which things would get me ghosted, stuff like that, as well as just putting the feelers out.
But in terms of wider inspiration, musically, watching Hype Williams’ videos were always really inspiring – visually I was proper inspired by them. 90’s R&B and hip-hop was very much my thing – and unconsciously would be a big part of my style inspiration going forward.
My style now is very much based on first impressions counting. I always like to stay as on point as possible with my fashion and the brand I’m trying to create too. I want it to have a look and feel to it that is always new, and keeps people guessing. I don’t want people to scroll the credits and associate stuff with my style – I always want each thing I work on to feel totally unique.
You’re launching a creative agency for Black talent – talk to us some more about that, will that be next year?
Since I’ve been freelance, I’ve always done more than just “styling”, to be honest. I can do casting, creative directing... I thought bringing in all those elements under one umbrella rather than clients just hiring people for different roles, why don’t I just encompass it all under one service?
It’s not really an ‘agency’ per se – what I’m trying to do is create an entity that is a no BS, culturally led, progressive brand. Clients, friends and just people that I know, know I want to to bring in POC creatives into a set-up, holistically. I want to do that as I’ve got an amazing network of Black/POC people that I'd like to get on board when briefs come in. Because growing up I’d never had those kind of opportunities, so now it’s all about setting up the new wave gen to come.
I’m thankfully in a position where I’ve got a really good group around me, who can sense check me and have my best intention at heart. But now I want more people like myself to have more pieces of the pie.
How has this year been for you creatively? Despite how crazy it’s been generally, have you found time to build or improve yourself in some areas?
It’s had its peaks and troughs. It’s been a really humbling year. I think globally, there is a sense of vulnerability that we’re all feeling – and with that, there’s a sense of camaraderie that comes with it. I feel like this year has pushed people together in some ways that we’d never have imagined – and I think our perception on life is definitely different as a result.
If it wasn’t for Corona in March, I might have burnt out at this point. I’ve honestly checked my calendar and I've worked every day since August last year. I was going to bed at 4am, getting up at 6am to be on set for three days, then do it all again.
That is genuinely crazy. How did you find the energy to do that?
It comes down to always wanting to strive for more. I think that just gives me the energy to work under a certain amount of sleep. And being a perfectionist naturally affects my sleeping pattern as admittedly I’m way more creative at night.
And you’ve started your own podcast this year… how did that come together?
Starting Sole Intent podcast has been great for me – which I’d have never have been able to do if there hadn’t have been lockdown, to be honest. Sole Intent has allowed me to connect with someone, in my co-host Joelah Noble, whose great presenting skills have made me want to pattern my own game up even higher.
One thing starting the pod did give me a level of normalcy & a sense of routine back into my day-to-day life, but it also filled a void which existed on a wider level. There were no female sneakerheads with a voice in the space, so I think it was really important we created something new and important together by launching it this year.
The scene we’re in wouldn’t exist without women – and Black women specifically. It was about offering that relatable perspective from a fellow member of the diaspora’s point of view is important, because I know that other Black Womxn are going through the same issues as me. Creating something that felt organic, natural and eye-opening at the same time as being relatable for women like that was of the utmost importance to me, so I’m really proud to have seen that go live this year.
With everything that has gone on in this mad year do you think there have been some actual benefits given the long periods of reflection we all went through?
I’ve actually leveled up on Photoshop! I really wasn’t good at it at all at the start of the year but I got obsessed with getting good at it during lockdown. I didn’t have a clue but I booted it up and gave it a go! Even though it's still a work in process at mastering everything.
I was able to actually start designing stuff for the CMC 2020, the logo for it, things like that – so having the time to develop my skills there was great. It’s been a proper labour of love, but having the enjoyment of a new, creative skill was really sick.
Tia Maria’s ethos is ‘One of a kind’ – what makes you and/or your work ‘One of a Kind’?
My signature use of bright colours, and being bold with my work. I’ve got a proper unapologetic aesthetic when it comes to my colour palette. I don’t dress in black ever, or use black in my work – I love bright colours and expressing myself through that – so I’m always trying to push the boundaries in terms of the way you take in my work visually.
I’m always trying to get people to experiment with different colours too. Showing how certain colours can work with each other, and showcasing that fluidity, is a big thing for me.
I wanna showcase the most brazy shit possible, and I think my youthfulness and flair always shines through in my work too. Having my finger on the pulse is a big thing for me, so knowing who the new wave of creatives shaping things is a big thing for me.
What is needed to stand out from the crowd in your chosen creative field?
I think non-conforming is a big thing. Do stuff because you think its cool – not because you think other people think it’s cool. The moment you think something isn’t true to you, that’s when it falls apart and people clock that. Authenticity is key! I’m the same person on the gram as you meet in person. My ego isn’t wham in person – it’s all just the same energy.
Do you think individuality is getting celebrated better than ever in 2020?
Definitely. I think people are having to check themselves more this year, and as a result, people are actually having to back up what they say now. It became apparent this year that there were a lot of brands and people being fugazi.
I took the opportunity to try and speak with brands in the hope of helping them sense check themselves too. These were both brands that I respected, and those that I felt could have done more, so it was good to reach out, especially because it’s better all around to nip things in the bud early with actual action.
That's because just making donations to grass-roots organisations just isn't doing enough. It needs to go deeper than that. In the wake of BLM, it's about asking companies: “How many Black people do you have in leadership roles?” – that’s the kind of stuff that needs to be addressed, personally. I need to see representation on the jobs I’m working on. Everyone has to be accountable. Because cancel culture is a real thing, and no-one is safe from getting a drag nowadays!
Do you have a daily routine, habit or mantra to keep yourself independent and true to yourself?
I constantly remind myself as a freelancer regularly. Firstly “let you silence be your success” so now I’ve found that not revealing what I’ve been working on until it’s actually out has been really beneficial. I’ve cut down on that way more this year – and that way you can just show it to the world, and mic drop that’s a much better way of showcasing your work.
What are your thoughts on Tia Maria? What’s unique about it?
The brand history and it’s Jamaican heritage make it proper unique, and something that I definitely back – in every sense! In regards to the history, Tia Maria actually translates to “aunt” in English. Culturally, in the Black community, having respect for your elders you would usually call people “auntie” – just by default. I drew to the sense of what that meant to me with Tia Maria, and that’s what I really liked about the brand that sets it apart from others.
What sort of moment or scenario would you drink Tia Maria in?
Celebratory, social moments. Or maybe even a little festive moment. It’s definitely a crimbo drink! It’s definitely the season to drink it with friends and family, so I hope people will get to do that as much as possible this festive season.
If you were a cocktail, with Tia Maria in it, what sort of cocktail would you be?
It’s 100% gotta be a tall, heavily-iced glass of a Long Island Iced Tea, hands down. It’s definitely the drink that best represents me - something that’s an eclectic mix of an array of sprits all in one!