Chidera Eggerue, also known by her alias The Slumflower, is a blogger and Creative Director, not to mention a notable social media activist. In all these pursuits she uses creativity and hard-won wisdom to propel and support open conversations about health, happiness, identity and self worth. Always rocking whatever feels good and inspiring others to do the same, it’s easy to admire Chidera for her style, showcased in the brilliant narrative shoots that populate her blog The Slumflower.
Last year I invited Chidera to take part in my first talks event at Google Campus, to share her insights on life as a working creative. Since then, I’ve been proud to celebrate her and the many projects she’s been working on. Now, still blogging, shooting and travelling the world as Creative Director of holiday rental company Innclusive, I caught up with Chidera talk creativity, womanhood and loving yourself fully…
You’re based here in London. How does the city influence your work?
All my life, I’ve lived in Peckham which is in south east London. Five years ago, I’d tell people this and they’d jokingly make a reference to guns. Now in 2017, thanks to super-hip white people knocking down our hair shops and estates to build ‘exciting new developments’, Peckham has been announced as ‘the best place to live in London’ by the Evening Standard. Peckham has gone from what was once perceived as gang central to the new Shoreditch.
This discourse was actually what birthed my name The Slumflower. I was inspired by Street Etiquette’s project Slumflower about a young boy from the hood who adores flowers. This juxtaposition of two worlds reminded me of the project; the idea of something beautiful growing from an area that doesn’t welcome its growth. When I first chose the name, Peckham was in its early stages of gentrification.
Tell us about your creative journey. Was there a breakthrough moment for you?
I started out as an immature 16 year old with Twitter. People found me funny and liked my clothes so I’d often be asked about my style and told I should start a blog. At the time, blogging was more-or-less an exclusively white space filled with Balenciagas, balayages and photographer boyfriends.
For about three years, I put off becoming a blogger and instead, focused on channelling my main form of creativity, my visual art. I originally studied art at The BRIT School continued to push myself, uploading my drawings and getting feedback, slowly becoming the Photoshop wizard that I am now. After some procrastination, I decided it was time to create a blog and take it seriously.
By then, I had started university at London College of Fashion but I failed the degree due to depression in my final year. I ended up in a minimum wage retail job at a vintage store in Shoreditch. I hated it. I remember it was Halloween and a customer openly joked to me that she’d be going in blackface to dress as Whitney Houston for her party. I wanted to tell her about herself but I knew I’d lose my job if I did so I smiled and pretended I heard nothing.
A month into that job, I was headhunted for my current job as Creative Director of Innclusive and since then, I’ve been flying around the world and speaking about issues that really matter to me, like having to get a white friend to book for you on Air BnB because the world is seemingly terrified of black people.
The breakthrough moment in my life occurred when I left the former creative collective I was a part of for almost three years and decided to define my own route. It was scary at first, to have no safety net and no friends at the time but now, I can look at myself and say that it all happened the way it was meant to. What was meant for me waited for me. My destiny was mine to define.
What does the word ‘successful’ mean to you?
To be successful is to be content, no matter where life has placed you.
Is there anything you feel particularly proud of overcoming in the last few years?
My mother has never really understood what it is that I do. I’d often get into severe arguments with her over coming home late from a video shoot or an industry event and she’d accuse me of going astray. I remember having to hide my Instagram account in fear of her misunderstanding my purpose.
That was until she attended an awards ceremony with me and witnessed me win the 2016 NU People Inspire Award for all the hard work I’d gotten up to since I began blogging and public speaking. The greatest feeling ever is for your parents to validate your efforts. Now, she gets it, she even tells her friends to follow me on Instagram.
To any young person facing the battle of explaining an ambiguous career choice to their parents, hang in there. Stand firm. They won’t understand until you start making money from it. They won’t understand until you give them something to brag to their mates about. They just want the best for us but sometimes have terrible ways of articulating that.
Tell us about your usual working day and your work/life balance…
I carry my laptop on me all the time so you’ll probably catch me in Ace Hotel, Shoreditch replying to emails and sending out tweets for the company I work for. If I’m not at a brand’s press day, I’m usually attending meetings. I try to keep myself as busy as possible. If you aren’t busy with your own business, you’ll end up in someone else’s.
If I’m not working, I’m tweeting. When I’m not tweeting, I’m re-reading my current favourite book Neon Soul by Alex Elle. It’s a self-care book of prose and poetry and covers everything from heartbreak to healing. Reading it feels like sunrise.
I’m big on self-repair and I don’t like burdening people with my problems. I can’t afford therapy and I hate spreading my business so I’d much rather fix or at least manage problems by myself through research and reading other people’s recovery stories. If you’re someone who’s anxious about burdening people and you also can’t afford a therapist, I’d personally recommend tinybuddha.
Do you think women have more to go up against in the creative industries? And as a black woman inspiring the next generation of young creatives, what have your experiences been like in terms of forging your path and handling the obstacles in your way?
Women will always be undermined by men in any industry. There’s no bigger threat to a male ego than a self-sufficient woman, not just physically, but mentally too. Sadly, misogyny is so prevalent, that it’s internalised by women which means often, women in the creative industries will diss and dismiss others.
As a black woman in the industry, I spend more time being overlooked than getting booked. Bloggers are making big bucks but that’s mainly possible if you’re white. I see my white counterparts getting swept up by big talent agencies, bagging huge deals and collaborations, featuring in hair dye adverts, being flown out to Coachella and being paid £600+ per sponsored Instagram post.
Often this is not underserved, but companies predominantly only want to work with influencers who are digestible and easy to sell a product on. If you’re white, blonde and slender congratulations. You’re eligible for every major ad campaign on the planet. But if you’re a black woman, appealing to a wide audience, you have to whitewash yourself to an extent. You can’t tweet about BLACK LIVES MATTER because you’ll likely lose some followers. You can narrowly approach the topic of dealing with micro-aggressions as a black woman but if you delve too deeply, you might lose out on that Dove sponsorship.
If you want to make it big in this industry, tweet neutral things like: I love my avocado on rye bread breakfast! #yummy #bloggerbrunch and don’t forget that twinkle emoji. Talk about real things happening in the world like the death rate of black people in police custody and that unsolicited hair-touching is invasive and rude and prepare to have a slower career. I choose the latter.
I would rather be my whole self, than be paid to compromise on my identity. I’m here for black women who need a sister to lean on, who need a sister to remind them of their purpose in a world that constantly imitates us whilst putting us down at the same time. I don’t fear being excluded by people who don’t like me. My value is mine to create.
What useful advice would you give your younger self and do you have any tips for young female creatives?
Stop waiting. Nobody’s going to be your hero. People are still out here trying to save themselves.
Try not to give people access to you outside of business if you have a gut feeling that they have ulterior motives. Cisgendered heterosexual men have been socialised to feel entitled to women so you need to have your own back and stop feeling bad for saying ‘no’ to people who already feel entitled to you. No opportunity is worth it if it comes at the price of your standards. If you’re talented, another opportunity will come in another form. Regardless of their co-sign or validation, you will always be epic.
What’s next for you, Chidera?
I’m writing an important book and I’m currently at the stage of wrapping it up and sending it off to be published. It’s going to be sensational. You’ll also be seeing a lot more of me on your telly and I might just pop up in a YouTube advert very soon. I’m slowly transitioning into presenting and I’m having the time of my life exploring my skills. In the meantime you can catch up with me on Instagram and Twitter at @theslumflower.
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Words: Emily Beeson | @boogiemargaret