AVILA DIANA: CREATING A SPACE FOR MUCH NEEDED DIVERSITY
Interview with Founder Avila Chidume
JUNE 10TH 2020
Avila Diana, founded by Avila Chidume, is the incredible business that creates and designs unique celebratory cards with the main focus of inclusivity and diverse representation. Avila Chidume set out with the goal in mind to create a space where the under-represented community's such as BAME, LGBTQA+ etc. can find themselves within mainstream commercial media.
“Currently, I mainly work alone with help from my silbings who assit me with market stalls and finances when they are available. My ultimate goal is to spread awareness, create dialogue and encourage all businesses to reassess their diversity ethos. Additionally, I hope to create positive change through my work and to one day employ a team of artists from these marginalised groups to create artwork which shares their stories on this platform."
We were fortunate enough to be joined by Avila to discuss the importance of representation and diversity within mainstream brands and the world of consumerism as well as talking about her goals and plans for the future of the awe-inspiring brand.
I think the most important question to ask right now is of course, how are you coping mentally during these times in regard to not only the pandemic, but the global rise of the Black Lives Matter movement?
I’m just taking each day as it comes, some days are great others are hell. When lockdown was announced I was in the middle of my dissertation which was on how Black doctors are disproportionately prosecuted in medical malpractice cases. My heart was already heavy from researching into it and seeing reports denying it when statistics were there. Then reports started coming in on Black and Asian workers dying from COVID-19 and the Government’s disturbing response to that. Now I feel like I’m on a campaign to justify to people why black people deserve to be treated like human beings. The whole process has been exhausting, my heart is aching for the victims of police brutality and global systematic oppression.
Of course, I think that is all we can do right now is just take it one day at a time! What are the main things you are doing to remain positive?
Two things are really helping me. The first is the unconditional love and support I have been receiving from friends and family members, who are reading everything I’m sharing online and reaching out to make sure I’m okay. The second is continuing to operate my business, Avila.Diana. I created it when I was suffering from severe depression and just wanted to do something positive. The amount of support I have been receiving from people, actively seeking out black owned businesses to support, has been overwhelming in the best way and I am so grateful.
That's amazing. The business is incredible and the cards are so important and beautiful - why was it important for you to start your business and create these gorgeous inclusive cards?
I grew up without much positive representation. I was very observant of the world around me and saw whiteness being centred and prioritised within the media, this really affected my self-esteem growing up. I distinctly remember how those experiences made me feel and the way I began to hate myself.
I never want anyone growing up, or even grown, to feel that way. Imagine spending your whole life seeing someone who looks like you portrayed negatively, as the media does with harmful stereotypes. It doesn’t take long before you begin to think that that’s all you are.
But I also have young relatives and I want them to be able to see themselves reflected in everything they do. So, they never think for a second that they don’t deserve something as basic as a birthday card with a Black kid on it.
That is so inpiring and this is why it is so important we are having all these conversations right now, as a black business woman, what have been the obstacles you have faced and the challenges you have had to overcome?
I get very anxious about the spaces I enter now. I’m constantly worried that I’m not actually valued, that the reason I am there is for them to tick a diversity quota. This paranoia has not been helped by people telling me that the reason my business is successful is because I’m Black and female.
It’s difficult entering certain spaces, especially the entreprenural sphere, because the majority of them/ the most influential are majority white. It’s very discouraging to seek out potential investors when seeing that in their portfolios they only invest in white owned businesses.
I’m now trying to work with people and organisations who are truly committed to increasing and improving diversity, and who are open to having honest discussions with me about the problems which have led to me creating this business. It’s really hard to pretend that I’m not addressing a big issue when I am, so I can’t now be working with people who like to dismiss my experiences.
It is so important to have and be supportive of black owned business, now more than ever, what are a few of your own favourite black owned business that inspire you?
I have so many that I really love and support, I’ll list a few of them but there are a lot more I haven’t mentioned:
On Instagram: @p.michel_mua , @kaiskingdom.x and @albyartsofficial and @styledbydube
How do you want the creative industries to change, not only within your city but on a global scale?
I really need them to start hiring and keeping artists from B.A.M.E, L.G.B.T backgrounds and people with disabilities. When I say keeping, I mean ensuring that the work environment is friendly, open and encourages people to be their authentic selves. Micro-aggressions are real and can discourage people from developing into senior roles which could encourage more diversity and inclusion within the workplace. I want businesses to be open and honest with their operations and how they have treated past employees, the best way to do so is hiring experts to help restructure their policies.
Totally, following on from that, what do you think the creative industry needs to do more of for black owned businesses?
The first thing a lot of them can do is to stop stealing from black creatives and passing it off as their own unique inventions. There’s no shame admitting you’ve been inspired by someone else, and giving credit where credit is due. In most circumstances just hire black creatives to do what you’ve seen them do well, pay them for their talents and celebrate what diversity can do to help you as a business.
What is your opinion on big brands and their inclusivity and/or lack of contribution to the BLM movement?
I’ve been very critical of every brand I’ve seen suddenly speaking out about their commitments to Black lives. Some of these brands are notorious for harbouring racism within their environments and stealing from Black creators. The situation with L’Oreal was all too real for me. The way they demonised and dropped Munroe Bergdorf when she spoke out a while ago about the same racism in the news now reminded me to be extra critical of everyone suddenly in support of the movement. For a lot of them it’s a PR stunt, for me it’s my life.
I would love to work with large brands but again they need to reassess whether or not they are harbouring racism within their own operations, and they need to address it and fix it. For the brands which haven’t spoken out I’ve just accepted that they don’t care and they’re not areas I should be investing my money.
I mean the Munroe situation was so incredibly disappointing as you said, she of course is someone who we love very much here so we're sending love to you Munroe! I like how you just 'For a lot of them it's a PR stunt, for me it's my life' because that literally encapsulates it perfectly. As a young business woman facing all of this, what’s one piece of advice you would give to other young black entrepreneurs who are looking to enter the world of business?
Whatever you do, do it with passion. There are many people waiting to see you fail and ready to trip you any chance they get, you have to be able to fight them off yourself, because no one else will. I’m rooting for you.
This interview has been such a pleasure you truly are so inspiring and I am in awe of what you are doing! To finish on a positive, what’s your biggest accomplishment you are most proud of?
I am always close to crying tears of joy whenever I see little kids get excited about seeing cards that look like them. Children really are the future and it is up to us to ensure they grow up in a world that loves and protect them.
Want to support Avila, check out her website here -