Representing the conscious: Novel Beings

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In the conscious fashion and beauty landscape, one meets a huge selection of people willing to put other people before themselves – despite working in industries that are believed to be vapid and vain. There are make-up artists, journalists, designers, stylists and more that work hard to keep ethics at the core of their work. Some are not only commonly vegan for their love of animals but are also avidly enthusiastic about protecting the environment and the rights of factory employees who make the products they love so much.

However, with a group of people so keen to look after others’ wellbeing, who looks after theirs? Novel Beings is the first style agency that exclusively looks after professionals that specialise in practising consciously in their industry. Its founders, make-up artist Khandiz Joni and stylist Alice Wilby, are passionate about ethics and sustainability themselves, a perfect pair to help represent like-minded individuals.

Khandiz Joni has been working in the beauty industry for 17 years and had her own agency in Cape Town, her hometown, representing assistant hair and make-up artists. Joni met me for a coffee over summer to talk about how Novel Beings came to fruition: “When I moved here I started noticing that there were all these sustainable brands ­­- but I didn’t know how they could be talking about sustainability and ethics on one point but not follow through with their imagery.”

Joni met co-Founder Wilby on a shoot, and after finding out she was an ethical stylist who wasn’t represented by an agency, she suggested they start one together. Three years in, Novel Beings now represents six hair and make-up artists, two fashion stylists and two food stylists. “It’s not about being 100% perfect, it’s just about making very considered small changes in our working practice,” Joni explains. “That’s all it is. It’s not rocket science, it’s about making conscious choices. And sometimes it’s a bit difficult but it becomes common practice. You do it in your home, so why wouldn’t you do it in your work?”

It may not be rocket science, but with the amount of greenwashing by larger brands, it can be hard for consumers to understand just which brands are truly ethical and sustainable. A quick Google can bring up dozens of different beauty brands that are “eco” or “vegan”, however Joni quotes PHB Ethical and Tualique as the only British brands that are truly ethical to the core.

On this note, exactly how many clients can they have when conscious practice is still such a niche within the fashion and beauty industries? “In an ideal world we would only work with sustainable, ethical brands but the reality is there is no way we would be able to feed ourselves,” Joni says. “But we don’t compromise the way we work, irrespective of the clients we work with.” One of the biggest problems seems to be that whilst ethical brands are happy to pay a living wage to their employees in Bangladesh or other countries, they expect their make-up artists, stylists and models to work pro-bono. This is a problem Joni has encountered regularly and has found she has to be firm with brands in order to make sure her artists are paid the wage they rightly deserve.

One of the ways Joni and Wilby have combatted this is through setting up ‘Image Solutions’, a range of package deals on their site for the brands interested in working with them. A three-tier platform for brands of different sizes, it allows options for making sure your imagery stands up to your values but doesn’t cost the world.

‘Launch’, the cheapest option is paying for a stylist and a make-up artist at your shoot to make sure everything is in line with your brand. ‘Curator’ adds on an art director or on-set stylist, and then the complete package pays for a full Novel Beings production. Each of these three options are then divided into different pay packages depending on the size of the brand and their budget. “So we cater to all the brands, making sure that we have the living wage,” Joni points out.

What Novel Beings offers in its production that other style agencies don’t, Joni hopes, is adding value to the client’s story. “If we can add value to their story by saying that in this photoshoot we could factor in these things to make sure our production was cleaner and more sustainable. That matters to us,” she explains, citing that what matters most to her is that she runs an agency her artists are proud to be a part of.

“We are the only agency that is doing what we do and there’s no other agency only focussing on it. There’s no exclusivity to that mindset.”

Follow Novel Beings on Instagram: @novel_beings