The BoF Podcast | Gabriella Karefa-Johnson on building a better fashion industry


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In the dynamic world of fashion magazines, Gabriella Karefa-Johnson has always stood out. In January 2021, she became the first black woman to design a cover for American Vogue with Paloma Elsesser, photographed by Annie Liebovitz. Later that year, she worked on the cover shoot with US Vice President Kamala Harris.

But recently Karefa-Johnson decided to leave Vogue. “The truth is that we grow and sometimes our containers don’t grow with us. And that’s why I’m excited to build a new container for all these ideas and this energy,” says Karefa-Johnson.

This week on the BoF podcast, Karefa-Johnson talks to BoF founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed about her career path, how she harnesses her creative energy in a high-pressure industry, and why she’s laying the foundation for the next generation of fashion creatives.

Key Takeaways:

  • By excelling in the demanding, hyper-creative world of fashion media, Karefa-Johnson avoids burnout by focusing on her inner self. “Staying true to myself and…really maintaining the purity of that creative exchange is something that keeps me grounded,” she says.
  • Looking back on some of her most challenging tasks, Karefa-Johnson remembers the 2021 cover shoot during the Covid-19 pandemic with US Vice President Kamala Harris. “It is very difficult to communicate with the subject, which is extremely important in realizing an image. “You need a relationship, a good rapport and mutual trust,” she explains. “But it’s hard to tell between 15 masks, because during Covid there were 14 secret service agents, a press secretary and a chief of staff.”
  • Karefa-Johnson reflects on her decision to leave Vogue and is excited about what lies ahead. “I just hope that whatever comes out of my career is something that represents possibilities for the next Gabriella Karefa-Johnson,” she explains. “I can’t wait to use these tools and apply them in a way that truly fits who I am, serving myself and serving people who look like me.”
  • Karefa-Johnson is passionate about supporting emerging talent and has used her network to support the development of Central Saint Martins graduate Torishéju Dumi. “It’s very easy to feel invisible as a young designer in these cities. Point. But as a young black designer, I knew the hurdles she faced would be exponentially greater than those of some of her peers,” says Karefa-Johnson. “I wanted to be able to bridge that gap. I wanted to be able to give her an edge, which I think in many ways is something that has produced so many of the most consistent young designers.”

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