Novel Beings, a London-based styling agency, is the only creative agency exclusively representing conscious creatives for the fashion, beauty and advertising industries, and putting slow approach into spotlight. Alice and Khandiz, partners at Novel Beings, wish to bring more focus on democratising the sustainable creative industry and ensure creatives at all levels are getting paid fairly. No more excuses.
Interview: Hanna-Amanda Pant
What informed the creation of Novel Beings creative agency? What's the professional background you both come from?
Khandiz: I had been working as a makeup artist for twelve years by the time I moved to London in 2012. To coincide with my move, I had also made the conscious choice to start cleaning up my act. I wanted to bring my life and work life into alignment. I struggled to find agency representation, because my book was too commercial having come from Cape Town. And when I finally did, as lovely as they were, it just simply weren’t the right fit. I looked around for other agencies, but no one got me. By which I mean, they didn’t understand the importance of my eco-agenda.
Alice: My background is in fashion and commercial styling. I’d been working in Sustainable Fashion since founding FutureFrock magazine in 2009, which had led to working with Eco Age, where we worked with brands, like Gucci and Chopard, launching their first sustainable collections. I’d recently left Eco Age when Khandiz and I met. It was wonderful to discover someone else, who was as passionate about sustainable fashion and green beauty as I was. We spoke the same language when it came to a vision of how the industry should be portrayed, and it just seemed like a no-brainer to start Novel. We have been very lucky, because we both have different skill sets that complement each other. And also, we can talk honestly about work and how the business is progressing and what it needs.
Was it easier to get noticed in Cape Town?
Khandiz: I had run a small artist agency in Cape Town for about six years. It was the first agency to represent assistant hair and makeup artists, and that is all we did. I thought I might start that up again in London, but the truth was that I didn’t know enough people – artists, assistants or clients. So I put that idea on the back burner, until a chance meeting with Alice.
How did your paths cross and how did you choose each other as business partners, as well as members to join your team?
Khandiz: We met on a kids shoot. We were making the usual pleasantries. I asked Alice if she had an agent (still putting my feelers out to find one), and she explained to me that she struggled to find an agent due to the fact she was a sustainable stylist, which is not an easy task. Then and there I said to her “let’s start one!”. She said “Yeah! Let’s chat about it.” I think she must have thought I was mad, and she was right. I went home and started planning that night. It was March 2014. We bounced ideas around about how we would like the agency to operate – something truly novel. We officially launched on 14 May 2014. And as they say, the rest is history.
Alice: Regarding choosing our roster of artists, it has been, if you’ll excuse the pun, very organic! At the beginning, our crew were fellow creatives that we knew from work that shared our philosophy. And as we grew, we naturally and very excitingly attracted like-minded souls. All our artists have what I call a 'professional AND personal practice', meaning they really practice what they preach, and many have a multidisciplinary approach. For example, we have a MUA, who is also a nutritionist, and a food stylist, who is a trained yoga teacher and nutritionist. So when you book a Novel Being, you really get a fully-rounded 'conscious creative’.
If there's a client looking for a more energy-saving, eco-conscious way of doing a fashion editorial, how does the whole process work with you?
The clients that come to us for such a shoot are usually small independent brands, often without a big advertising agency behind them, who are already considering sustainability in their production and manufacture. We look at the whole picture from shoot concept to production. We are then able to consider how we can minimise our environmental impact via the concept we create and during the production of the shoot. We also look for opportunities to add value to their existing brand story with our own professional practice.
We have built up an exceptional database of services and products that enable us to put these considered acts into place. We do not claim to be 100% sustainable, but rather focus on best practice and constantly improving our footprint.
"We have a MUA, who is also a nutritionist, and a food stylist, who is a trained yoga teacher and nutritionist. So when you book a Novel Being, you really get a fully-rounded creative."
Concerning the wasteful impact of the fashion industry and other creative industries, where does your idea of offering a more minimal way of approaching these industries stem from? What practices do you have in place to cater for today's eco-conscious ideals?
Khandiz, Alice: Being mindful that our resources are limited and most of our waste will remain on this planet for millennia is a powerful motivator for us as Novel Beings. We truly believe that we can cut back and minimise waste by simply thinking differently. For example, on a recent shoot that we produced, we only part filled one bin bag with waste: no single use plastic was used, all the makeup came from clean, green beauty brands and all supporting clothing was pulled from sustainable sources. We can also offer seasonal organic catering on set and our artist’s won’t work in a certain way, if it compromises their ethics.
Therefore, we understand and accept that ourselves and the other artists we represent might not be suitable for every client, and the implication is, we cannot say yes to every job that comes our way. Our food stylists, for instance, focus on limiting food waste. Complete waste is obviously unavoidable, but their aesthetic supports their approach. Fresh, wholesome and not covered in chemicals. One of our food stylists has made a commitment not to style with meat.
As Alice explains above, all the artists we represent are as passionate about the environment as we are, and have been using these small, simple practices in their work for a long time. We learn from each other all the time. Sharing ideas is paramount to our success as an agency.
"We constantly have to push home the idea that you cannot call yourself a sustainable or ethical brand, if you don’t pay your creatives a fair wage! It’s not ethical for the brand or sustainable for the creative."
How big is your team? Do you have a set team working with you on each project, or you appoint different people according to the requirements of an individual project?
Khandiz: There are 11 creatives on the roster. Alice and myself included, as we both still work as creatives, styling and hair & makeup respectively. Most of the artists we represent are multidisciplinary, and we like to honour and support that.
I run the day-to-day agency stuff and Alice is responsible for brand engagement and getting the name out there. And last but not least, Stella, our honorary novel being. Stella is with us twice a week, helping man the ship and she is indispensable.
Alice: Khandiz and I also work together as Art Directors for specific projects. And unless an artist has been specifically requested, we will assign jobs to the artist who most fits the brief.
What are some of the favourite projects you have worked on so far?
Khandiz: For me it would have to be one of our newest clients actually, PHVLO. They truly understand what we are about – and that is why they came to us in the first place. They also understand that creatives need to get paid!
Alice: Yes, we’ve had great synchronicity working with PHVLO. It’s a pleasure to work with a brand with such aligned values. I’m also incredibly proud of the exhibition we created last year at 19 Greek Street gallery. Khandiz and I made a series of installations that told the story of what we do as an agency, it was very well-received, and a real joy to work in a different medium.
Who are some of the most known clients you've worked with? What has been the biggest industry-related accomplishment so far and the overall reaction to it?
Khandiz, Alice: Our biggest, most well-known client would have to be Fashion Revolution. We were responsible for producing their 2015 & 2016 campaigns – they went global! And within our industry, they have been incredibly well-received, which is fantastic, as Fashion Revolution is such an important campaign. We have also worked with Jaguar, Clarks, Fat Face and Hunger, Wonderland and Harpers Bazaar, to name a few.
Considering people's growing interest in sustainable living and sustainable practices in all fields, what's still left for activism work to accomplish? Is there something restricting your work?
Khandiz, Alice: There certainly is a growing interest in sustainable living and practices, which is so wonderful to see! But I think there is still quite a big disconnect. Some people still don’t read the 'fine print' of the cause they are getting behind, which just means they are making a lot of noise, but not understanding it in a bigger context and making effective change. Time is also a huge restriction, and possibly one that makes our jobs a lot harder. We all need to slow down in order to make better choices. On jobs, this often includes the production process. For example, given a longer lead-in time on a commercial job, our stylists are able to take a more sustainable approach to their work.
Also, as you know the fashion and creative industries are renown for taking advantage of creative talent and not paying them properly. We constantly have to push home the idea that you cannot call yourself a sustainable or ethical brand, if you don’t pay your creatives a fair wage! It’s not ethical for the brand or sustainable for the creative.
What are the main trends you've spotted circulating now within your expertise?
Khandiz, Alice: We try and steer clear of ‘trends’, as the implication is that a trend is temporary and throwaway. The antithesis of what we stand for. However, one very positive trend that we highly approve of , and that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon is an appreciation and understanding of craftsmanship and ‘slow’ production. Brands are embracing the 'less is more', 'quality over quantity' approach, which fosters a more considered careful consumer.
What are clients' expectations? What results are they looking for when they turn to you?
Our clients expect high impact visuals that don’t cost the earth.
What are your plans going forward? Are there any exciting projects coming up we should definitely know about?
We are doing a lot more consulting work, which is a natural progression I guess, and something we are very interested in. And we are working on a pop-up with PHVLO for late October 2017, which is very exciting. It’s all still top secret now!