Candace Marie Stewart: Influencer of Change

The first image on luxury-brand social media manager Candace Marie Stewart’s website is of her clothed in all-white with cowrie shells threaded into her elaborately coiffed braids. There are a regal quality and quiet repose to the way she carries herself which complements her eclectic street-style. Her appearance is bold, striking, and dignified, which seems only natural for someone who has masterminded unique social media campaigns for the luxury department store Barney’s New York and Italian luxury brand Prada

American woman wearing gold boots

During last year’s fashion week, the industry’s biannual four-week period when designers show the next season’s collections in New York, London, Milan, and Paris,  Candace Marie was an NYFW street-style photograph favorite, with her quirky urban chic standing out among the droves of fashionistas challenged to wear the most current street-style trends. Her visibility is refreshing in a world that is lacking in diversity. Her Instagram @mariemag is reflective of her passion for fashion, social media, and promoting people of color. 

An MBA graduate of Seton Hall University in New Jersey, Candace Marie is an innovative creative force in luxury fashion and is at the forefront of bringing it into the digital space. After moving to New York nine years ago, the Oklahoma-born and Arkansas-raised Candace Marie has become a pioneer in multiple respects as one of the few black women in her very high-profile and fast-paced position in the fashion world. And, she states in an interview with Galore Mag, her job itself is, “in comparison to other parts of the industry. . . very new, especially for the luxury space.” Her original social media projects, like her two-day event ‘thedrop@barneys’ which featured a slew of fun installations like a “Sliced by Fila” pizzeria, designer and celebrity appearances including Moschino’s creative director Jeremy Scott and singer Justine Skye; discussion panels with topics on female empowerment in fashion and the significance of luxury fashion, are unique in luxury fashion marketing.

Also new to the role of Prada’s senior social media manager, she was hired in April of 2019, in part, to resuscitate Prada’s image after their recent racially insensitive fashion faux pas, where the company sold Sambo-reminiscent merchandise in their flagship stores over the holiday season. Incidentally, Prada also hired filmmaker Ava DuVernay as a co-chair on their advisory board for diversity and inclusion. Candace Marie saw an opportunity in Prada’s attempt to take their company in a more inclusive direction and hire diverse talent. On her Instagram farewell to working at Barney’s post, she says: “true inclusivity needs to permeate through the designers, through the talent that is used with each project, and the in-house teams that sit behind a brand. Because the in-house talent is the most hidden, that is the area that is most non-diverse.” In taking the position at Prada she is doing her part in creating “a much-needed domino effect in an industry I truly love.” 

Black may be a favorite shade of fashion, but in the boardroom and on the runway there is a noticeable lack of inclusivity. This sentiment is echoed by other black women in the industry, like supermodel Naomi Campbell, a proponent of diversity in fashion who has spoken out about this issue. As she told Elle magazine, “we don’t want to be a trend.” In an industry that has often had a vampiric relationship toward people of color, feeding off their creativity and style, there are still too many exceptions to the rule and not enough moving beyond token inclusion, especially in the upper echelons of the fashion world.

In an interview with Essence magazine, Candace Marie recalls experiencing many disheartening rejections: “throughout my career I’ve heard the word ‘no’ so many times, and, to be honest, it can be very discouraging, especially when you have the qualifications and you find out you were overlooked or passed over for someone who brought less to the table.” The desire to do what she loved and the faith she had in herself kept Candace Marie going. 

Having a seat at the table is an accomplishment, but Candace Marie told xonecole in an interview that: “they [the fashion industry] can do way better. So much is hidden and deep-rooted that they don’t realize what it is. I could be sitting in a board meeting and I question why am I the only black person out of 45 people that are here?” I’m analyzing it in my head; there’s not one other person of color in the room.”  A recurrent problem, something as simple as how she wears her hair to work, can cause a buzz. 

A true New Yorker in spirit if not by birth, Candace Marie felt that she could be more herself in the Big Apple than she could back in Arkansas, where AUrate New York, the millennial-owned fine jewelry brand, she grew up not quite feeling like she “fit in.” It may seem like a cliche, the country girl who moves to the city to follow her dreams, but it is one that is not for the faint of heart. Not only where she felt she belonged, but NYC has also made the biggest impact in her life. The work that she has done, and continues to do, is laying a foundation to see more people of color in every area of the fashion industry, including behind the scenes.

– Makhalath Fahiym