Hi Charli, it’s been such a weird and uncertain time – how have you been doing?
Last year, I was always on the go. Sometimes I was travelling back and forth to New York twice a week because I live over there, and I was becoming so drained. I think there's this culture where it feels like you have to do absolutely everything. Social media always makes you feel like you’ve got to compete, and it was quite nice slowing down and knowing that everyone else was in the same boat.
We have to talk about Squish, which you founded last year. How did the idea of such a feel-good brand first come to you?
I’ve wanted to set up my own brand for such a long time but thought you had to have Kylie Jenner-like money to do it. My first product idea was the cherry mask, because I love using hydrogel masks but I didn’t feel there was anything for my cheeks. So I was living with my business partner at the time in New York, and had the idea that it would be really nice to have something that's really soft and cold on your cheeks, so I drew up the cherry on his face and that was our first product. It took us ages because it did look like a dick to begin with. I just wanted to make something that was a bit more for Gen Z, because I feel like Glossier have nailed that millennial branding. What’s really interesting about Gen Z is they have all these Finsta accounts; they’re a bit more open to making fun of themselves and not taking themselves too seriously.
The diversity, the marketing, the inclusive ethos, how it’s 100% photoshop free – was this always a main preoccupation when starting the brand?
A few years ago I set up a charity – and this was before people were doing the whole mixing models of various sizes together – called the All Woman Project, and I was like, ‘oh, OK, people actually want to see really diverse bodies.’ And then I was like, ‘why have we never seen real skin in beauty campaigns.’ Because if I wanted to buy an acne product, I want to see real skin. So [for Squish], we used twenty models, which was where the majority of my budget went. I think it's really important that you see yourself represented, whether that's through your skin or your body shape or your skin colour. People want to see themselves.
We’ve talked a little bit about the impact of social media – what would you say your own relationship to it is like?
It’s a love/hate relationship because, on one hand, I definitely think there’s pressure there, but on the other hand, I think we’re now in a really amazing position where we get to choose the media we see. Because when we were younger, the only media you would see would be advertisements on billboards or front covers of magazines. It was always the same skinny white woman. Whereas now on your phone you’ve got the ability to really curate your own feed. If you just want to follow fitspo people you can do that. If you want to follow super curvy women, you’ve got that. Certainly during Black Lives Matter, it really opened my eyes up to women who don’t look like me but have got an amazing voice, and these are all the people you should be looking at.
You’ve always been very vocal about everything in your life. Things as personal and vulnerable as eating disorders, and you’ve been in the press recently for clapping back at trolls shaming you for wearing a see-through top. Does it ever get exhausting being in the spotlight, or do you just think you’ve got a responsibility to change and flip the rhetoric and help the next person?
First of all, I didn’t think the top was that see-through until I saw the picture, and was like ‘oh, OK.’ But also, I really like the top!
It’s such a nice top!
I was like, ‘all right, thanks Jane from Middlesex.’ I just think, why do you care so much about what I do? People always seem to make comments about other people. Like, get a life, you know? I do think it’s good for women to have vocal role models. It’s really important.
Being a model in the fashion industry, was there ever one particularly breaking point you had, where a light came on in your head, and you were just like ‘I can make a difference, I don’t just have to be in front on the camera, I can be vocal and speak and incite change’?
I was a straight-size model for ages. Seven, eight, nine years ago, you weren’t encouraged to have a voice. And I remember when Instagram first became a thing, it was like, only post this picture and make sure you post pictures of when you have expensive clothes on, because you want people to think you’re making loads of money. It was all very much image-based and I really struggled to be something that I wasn’t. I wrote the Facebook post in 2015 when I was dropped by my agency and spoke about how the modelling industry puts so much pressure on women within the industry to look a certain way. But that gave me the confidence to speak up. Now, it’s fascinating to me because in less than ten years, people now book you for having a voice and for having an opinion, whether that's on environmental issues or women’s issues or plus size issues. I think it’s really important for young girls to see that you can’t just be pretty, you have to speak up and stand for something.