Nafisa Kaptownwala tackled the lack of diversity in fashion by founding Lorde Inc., a Toronto-based management company that represents models who are people of color and don’t conform to conventional beauty standards. This includes trans people and people who wear turbans or hijabs. Lorde models have appeared in music videos, a Uniqlo campaign, and appeared in New York, Paris, and London Fashion Week shows for Chromat, Vetements, and Gypsy Sport, among other designers.
Late last month, Kaptownwala put together an hour-long “mixtape” of music videos that gave insight into his influences as part of Ciinema. The monthly event, created by Locale’s urban planner Craig Cal and event planners Striped Purple, invites artists and entrepreneurs of color to curate a video of what inspires and challenges them. Watch it here.
I caught up with Kaptownwala to discuss his freelance agency and influences.
How did you get into casting and create Lorde Inc.?
I was living in London with my extended family and started working with friends on photo shoots as casting director, stylist and art director. I started Lorde in 2014 to continue building a platform for diversity in casting. When my visa expired in 2015, I moved to Toronto and brought Lorde here. I wanted to continue working with my community in a way that made sense to me. I still do editorials with magazines like iD and Dazed.
What are you looking for when casting?
I find it difficult to describe it because it is more an attitude than anything else. Trust has a big role. Obviously, we are looking for people of color. But I also tend to lean towards people who don’t follow trends and simply stand out for their looks.
How was the Ciinema project born?
I approached Ciinema as an exercise in documenting videos that informed my work in photography. It was actually quite difficult because I’m more influenced by photography and didn’t have an immediate collection of videos that resonated with me.
So I started with clips from Indian films that use surrealism, just for the sake of beauty, and moved on to other films that use a similar style. Then I looked for videos of people who influenced me like Eartha Kitt, Arab girls dancing while wearing a niqab, and the Gulabi Gang from Uttar Pradesh. Third, I watched videos that were important to me when I was 18 and started studying art, like MIA’s
Do you feel compelled to change the way South Asian women are portrayed?
I wanted to include videos of women I see myself in. They don’t have to be as literal as a Muslim or Indian woman for me to be seen. But at the same time, when nothing ticks any of these boxes, it’s obvious that there is a gap. It was a reminder that it’s important to tell our own stories, sincerely.
Why do we always look to 70s and 80s Bollywood for badass female imagery? What’s going on with contemporary Bollywood that it no longer appeals to us?
Growing up in Vancouver, my family would go to the theater every weekend to watch the latest Bollywood release. I didn’t include contemporary Bollywood images because I don’t watch it, the new doesn’t resonate with me.
So what type of media do you consume?
Right now I watched The Mindy Project because I really want to see a brunette girl be loved. She is loved in a way that did not concern me. These men would go above and beyond. His character is living a fantasy.
The video included a clip from MIA, which was critical for its appropriation of the slogan Black Lives Matter to speak of the rights of Muslims.
It’s very complicated. She has a responsibility to do better, but she is the only South Asian woman in music. It is important for the South Asian community to hold her accountable. His politics aren’t great, but the reason I included him in my video is because the moment I watched [the Galang music video] for the first time will always resonate with me. And I feel like so many South Asian girls feel the same way. I vividly remember being in high school and flipping through the channels and seeing a brunette girl dancing, I was floored because I had never seen a brunette girl like that. It defined the next few years of my life.
You posted this selfie on Instagram last week [pictured above]. You’re draped in gold, the commentary is about minimalism and how awesome South Asian culture is. How do you reconcile the two?
It’s just jokes and I think most people see it. I don’t care if people don’t understand. It’s not for them. I try to tell my story.
The music video of legendary New York desi queer DJ Rekha really surprised me, because she has nothing to do with fashion.
To me, all of his work sums up the second generation and a hodgepodge of identities. There are so few videos that express this story.
What are your must-have Instagram accounts?
Any final thoughts on the process of making the video for Ciinema?
In creating it, I was aware of how second-generation immigrants include themselves in mainstream media by either leaning into whiteness or appropriating blackness. And I wanted to do South Asian work and encourage myself and other people to tell our stories in a more vulnerable and sincere way. Because we shouldn’t co-opt other identities in the process.