ight years ago, a woman working in the fashion industry was dissatisfied with what she saw: conformity, and a lack of originality, had stagnated a once inspiring industry. Eight years ago, her daughter was dissatisfied in college, with body image issues wracking her self-esteem and mental health. Mutual dissatisfaction drove these two women to do something many never gain the courage to do: challenge the status quo.
“Both of us were just frustrated with the way that the fashion industry had become … conforming to a single idea of beauty as opposed to celebrating individuality and authenticity and what we thought real style was,” the aforementioned daughter, Lily Mandelbaum, explained to me. “So it was like the same models, the same clothes … everything just became ‘the same’ instead of, you know, wild and innovative ideas, and something brand new, and everything was being decided based on money, and corporations, and selling things,” Lily’s mother, Elisa Goodkind, chimed in.
The founders of StyleLikeU, a brand devoted to restoring individuality to the fashion scene, Elisa and Lily felt that there was no place for artistry, nor one for acceptance, in the contemporary fashion world. Inspired by the everyday people that disregarded what the magazines told them they should look and dress like, Elisa and Lily started interviewing those who they believed represented true style and beauty. In 2009, thanks to a home video camera, willing participants, and a mindset to change the status quo in the fashion industry, their “Closet” series, the first of many multi-media projects from StyleLikeU, was born.
Since then, the mother-daughter duo have authored the book StyleLikeU, and just recently released another volume: True Style Is What’s Underneath. They’ve traveled from Los Angeles to New York to London and beyond in search of diverse and creative people willing to share their style, and their stories, with the world. They’ve created documentary-style videos designed to encourage people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds to love their flaws and express their inner most vulnerable beauty. They’ve amassed thousands of followers across the social media spectrum, and rack up many more views on their viral videos.
StyleLikeU is also implementing a collaboration with Allure Magazine called “Dispelling Beauty Myths.” Each episode features someone who defies a limited standard of beauty in one of their physical traits. “All these things that society says is like ugly, we’re featuring people that make that beautiful because they accept themselves,” Lily proudly states. One of the episodes even features World Boxing Champion, Alicia “The Empress” Napoleon. When I asked if they interview other famous figures, they tellingly responded, “We feature all people of notoriety … we think everybody is extraordinary.”
I asked the meaning behind their company’s name—which, like the individuals it features, is very unique. Their response intrigued me. “Style,” Elisa told me, “… It’s separate from fashion. It’s about expression of a person, very distinctly…” And the “U”? “We wanted to create a platform that was about the public, and about interesting people, and have this sort of endless great content…these stories were endlessly different, because each person was different.”
Unlike other style-related media, StyleLikeU’s work is extremely moving, emanating emotion where other, more conventional outlets would aim for high fashion’s characteristically cool aloofness. It’s evident from their videos that they aim to make people feel things, as opposed to much of the fashion industry, which aims to make people think certain things, and StyleLikeU could easily draw comparisons to Humans of New York in this regard. Video series like their “What’s Underneath Project,” where people of all walks of life, including some celebrated artists like Girls actress Jemima Kirke, remove layers of clothing and reveal heart-wrenching, impassioned stories on camera, show how StyleLikeU gets real about body image ideals and insecurities. They attempt to “empower the disempowered,” says Elisa.
“We’re really passionate that our videos can reach people of all different ages,” Lily told me. Their target audience? Anyone and everyone. Regarding the numerous interviews that Lily and Elisa have conducted, they find them all to be incredibly special. “Very deep struggle creates very deep strength, and a very deep beauty,” Elisa said, referring to the people who have shared their stories with StyleLikeU. They encourage these personal accounts from all types of individuals, and when I asked how students from Penn and other universities could get involved, their response was to “stay tuned,” and “spread the word.”
One of my favorite quotes is, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Elisa and Lily embody this motto, as they dedicate their lives to making the world one that is full of acceptance, diversity, and passion. Beauty for them is learning to embrace your flaws, while celebrating the ordinary, the vulnerable, and the everyday inspiration. So check them out and contribute your ideas, because they aren’t looking to sell you anything but love.
Images courtesy of StyleLikeU.com