Beauty Is Diversity: Urban Bush Babes, TK + Cipriana Quann
The power of identical twins is unimaginable, unless you are one. TK and Cipriana Quann gave us a taste of the kind of connection that runs between the two -- and it is a pure, supportive, infinitely admirable love. These women walk in strength and grace, but articulate themselves with a soft elegance, that left us on cloud nine for the entire day. TK and Cipriana are quite literally changing the world by shifting perspectives of what diversity looks and feels like in the fashion, beauty and health industries. We love these women, dare we say, as much as they love each other...
What was it like growing up as identical twins?
Cipriana: We grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and came from very opposite roles when it comes to family: our mother was the one that went to school, and she was in the corporate work field. Our dad was the one that stayed home and took care of us while our mom was working and going to school. Our parents were super fashionable, and we got a lot of our fashion sense from our mother. Every night she would pick our clothes out and then in the morning we'd have our whole outfit to wear. It's still a ritual that we do today, just because it's out of habit. Our mother was just the sweetest person and she always taught us to stay positive, focused, to work hard, and not to let anyone tell you that you can't do something. That was what we grew up with, and she told us that every single day. We were super close.
TK: Cipriana and I are obviously still extremely close -- she's my best friend in the world. I came to New York for school after Cipriana arrived here for modeling.
C: We originally got scouted when we came to New York during the summer. I came here for school, but got wrapped up in the modeling industry.
TK: Then I became involved in music, and met this producer and artist -- he introduced me to his friend who's a huge composer and musician. That's how I started doing music and tours and performing overseas. I go away every summer for two to three months, and I perform with them and was opening up for some really great artists, like Sting. For me, that was really exciting because I had never been exposed to that. When I came back to New York I joined Cipriana as a contributor on her amazing website called Urban Bush Babes, and that was in 2013. As a writer, it's really funny for me because I get to entertain my main role, which is writing, and not even song writing...just writing. Journalism was my major. I wanted to be a journalist. It's great to have this creative flow with my sister and be a part of something together.
C: Even though we're super close, we had very different journeys in New York. We both came for school. We got scouted on the street before we even moved to New York. We had never even thought about modeling but our mom was like, 'This is a good way to help with school,' So we started at the same time, but TK hated it. I wasn't fond of it either, but I could tolerate it much more than her.
TK: Yeah, I hated it. She was much better at disguising it.
C: I got wrapped up in the whole modeling industry. It was a very frustrating time, and it's completely different from what we do now. When I was with my agency years ago, it was very like, 'You are the mannequin.' And I understand that's the job of a model. For me, it was very physical, and I would always get comments like, 'You need to change your hair.' And my hair was my thing. So it was this constant struggle, because my hair texture is kinky. It's Afro texture, so it comes out being huge. That was a little bit conflicting for me, only because I equated it with our mother -- she was one of our biggest inspirations.
I correlated my beauty with her beauty and I just thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. People were constantly telling me, 'You need to change your hair. It's not appealing to the consumer. It would be so much more beautiful if you straightened it out.' I know it might seem a little bit superficial, and that's why I always had to explain what it means to me and how I see it. I totally believe that I'm not my hair, and you're not your hair. But some people do have a connection with certain things apart from themselves, and for me, hair was one of them. I modeled for a long time -- eight years -- but every year I could feel I was getting more and more agitated with it.
It was always this conflicting 'why do I have to change my hair, because I look just fine as I am' thing. Eventually, I went into my agency and was like, 'I can't do this anymore.' It was a hard decision because I basically had to choose between money and happiness, because that's what it all boiled down to. The happiness version was more of a struggle, but it was definitely worth it because it led me here. I met Nikisha, my partner in Urban Bush Babes, about ten years ago, and after I stopped modeling, we talked about starting a site: something regarding women of color because we wanted to start this platform where we could showcase women of color, and all types of women, however they wanted to do their hair, or however they wanted to dress. Also the main core of it was to breakdown these stereotypes or just break down these certain typical ideals of what beauty is. We wanted to breakdown those barriers of what you see on TV when it coms to women of color.
TK: And to reveal many more facets than what you see on reality TV...
C: Yes, so that is the core of Urban Bush Babes. It just revolved around fashion and hair and arts and culture, and food and healthy living -- it's a lifestyle. I've learned not to be afraid because that's what was stopping me from leaving the modeling industry at the time. I was so afraid because I didn't know if things would work out. I had in my mind something that I had wanted to do, but was also confused because I wasn't exactly sure what direction I was heading into. Luckily, I had a very supportive sister and mom every day, and not in a nagging, irritating way. They're always very gentle, and like, 'Oh well, just try different things and see what sparks your interest and what you like.'
I think from all of that I've realized, it's definitely worth it to take the plunge into something that feels right. I think sometimes, we are so much in our heads, that we let it rule our world and sometimes you have to just listen to your heart, because it's there for a reason -- I mean, besides the physical aspect keeping you alive (laughs). I feel now, as I've gotten older, I'm starting to feel more in tune with my intuition and listening to it. It hasn't led me wrong yet.
TK: I think one of the greatest things that I really enjoy about working with this platform is encouraging people to see that beauty is diversity. I think, especially in certain markets, we see certain companies and they don't have women of color. It doesn't just have to be black women, but women of color in general! I think the greatest thing about our platform is encouraging diversity within any field, but particularly fashion and beauty. That's something we strongly believe in. I think it's really cool that we get to use our voice, but not in any forced initiative -- that revolves around everything that we present on this platform.
Let's talk about your persona styles...
C: It was definitely our mother that sparked that, but we got our own styles.We always had our own style, but those in between teenage years, I just remember wearing a lot of sweat pants and hoodies. We were always tomboyish and my sister was real tomboyish -- it was all over the place. Then TK moved to New York and she was punk and had pink hair.
TK: When I was younger I always say that I had multiple personalities. My fashion sense had multiple personalities. Even though I still feel that way, back then, it was crazy multiple personalities. I wore stuff that I never ever could envision myself wearing now as an adult. What I admire about myself then is that I was never scared to try. I was always like, 'You don't know how it's going to look or feel until you try it on.' I've always had that motto since I was a little kid. I never cared what anyone else had to say about me. People can be very vocal and judgmental sometimes. But I don't care, because I'm very much like, 'I'm never going to let anyone's negative feelings about the positive way I feel about myself affect me.' I always had that ideology growing up.
C: TK was always great. I was always inspired by her because she was in the music world, which was different because it actually celebrated the more unique and different. She had this totally separate industry that she was involved in, and I really admired that she could walk out the house with blue fish nets and pink hair. I remember thinking, 'Okay her outfit is crazy, I would be so self-conscious!' But that's one of the things that she had helped me with over the years -- I was in a different industry were I was very self-conscious of everything about myself. It was great to have that as this constant reminder that it's okay to be yourself, no matter what you want to wear or look like.
TK: It's very interesting because personality-wise, we're very similar. I think it's funny that when it comes to certain things, like other people's opinions, we are vastly different. I think it's because Cipriana was so immersed in the modeling world, it just makes you self-conscious. But for me in music...no one cares. The more unique you look, the cooler it is. In music, no one's that judgmental. At least in comparison to fashion.
What's it like working together today?
C: I have to say, it's the best feeling in the world is to be able to work with my sister. And I can't believe I'm going to say this, but she's very punctual. She's amazing. I feel like because we're identical twins -- literally, we were one egg split into two -- that she's the other half of me. So when we go to events, it's great because she's more extroverted than me. For example, we went to this gala in Harlem for the new museum, and they had a dinner and this really amazing live band that was playing old classics. No one was dancing yet, and they were just giving out appetizers. And then TK was like, 'You guys want to go and dance?' Everybody at our table was like, 'We'll wait until after dinner.' Next thing I knew, TK was dancing and twirling around. There was no one on the floor, and I was just looking at her like, 'Wow, that's my sister!' That's just one of the things I admire about her. I can really see the differences in us, even though we are very much alike.
It's great to have that dynamic, because she's bolder in a sense in certain situations. She's an amazing writer, and I was heavily influenced by her to start writing. She has always been the writer in the family and I've always been the artist. She just opened up this whole new world for me, and like I said, it's just great to have a constant inspiration. It's hard to explain without getting emotional, because she's my best friend, and it's so amazing to have someone that you work with who you know, even if you have a difference of opinions, it would not affect your relationship, because she doesn't judge me. Even if we do have a disagreement, which is very rare, we get over it like that because at the end of the day, she's my sister.
TK: Cipriana is my rock. I think her work ethic is incredible, and amazing. As much as I work hard, I think that she works even harder.
C: I got it from you...
TK: It's interesting to see it from the outside in and see the way that she works. She's so positive and really strong in ways that sometimes I thought that I would be the stronger person in, and then she turns out to be stronger. I had my first solo show in New York years ago, and we're not that close with our father, but he just showed up at the show. I hadn't seen him in 10 years. Security was like, 'Someone says your dad is outside...'. I always thought that if he had done that, I'd be like, 'No don't let him in.' But I didn't have the heart to.
I was already nervous, so Cipriana was there. I completely crumbled and I started sobbing in the bathroom, but Cipriana was my rock. She went to talk to our father and was like, 'I don't think this is the best time to be here right now.' He's like, 'Oh, I came all this way...' and she's like, 'I understand but please, I think it would be better if you left.' She was so strong in that instance, and I often feel like I'm the bigger tomboy of the two of us, but in that situation, I just felt like a little girl. I had a really great sense of the person she is and how strong she is. I feel like that's our dynamic: when she needs me to be strong for her, I'm strong for her. And when I need her to be strong for me, she's strong for me. I will always love this woman.
How have you witnessed the fashion industry change over the years in terms of diversity?
TK: I have been seeing a lot of change lately and I think it's definitely heading in a very positive direction. I think a lot of that has to do with the .com era and social media. Times are changing where you can't complain and say, 'I don't see images or stories I can relate to.' If you want to create something, you should create it yourself. Like the saying goes, 'Be the change you want to see in the world.' I definitely see waves of improvement regarding more diversity.
C: I think, too, as TK mentioned, that social media is such a great platform for people. I think it's really changing the way that people see fashion and beauty because it's giving people a voice. If someone has a certain amount of followers and no one knows them in the fashion world, but they have a really cool following and they spread this message like, 'Look, there needs to be more diversity, there needs to be this within the fashion and beauty world, and people are going to listen...', then designers can't live in this bubble and choose to ignore people. Now, people have voices and they are making their voice known. I think that's a great thing that's really changing the way people see fashion and beauty.
As far as what can be changed, there can always be more diversity. I always say that diversity is normal. It's this ideology of the all-American beauty as no longer being just white, blonde hair and blue eyes. And that's beautiful, because diversity also includes blonde hair and blue eyes, but it also includes brunette hair, and Black women, Asian women, Indian women...everyone. It's no longer just this ideology of one race being the all-American beauty. Diversity is all-American beauty and that's what really needs to be heard in today's age. I think there's positive changes being made through that.
I also think it's cool that brands are looking more into who the person is beyond the image. They'll ask for their social media to see their lifestyle, because they are going to be connected to the brand, and its more than just a face nowadays. It's really great that you can have more of a voice and a say so. When we had first signed, it was a very different experience.
TK: We had no creative say...
C: Yeah, now when we have shoots with major publications, and they'll ask to do a conference call with us to get our ideas. Back then, that would have never happened. So it's just a very different time for the Industry, and I love it.
TK: I thinks a great, exciting time.
What are some daily rituals you practice to keep balanced?
TK: The ritual I try to do is to write everything out -- I write out what I'm going to do for the next day before I go to bed. I find that if you write your goals down, even if they're small things, it helps you be more productive the next day. It really helps push me to be more productive, especially since I work at home, so that's a ritual I try to incorporate right before I go to bed.
C: I always wrap my hair up in a scarf. I really prepare myself to go to bed, so I put on my t-shirt, wrap my hair up. Then I always do work before I go to bed. I prep stuff for the next day, because it gets me excited. We do a lot of interviews and features on people, so I get excited when I see other people's lives and they send me their photos. Then, I'll set it up and go to bed. I also wake up super early.
I try to get to the gym at 6am every morning because I feel, for me, it's better to knock it out early. Our day is so long, so when I get home, I usually have this like, 'Oh my god, I was out all day, I worked so hard, I need to treat myself.' Then I don't feel like going to the gym. I know the excuses that I have for myself, so I try to knock it out in the morning. It's been going well for the past couple years so far...
The reason why I think I'm such a morning person is because after I stopped modeling, I was really confused about what I wanted to do, and I was working at The Standard on the West Side. I would purposefully work the morning shift, so I'd get to work by a quarter to six. I wanted that position because I would get done by 2:30, and would go home and, every single day, work on the website. It was this ritual that I did every single day, including weekends, and it just became habit. It also motivated me.
When I was working at The Standard, it was interesting seeing a lot of fashion and Industry people come in there and see the different ways that people would treat me working in that environment and then how they treat me now. People can just judge you on face value.
TK: If they judge you because you have a job like that, which is plenty of people's jobs, then shame on them because that's how people make a living. There's professional Maitre D's and servers and there's nothing wrong with that job. It's an art in itself.
C: Yeah, so it was very interesting, and it makes you more aware.
TK: I'm strong believer is in what you put out in the universe is what you receive.
What're your ideas of legacy? What would you like to leave behind?
TK: When it comes down to the ways that we interact with a lot of people, I'm a stronger believer in treating others how you wish to be treated. I think anything beyond what I do professionally, I would just like to be known as someone who is supportive, loving and considerate.
C: I just want to inspire people. That's what I want to do. I feel like -- and TK and I always have this discussion and we talk about how important it is to really do something that you love -- even if you're working a job that you don't like, make sure after that job you are doing something that you love. That can change the way you see things and how you live your life in tremendous ways. So many people are scared to walk that path because whether it be comfort, financial reasons, or family, there's just a feeling that's very hard to describe when you're doing something that you love. It doesn't even have to be career-wise. It could be working with a charity, or working on a farm in New Zealand, you know? To some people, that is success. I just want to inspire people to really do what they love. I think that can change everything. I don't want people to be so afraid to become the person that they dream about.