UCL Alumni


UCL Alumni Careers Blog #4 - Shakaila's story

To celebrate Black History Month, we spoke to Shakaila Forbes-Bell - an exceptional alumna blazing a trail in fashion psychology. She told us about her experiences at UCL and career journey so far.

Shakaila Forbes-Bell
My research is published in the International Journal of Market Research and I proved that Black consumers are willing to spend more money on brands and products that are promoted by Black spokespersons.

Tell us about your time at UCL, what did you study and how did it set you up for where you are today?

My time at UCL was an eye-opening experience. I went from an extremely diverse sixth form to being one of only three Black people on a course of over 100 students. So it was a big adjustment, to say the least. I was lucky to have a close-knit group of friends, who were a vital source of support as we helped each other overcome our bouts of imposter syndrome. I studied Psychology and was surrounded by incredibly hard-working people who inspired me to go that extra mile. 

I have an invisible illness called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and I can say wholeheartedly that the support that UCL provides disabled students is superb. Overall, my degree was pivotal in getting me where I am today. We studied every aspect of psychology in great detail, which provided me with the in-depth knowledge I needed to forge a career for myself in the niche field that is fashion psychology. 

What was your journey like from UCL to where you are now?

UCL put me directly on the path I am now. The Psychology course has a heavy clinical focus - the general feeling was that this was the only viable path for us to go down - but clinical psychology didn't feel like the perfect fit for me. When I found out about the Fashion Psychology Master’s degree at London College of Fashion, I was intrigued, but also concerned about studying something so niche. I brought these concerns to my supervisor at the time, Adrian Furnham, who told me to just go for it. I have to credit him for giving me that extra bit of courage to apply. The in-depth teaching at UCL gave me a leg-up during my Master's degree, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

I knew getting a job after my Master’s wouldn't be easy because many people had never heard of my degree. So I started a blog; I interned with one of the only other fashion psychologists I could find, Kate Nightingale; and I just worked and worked and worked until I started getting recognition. 

Today I'm proud to say I have been featured in countless publications like Vogue, Stylist, CNN and more. I am the founder of Fashionispsychology.com, I have bylines in magazines like Glamour, Marie Claire and i-D, I'm a Marketing Manager at a tech company, and I'm a consumer retail consultant with Afterpay.

What achievement are you most proud of?

I would say that my greatest achievement is being a published fashion psychologist. Anyone in academia knows how difficult it is to get published; it’s a time-consuming and demoralising experience. I have to credit Dr Aurore Bardey from London College of Fashion for supporting me when I wanted to quit after many rejections. My research is published in the International Journal of Market Research and I proved that Black consumers are willing to spend more money on brands and products that are promoted by Black spokespersons.

As a Black woman, representation in the media is a topic that is incredibly dear to my heart. I wanted to show that by failing to be inclusive, brands are not only damaging the self-concept of Black audiences; they are making an economically poor decision by sticking to archaic beauty tropes. Many Black-owned brands also feel that they have to water down their aesthetic in order to achieve mainstream success, so I also wanted to prove, empirically, that this is not the case.

What were your biggest challenges and how did you go about facing them?

UCL was my first experience of being one of the only Black people in a space, but it certainly wasn't the last. Being 'the only one' is always challenging. I've been placed in uncomfortable situations and made to explain things from my hair to my taste in food, and generally 'othered'. I deal with these situations by championing for inclusivity in any way that's possible. In my role at a tech company, I'm spearheading an initiative to make it easier for brands to partner with influencers of colour. 

How does it feel to be a pioneer in your industry, and do you have any advice for alumni looking to get into niche fields? 

It feels great to be a pioneer in this industry but I want fashion psychology to grow, so that means helping as many people as I can. I get lots of questions from students and if I can't help directly I will try to put them in touch with someone who can.

For alumni and recent graduates wanting to start in an unexplored field, I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Don't base your decisions on the fears and doubts of others. I had a few extended family members who thought my degree was ridiculous; if I had listened to them, I wouldn't be where I am today. 
  2. Post your work and don't overthink it. Many of the opportunities I have today are because I started my blog during my degree. It looked horrendous at the start but I built it up gradually over time, and now I have so much evergreen content that has helped me in many of my current projects. 

Do you have an inspiring story to share with fellow alumni? Get in touch!