We caught up with creative and entrepreneur, Rani Patel-Williams, she is the creative director and founder of non-gendered accessories and apparel brand FANGIRL, which launched in January of this year. The brand is centered around self-expression, with designs inspired by black and LGBTQ+ club culture, the diaspora and her travels. Rani has spent 12 years in the creative industry and believes that brands can be purposeful, affecting real change at a local and societal level. We talked about her journey creating FANGIRL and how the brand plans to support Black Lives Matter foundations.
Tomi: How did you come up with the idea for FANGIRL?
Rani: I have always been into fans, anyone who is close to me like my friends or family know that I’ve always loved fans as an accessory. When I go out or dress up, I like to accessorize and match my fans to my look, everyone knows this about me. Basically I would find fans or people would buy them for me but they were always quite generic and the designs just weren’t that cool to me. This just led me to want to create my own hand fan designs, ones that would be cute and go with my outfits especially when I go to the club. I started playing around with designs, looking at prints and looking at colourways. Originally I was just going to come up with two fan designs and make them for myself. It was very silly, just a little idea, see I was in a place mentally where I couldn’t really express myself so I wanted an outlet. Funnily self-expression is what is at the heart of the brand.
T: How did you come up with the name FANGIRL?
R: The brand name just needed to be simple to get, I’m a girl that loves fans so FANGIRL makes sense. Then I thought this could be really cool because fangirl is a term that we use in pop culture to talk about fangirling a big, untouchable celebrity. We use this term to celebrate big celebrities but really we should be using this to celebrate each other and bigging up our peers. I then took that concept and used it to fuel the brand’s personality; the brand lives by three values, self-expression, visibility, and community.
T: What is FANGIRL’s purpose?
R: FANGIRL’s purpose is to give everyone the confidence to express themselves and celebrate everyone for their individuality. When I was developing FANGIRL I was stuck mentally, I couldn’t really express how I was feeling. That made me reflect on what a privilege self-expression is, because you see even today, there are still many communities which find their self-expression stifled by the mainstream and their voices silenced. I wanted FANGIRL to be an ally, a facilitator and even enabler for self-expression.
T: Where are the fans made?
R: The fans are made in Asia, it’s a family run business who help me manufacture them. They are all made from recyclable premium paper, I didn’t want to use bamboo (which are synonymous with Chinese fans) so I’m instead using wood which is still biodegradable. The papers are obviously printed on but they are hand-finished in terms of the final stages like applying the logo on the outer rib. I wanted the brand to be as sustainable as possible, I’m not trying to work with anyone that’s operating in unethical ways and the amount we sell and produce is a limited run to avoid wastage.
T: Tell us the stories behind your current collections.
R: The designs from this collection stay true to the brand ethos, they are positive, celebratory and fun. You see that in the patterns right through to the names of them. For example, the Black & Boujee design came from the idea that the black community needed more positive affirmations, it’s a play off the term ‘Bad & Boujee’ and it’s a phrase that’s already used in our community but I wanted to coin the term that didn’t hold any negative connotations. The word black is seen as a negative thing within culture and usually put next to something negative to reinforce that. I coined the phrase to celebrate the greatness of our blackness, something we don’t see in the mainstream media. Then with the Girl On Fire design, obviously we know the lyrics to the song ‘Girl On Fire’ and again it’s me wanting to create another positive affirmation for anyone, no matter how you identify. But I want womxn in particular, to not be afraid to be a trailblazer in whatever they’re doing. Plus obviously if you’re a ‘girl on fire’, you’re hot and you need a fan [laughs].
The most recent drop from the collection is called Shake It Don’t Snake It, snake print fan designs inspired by Dancehall culture; the scene, fashion and music. I love Jamaica a lot, the music, food and place holds a special place in my heart. The name plays on the literal idea of shaking your fan and body to the music, but also a mindset that when we are met with obstacles in life to just keep it moving, while keeping it positive and not being snakey or shady to one another.
T: What would be your dream collaboration for your brand and why?
R: I would love to collaborate with individuals that are creating interesting narratives within culture, people that are redefining social norms and challenging the status quo. For example there is Aaron Philip, who’s a black, transgender and disabled model and she talks about the fact that disability is seen as a limited thing but she feels she can do anything and everything. If I could collaborate with a brand it would be Nike, I guess it’s a brand I wear a lot and after fans, shoes are my next must-have fashion item. Taking something so everyday like a trainer and giving it a FANGIRL vibe would be cool.
T: If you could choose a song or songs that best describe your brand which one would you choose and why?
R: As a brand inspired by club culture, it only makes sense to have a compilation of club anthems we love. Volume 1 of FANCLUB ANTHEMS is available on Spotify – it’s a mixture of tracks to get you bopping, voguing and twerking!
T: What LGBTQIA+ clubs would recommend we check out in London?
R: Here are some of my favourite ones I’m itching to check out once we get out of lock down;
Misery – a sober night ran by a mental health collective focusing on healing
Harpies – only LGBTQI+ strip night
He. She. They – house and techno night for everyone
Cocoa Butter Club – Cabaret night showcasing performers of colour
Pxssy Palace – club night centered around Queer womxn, Trans, NB & Intersex POC
T: When you get a moment to pause, what do you like to do for self-care?
R: Self-care is taking the time to switch off and really spend time with myself. I like going to the gym and it’s not just about the physical but mentally, it helps clear my head and keeps me energized. In my self-care time, my downtime is when a lot of ideas come to me quite organically. Another thing I love to do is take an hour or so, to look after my skin and do a beauty regime. If I can then I’ll have a chit-chat with a friend or a family member but my pause time is literally being really selfish because I’ve learnt that your time is so precious.
T: What is the future for FANGIRL?
R: I launched FANGIRL with product because I love fans and I want to continue doing that but the aim is for it to become a platform, a community for marginalized individuals to feel visible. A lot of the work that I have been doing in my career over the last three years is about shedding light on the invisible and telling invisible stories. The beginning of that is through a documentary I directed called ‘Black & Boujee’ (yet to be released) which explores what it means to be gay and black today. In three years I want it to be more about the platform and the products are more secondary.
But for now I am focusing on dropping fun and interesting products for people to interact with like for the latest fan design; Shake It Don’t Snake It, I created a fun make-up facefilter to use with the fan to complete your look. June through to September is about celebrating summer, pride and carnival. Even though those IRL events have been cancelled, I am still dropping the Unity designs which are our take on the rainbow as a fan (as pictured Rani holding), and a t-shirt that boldly shouts out our community members “FANGIRL FANBOY FANDEM” on the front. Towards the back end of the year there are some visibility themed designs I’ll drop.
T: How are you responding to the US murders and #blacklivesmatter campaigns?
R: Celebrating and supporting the black community and culture is baked in FANGIRL’s purpose. I hope the brand’s existence in the world is an ode to that in some way alone. I’ve been emotionally and mentally impacted by what is being done to our community which makes it hard to have clarity and the mentality to strategize as the founder and work out what direction to take. But having a few moments to gather my thoughts I’ve decided to donate all profits from every Black & Boujee t-shirt or fan sold to the UK Black Lives Matter fund. Wherever the brand can, I want it to give back to the community. I am also collaborating with other black creatives and allies to work on other ways as a very small brand like FANGIRL can help make some sort of impact within our community.