Louisa Streeting Life Writer
She’s wanted to launch her own business for years
(Image: Kali Ackford)
It’s fair to say that Jen Reid has had an immensely busy few years, which shows no signs of slowing, with a new book and fashion brand on the horizon. Bristol Live spoke the 52-year-old activist to discuss her new business venture, Big Stush – which she models in the picture above – and reflect on the events of 2020, which inspired her to co-author a children’s book carrying an important message.
More than two years after the topping of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol Harbour on that historic day in June, the plinth continues to stand empty. It was a statue of Jen whose Black Power salute on the plinth where the slave trader once stood became an icon of anti-racism overnight.
‘A Surge of Power (Jen Reid)’, created by British sculptor Marc Quinn, was swiftly removed by Bristol City Council within 24 hours as it had not approved the installation. But where is the statue now?
“The statue is in safe hands,” Jen explained. It’s still earmarked to be sold and is currently being kept safe until a sale goes through. All of the proceeds of the sale will be donated to Cargo Classroom, an initiative led by Dr Lawrence Hoo.
“I can’t wait to see what Cargo does putting that [money] towards more lesson plans that they roll out to schools. For me, when the statue came down, I said this is about history not being told in its full context. It’s for young Black children to have a sense of belonging and to feel proud.
“All of the Cargo Classroom lessons are about Black people in history and their white counterparts, and see themselves and see their school friends. Being a Black child growing up, especially for me, we didn’t even speak about Mary Seacole. It was really whitewashed.”
The UK’s mainstream curriculum still frames Black history solely on slavery, often through a European and white lens, which is what initiatives like Cargo Classroom and the Black Curriculum seek to change. “Slavery is a big part of it, but we are not just slaves,” Jen added. “There is definitely more to that. It’s about children having a sense of pride and representation.”
When asked if enough had changed since the events of 2020, Jen was quick to say “not in the slightest”. “It’s just chipping away and people doing their bit and playing their part, which could take a long time. That’s why I’m really enthused when I go to schools and visit younger children who are definitely Generation Change, but it might not be in my lifetime.”
Allyship is one of the most important things, Jen said. “People are more confident to speak out now and start calling people out. Whatever their views are, some people may be a little shame-faced to say how they feel. But there is still a long way to go.”
Children are ‘Generation Change’
Jen sees children as the future for change in fighting racial injustice. “For me, I’ve really given up with adults in that context, they feel how they feel, they think how they think.
“From me visiting schools around the country, the children are generation change, there has been a shift. Whether I see it in my lifetime, I don’t know, but I definitely know the future looks a lot brighter. Children are asking questions and speaking out, which I think is a bold thing to do.”
Jen has co-authored a children’s book with Angela Joy with illustrations from Leire Salaberria retelling the events of June 2020. She said: “My publishing agent found me a co-author in America and she grew up looking at the statue of the Ku Klux Klan leader. Her daughter is now asking her questions about that statue, which is still there.”
The book has recently been sent to print and will hit the shelves on June 6, 2023. “It’s just a beautiful book, it’s a fictional book about a little girl called Jenna who looks at statues around the town and she doesn’t see anybody like herself,” she explained.
“One day she wakes up and sees a statue of a strong Black woman with her fist raised. At the back of the book, it talks about who Colston was. It’s very informative. Children read it with an adult and you’ve got some guidance to ask children questions.”
‘Bold’ new fashion brand
(Image: Kali Ackford)
With the book sent to print, Jen’s focus is now on the launch of her own fashion brand, Big Stush. Accessories and sustainable clothing have always been a new venture Jen wanted to start, she says, but there had been more pressing issues in life to deal with first.
Big Stush will launch with jewellery and accessories that she has handpicked, which will eventually lead to her creating her own designs, leading to sustainable fashion in the future. “Everything I am selling is everything I would wear, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t wear.”
‘Stush’ is a Jamaican term, and is often used to refer to someone who looks effortlessly good. ‘Big’ is often used to describe Jen and her husband, she said, and so the fashion brand was born.
Big Stush launches online on Friday, November 25 with a launch event from 6pm until 8pm at Duke & Scarlett salon in the city centre open to the public, with Prosecco flowing and a DJ set. Jen’s products will also be available to purchase at the event, ranging from £12 to £24.
“It’s bold it’s colourful, it’s out there, and it brings a whole new meaning to a statement piece. It’s to instil confidence, I say ‘wear it loud and proud’.” The brand promises eclectic designs and unique pieces that are essential to any wardrobe.