Words by Hilary Bourke.
Follow Kim Russell’s online persona, @thekimbino, for five minutes, and you’ll instantly be in her corner. The South African-born, Perth-based digital fashion curator has the rare and unedited authenticity that makes you feel like you’re sitting beside her as she types every hot take. For the unacquainted, Kim occupies a unique space in the fashion landscape. Part online archivist, critic, stylist and curator, she fires out her candid quips to an audience of over 197k, all with her two-year-old son in tow. Like others leading the democratisation of fashion, Kim made her start on Instagram. Taking to the platform to share the styling boards she created on the now defunct Polyvore, her following began to grow around the same time she started studying fashion business in Perth. Left feeling uninspired by the e-commerce-heavy curriculum, she dropped out halfway through to explore styling work overseas.
Honesty, originality and an encyclopedic level of fashion knowledge are what set Kim apart from the rest. After a stint working in education assistance (“I basically gave up [on fashion],” she says, “I was like, ‘I’m never going to get anywhere, let me just do something normal”), she returned, detached from the industry and ready to speak her mind.
As all acts of surrender do, the shift marked the start of a new era, one with the eyes of her idols on her and in her DMs (Law Roach, Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, Bella Hadid and Kim Kardashian are all followers, amongst others.) With a large following in the US, it's no surprise she’s considered shifting home base, greater opportunities being the reason why. ‘Opportunities’ is a topic Kim and I keep coming back to in our conversation. Even as an internet prodigy, it’s a challenge to capitalise on your engagement in an industry that has a reputation for gatekeeping. “I started my page in 2015, and it’s just in like the last three years that I’m sort of getting somewhere in terms of opportunities and visibility,” Kim says, “If people want you there, it’s very possible for them to make it happen. At the start of 2020, I consulted with Yeezy (so random.) I got an email, and four days later I flew out there.”
From telling it like it is to pioneering the digital fashion space, I caught up with the influential 27-year-old to unpack things further.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Hilary Bourke: Sharing and educating are cornerstones of @thekimbino, and after you told me you had a brief foray into education, that made even more sense. Why is it important that you teach through the work you do?
Kim Russell: Because not everyone is going to go to fashion school even though they might want to. And if you’re just keeping up with fashion as a hobby, you still learn something. In a way, my page gives everyone access to some level of fashion knowledge, and on a small scale, I’d like to think it’s a form of decentralising fashion education.
HB: What has been your biggest challenge breaking into the industry?
KR: I would say my location [Perth, Australia] has hindered me, especially after the pandemic. People from this side of the world are so far from what we consider the centre of fashion, so it’s been hard breaking down those walls, especially with how competitive fashion seems to be.
HB: You’ve garnered a loyal following for your red-carpet commentary and collection critiques. Why is critical observation important in fashion, and what place does personal taste have in it all?
KR: I think personal taste and fashion knowledge go hand in hand when it comes to criticism, so I don’t understand the reasoning behind brands shying away from real criticism. Not everyone will like what you do; that doesn’t make it a bad collection or mean it’s bad work. If we could be more honest when analysing things there could be room for improvement. Without critical observation would we have plus size models on the runway or ANY people of colour? If nobody
had the guts to point it out?
HB: You mentioned in one of our earlier chats that it’s been challenging to translate your online following into opportunities and monetise your work. What do you think that says about the industry?
KR: It says they’re still trying to find value in digital creators and pioneers of the digital fashion space. And while they drag their feet, they’re missing out on a lot of unexplored territories.
HB: What’s your biggest frustration with the industry?
KR: There are too many to count. Maybe nepotism.
HB: Thinking of Australian designers, what do you think we do better at home than overseas?
KR: I guess, in a way, we don’t follow the traditional calendar so when designing, we have more time to refine our collections. There’s independence in the way Australian designers create,
you can spot them from a mile away.
HB: When @thekimbino was named one of the accounts to follow during fashion month you called out the contradiction, saying you couldn’t even find your way to New York or Europe for work. What problem does this highlight to you?
KR: Brands, magazines, and digital fashion rely on me (and people like me) to keep them relevant in many ways. People like me because I'm honest, so when I say something, then you know I mean it. I can't believe it myself, but my words do mean something. Most of my peers named in that article were white/men of colour, and they were attending fashion week in one or multiple cities. Why am I, as a black woman, singled out in this? Not one brand or company even offered me anything close to what they were offered.
HB: It heartbreakingly says a lot about how far the industry really has to go… In an Instagram Q&A, someone once asked about your thoughts on breaking into the fashion industry as a black woman. Did you want to expand on that?
KR: I think it’s just really fucking hard, especially in a country that is eurocentric in its fashion and beauty industries. So the thought of making it overseas also makes the mountain much higher. I see my peers doing multiple cities with sponsors or brand invites and with managers (they deserve this treatment, don’t get me wrong), then I look at myself and there’s only really one difference between us – I’m black and a woman.
HB: You’ve been at this for almost eight years now. What’s your biggest takeaway, lesson or learning?
KR: Fashion is brutal.
HB: What motivates you to keep going?
KR: My family, for sure. My parents never tried to sway me from this — they did want me to be
rational but they never said, ‘absolutely no, you can’t and shouldn’t pursue this; it’s silly.’ So now I have to make it! And, I have an almost two-year-old boy that I’m also trying to show what a boss I can be!
HB: Facts. 197k people (and counting) are already convinced.