Don’t call Tamu McPherson an influencer.
She might have a six-figure following on Instagram. And she might show herself in countless outfit changes, using reels and TikTok to jump in and out of Bottega Veneta heels, Gucci duds and the like.
It’s easy to lump the photographer, writer and editor in with the numerous influencers that have taken over fashion weeks (IRL and now virtually). Some brands still do.
But McPherson comes from the generation that preceded the title. Part fashion blogger, part branded content pioneer, the Milan-based creative holds tremendous sway over some of Europe’s biggest luxury brands, and has been helping them — and herself — to transform, reinvent and keep up with the ever-changing landscape and platform shifts of both social media and traditional fashion media.
She’s also getting them to pay attention to Black creatives, creatives of color and the conversation on race — endeavors that so many European brands have avoided or bungled.
“I’m not an activist, I don’t have any expertise in that area, but I have a platform and I like to use [it] to amplify the work of activists, and pertinent issues,” McPherson said in a phone interview from her office in Milan, the city she has called home since 2005.
A former lawyer, McPherson joined the fashion world after moving from New York to Italy, when a new acquaintance connected her to Luca Lanzoni, a Hearst executive who was then working at Condé Nast. Lanzoni asked her to photograph the fast-exploding world of street style while traveling back and forth between Italy and the U.S. Soon, McPherson was shooting street style for Glamour Italia, writing for Vogue Pelle and contributing to Elle Italia, Metro, Refinery 29 and Harper’s Bazaar — all while learning how to speak Italian on the fly.
“It was the time of blogs, and I was just extremely hungry to be a part of it, of what it was back then,” said McPherson. “We just wanted to work with magazines and wanted to be a part of the system. We were still ascribing to the codes that were in place at the time. Now it’s completely different.”
It was through her street style photography and blogging that in 2008 McPherson created All The Pretty Birds, her own blog, aimed at a multiethnic and multicultural audience. It is one of the longest running fashion blogs that still publishes organic editorial content, outlasting peers like Man Repeller. Its focus on inclusivity gives both its contributors and audience a voice not found in traditional women’s magazines, especially in Europe.
McPherson credits her time as founding editor and head of Grazia Italy’s website from 2011 to 2013 for getting Europe’s biggest luxury players to listen to her — and eventually, to see her advocation for listening to other Black creatives and creatives of color.
“It took me a long time to have a voice in these meetings because when you start out, you’re trying to sell advertising on your website, you’re begging them to invest,” she said. “There was a transition from begging for money for the website to having more of an authoritative voice and having an example of a successful project.”
After leaving Grazia, McPherson began consulting on her own, focusing on brand and style direction and digital communication with brands like Bulgari, Etro and Mango. The gigs quickly took on a social media focus, resulting in her current hybrid influencer-editor-consultant status. Since the second half of 2020, the creative has been busier than ever, collaborating with longtime clients and new brands alike on what she calls “homegrown content,” the images, videos and adjacent stories that she produces in the Milan apartment she shares with her husband and son.
That homegrown content has also come to include more opinions and statements on being a Black creative in the fashion industry, as McPherson has come to regularly highlight social justice issues in addition to featuring Black designers and collaborators.
“It was a journey because I don’t have that personality, I’m not walking into the meeting demanding anything. I had to understand that I could use my influence in a positive way,” said McPherson, who adds, “If you haven’t found your voice, how can you advocate for someone else, especially being a victim of the same old same system?”
When both Gucci and Prada came under scrutiny in 2019 for selling racially insensitive items, McPherson immediately stepped in, joining conversations that led to the launch of Gucci’s Changemakers initiative as well as Prada’s diversity council, which includes cultural advocates like Ava DuVernay and Malika Savell, Prada’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. “The conversations that I had revealed extremely sincere action to rectify the situations that brought about the gaffes,” McPherson recalled, who had participated in a diversity and inclusion panel at Gucci before the brand’s balaclava incident occurred. “The Changemakers are investing into BIPOC communities at the education level and we are currently seeing the results of the team lead by Antoine Phillips [VP of brand and culture engagement].”
The racial reckoning of 2020 has put McPherson in a reflective mood, but that does not equal passivity for the creative. She continues to work with Black peers and designers, networking with them, and mixing their designs in with the big luxury fashion brands she features on her social media. Last year, Keeyahri designer and founder Keya Martin named her now-bestselling sculptural high-heeled sandal the “Tamu.”
McPherson’s work in amplifying voices of color precedes the murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests, demonstrations and multitude of Black fashion initiatives that have followed. Pre-pandemic, nearly a year ago during Milan Fashion Week, McPherson hosted “Digital Creatives of Colour, Elevating the Conversation,” sponsored by the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana. The event kicked off an initiative McPherson launched with Italy’s central fashion organization to connect the country’s creatives of color with powerful brands and companies.
“I started in a system that is not welcoming, and with all of the success that I have enjoyed, I cannot ignore that,” said McPherson. “If I’m not helping, then what is my purpose being here and what am I doing with the access and the influence that I have?”
The Digital Creatives of Colour initiative is on pause until in-person events can resume during future Milan Fashion Weeks. But this summer, McPherson will launch Shoes Up For Justice, in which she will sell her enviable shoe collection and donate the proceeds to voter’s rights organizations in the U.S.
“Fashion lovers, lovers of shoes are also interested in making a positive impact in their communities,”said McPherson. “There are people who have both a civic interest and a fashion interest.”