The fashion industry hasn’t been welcoming to people of colour—at Soli Productions, Solitha Shortte is fighting to change thatP
eople need to work together to dismantle an unequal world—that’s the philosophy at the heart of Soli Productions.
“If it weren’t for those that opened the door I would not be where I am today,” says Solitha Shortte, the owner and creative director of Soli Productions Management Inc.
Soli focuses on representing diversity in the fashion industry. It specializes in runway productions, brand promotion, and model development/coaching. The company aims to celebrate and promote healthy beauty standards that reflect confidence and love for one’s inner self. “The soul of Soli is diversity,” says Shortte. “I believe representation is key for us shifting the balance where we’re all see on an equal playing field.”
Shortte grew up on the island of Bequia in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It’s 18 square kilometres of Caribbean paradise and simple living. “I saw this show, and there was this women, and I had never seen somebody that looked like me on TV in that particular representation,” Shortte says. She was captivating and everybody on the island was watching her.
“As a little dark skin girl on the island, I never felt beautiful,” says Shortte. “And that was my one moment where I felt a switch and I thought, I am going to be her someday.”
At 15 she was scouted, was trained, and began modelling as a hobby. In 2008, she moved to Canada to pursue an education. She got a BA in marketing from Mount Saint Vincent University, and entered the working world.
She struggled to get work in either marketing or modelling. She never seemed to get called back. “My agent said this is why: one, you are from another agency, and two the industry in this city is racist, so you’ll never get picked,” she says.
Sometimes they picked her, but she feels it was only to check a box to have Black talent on set. “I was never truly appreciated for what I brought to the table,” says Shortte.
She left Halifax and decided she wasn’t going to do anything with fashion anymore. “It was just too heartbreaking,” says Shortte.
A couple years later Shortte met Israeli designer Eyal Zimerman on a train in Montreal. When Zimerman saw Shortte, he recalls he thought “Oh my goodness, what is that beauty?” Her beauty, attitude, and sense of humour intrigued him. He wanted to work with her.
“I was stunned,” she says. “He was the first person who ever wanted me for me… He sort of became my best friend through it all.” Despite living in different countries, they stay connected and share experiences. “For me to work with Solitha, is like a dream come true,” says Zimerman. “She is a true friend for life and she is my muse.”
He opened a door and this time the industry let her in. She modelled all around the world: the Virgin Islands, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Germany, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. In 2015, Shortte returned to Halifax and started coaching where she was previously modelling, with Cassidy Group Talent Agency. Bob Dingwall and Brindal Peralta welcomed her back. “They’re my mentors, my guides, my family,” Shortte says. “They set me up.”
She coached new and diverse talent, but they had nowhere to go. “None of the agencies—the one that were here—were taking people that didn’t look like the status quo,” says Shortte. “If you were Black, or a person of colour, or even if you were white and didn’t fit the standard girl-next-door, they didn’t want you. It’s not really within the fibres of our industry that they want change. They love the way it is. They love the exclusion; it’s just a club that you can’t get in to.”
She believes the industry fails to reflect how the real world looks. “The makeup, most people see as trivial, but the way that Black talent or people of colour are treated when it comes to sitting in someone’s makeup chair, it can break you,” says Shortte.
A makeup artist comes in. They don’t have a shade or a tone for the model’s skin. And what they have doesn’t compliment the model. “I’ve seen the joy in their eyes go,” says Shortte. “Because the power of belonging to and the exclusion when you don’t have me in your makeup kit. That is just as powerful as not seeing yourself in magazines.”
Some businesses are trying. Shortte praises MAC Cosmetics in Halifax. “There’s a handful of them that advocate hard for other artists to represent everybody that sits in your chair,” she says.
Shortte wants to provide a space where others wouldn’t feel the way she has in this industry. “So they have a platform for representation, and in doing that it represents the community,” she says, “that’s why I created Soli productions. It adds a level of reality to a world that has always been so exclusive to what we look like.”
Soli has been growing, working with local clothing businesses such as Ana + Zac and Alexa Pope. Cindy and Robbie McGee of Michelle-Rober fashion, Duane Jones from Art Pays Me and tartan-inspired designer Veronica MacIsaac are fellow artists who have collaborated for various productions. “They’ve really stepped up and have been my strength in this,” says Shortte.
In January 2020, Shorte and her sister founded the Atlantic Scholarship Organization. Its purpose: to create opportunities for youth. “We are providing scholarships to students who are struggling, young leaders that will take over the city and give them an equal playing field.”
In March, Soli productions, with collaboration from designers, Veronica MacIssac, Donn Sabean, tREv Clothing, Michelle-Rober Fashion, Fervente Canada, African Apparel, and models from all over Halifax, hosted the runway show The Fabric of our DNA.
A few weeks later, COVID put them at a standstill. “So I think it was a stop in order for us to start back at a faster pace and at a higher level,” Shortte says, adding that next steps include opening a studio space and starting a magazine for Soli Productions. “It’s the reason I get up, because I see the bigger picture. My art saved me. I hope it can save somebody else.”