Briana Brown is a model and entrepreneur born and raised in Englewood, New Jersey. On a mission to fill a white space, Briana is fighting for change through her non-profit: The 370 Foundation. With a focus on fashion sustainability and mental health, 370 is a home for POC to feel uplifted all while making an impactful change to our environment. Check out our conversation below.
How did you get started with 370 and what was your inspiration? Give us all the details.
I majored in Enterprise Regulation for Profit and Non-Profit Organizations which is basically business law so I've always been interested in the non-profit world whether it was working for an organization or creating my own. I think it was a silent dream that I hadn’t recognize yet. One morning, I randomly decided to organize a food drive. I reached out to a local food bank that my family used to get food from when I was younger and they were so happy to partner with me. This was before 370 even existed. I just thought okay, what can I do because I'm bored and I know people need help.
Was the success of the food drive your inspiration to keep going? Did you think, okay this isn’t a one-time thing?
Yes! It was kind of an Oh Shit moment. I thought, I could really do something here. Then last August my modeling agency connected me with a non-profit organization called Beauty for Freedom. They were organizing a virtual live stream called Her Story and I was ask to participate as a contributing artist and conduct some interviews. The opportunity just came to me and I was happy to be involved. On the day of the event, I got into a casual conversation the owner of the nonprofit, Monica Watkins. She asked me what I wanted to do with my career so I started talking about my newly found passion for nonprofit which I guess gave her the impression that I already had my own set up. She said well, if you want to talk about your nonprofit I can totally give you a segment on the live stream. So now I'm like, oh my God, I need to get everything together. That put the battery on my back because this was definitely something I wanted to pursue and it took Monica to give me that opportunity and realize how feasible it is. It was like a lightbulb went off, I can really do this. That's when 370 Foundation was born.
What is the reasoning behind your focus on mental health and sustainability?
I’m very passionate about a lot of things, mental health, sustainability, overall inclusion, racial topics, that I felt like an octopus when I first launched. How do I show this community and that community that I care? I decided to focus on two things I thought could branch out into everything else I care about. Being in such a wasteful industry, I realized fashion and sustainability go hand and hand. I would love to work with distinguished designers to organize fashion show fundraisers with women shelters around the city. We could give them a makeover, make them feel beautiful and create grants with the money raised to help these women get out of the shelters and start their lives again. I always wonder why people aren’t thinking in this direction until they're pushed to. It’s time to implement real change, no more waiting.
Mental health is also a topic I’m very interested in. I'm not an expert, but I do little things to keep my mental health intact. I want to focus on how social media can influence mental health, specifically in communities of color. I want to talk about how body dysmorphia is real and not rushing yourself. Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, how are you really feeling? I am working on creating a panel for young girls ranging between 14 – 18 where we can have an open conversation about how they feel about themselves and just peak into their minds. Gen Z is extremely social media influenced so I want to connect with them about real topic the way my cousins were able to talk to me and inspire them but also teach them true reality.
As young model, do you see a lot of body dysmorphia and mental health issues in the industry and how do you manage that?
I do see it and I've personally been able to remove that outlook of myself, the feeling of not being thin enough or my abs aren’t this way. When I first got signed I was very timid and quiet. I would just say yes to whatever but then I realized that I'm in this industry for a reason and I'm going to demand my power and be confident while doing it. It's easier said than done but it's something I've made a goal and I feel like I finally reached that point. Don't get me wrong, there are times when I'm on set and there are girls who are skinnier and have a 24" waist but there will always be someone who matches your idea of a perfect model silhouette. You just need to remember why you're there and that you are there, at the same job. That comparison will then mean nothing because when you're confident and realize that you don't want to be anyone but yourself, it's very hard to care when people try to compare you or belittle you especially your physical appearance.
Is it common for agencies to talk about issues like body dysmorphia and eating disorders with their clients or do you think they look at you as a money maker and not concerned with your mental health?
I think it honestly depends on the agency and the specific agent. I thankfully haven’t had an agent who has treated me like a money making machine but I have had agents who seemed unbothered by things that could potentially bother me. I’ve also had agents who would give me pep talks, practice my walk with me and make me feel confident, I think that's extremely important. Every model/agent relationship is important and if you're somewhere where you don't feel valued or just there to make them money, then you need to leave, simple as that.
I think a lot of times the conversation of how having a good agent makes a good model isn’t really spoken about. There’s an impression that when you get signed you are good to go but a model also need a supportive team. Just because you're signed doesn't mean you know what you're doing. It was about a year and half before I was like oh, okay I should do it like this. Having that guidance is wonderful. Some people are lucky enough to naturally figure it out on their own but for girls and male models who aren't as confident yet, it's very important to have that relationship or feel comfortable calling your agent when you think something on set isn't going the way it should without feeling like you'll get any backlash for it.
Yes, I saw this happen this week actually where I was on set and the hairstylist wasn't familiar with doing our models hair. I could tell she was getting so upset but she wasn't saying anything because she wanted to be professional, I saw it in her eyes. I wish she knew how much more powerful she was and that she could have said something.
Definitely! Especially being a black model in the industry, having a good relationship with your agent and also maintaining your own personal confidence is the key because if not situations like the one you just described will always happen. Like, actually can we not use water on my edges? because that doesn't lay them. It falls on the entire industry and I think for a while we've set the bar so low where we feel like hairstylists are only required to do one type of hair texture, but the game has been changed and it's just about adjusting and whether or not they want to.
Are you becoming more selective with who you work with?
In terms of my Foundation, I want to work with sustainable brands or artisanal brands founded by POC. I know everything won't and can’t always be one hundred percent sustainable but, I want to give a platform to the smaller black owned brands that are working hard to get their name out there.
Within modeling, it's a bit more challenging as I’m fairly new. I don't want to come off as problematic by being too selective, but now that I have my foundation, I do my research before confirming a job to make sure I align with their values.
How did the BLM movement affect your work?
BLM definitely gave me a push that I didn't realize I needed until afterwards. The protests broke out in the midst of my food drive last summer and it was a really revolutionary time for me. I went to as many protests as I could while being safe to fight for our lives. I kept thinking how can I help and go beyond protesting, how can I create change.
I decided to do a live with my mother agent to talk about what we were experiencing. How infuriating it is to be black right now and the lack of support I felt from people in the industry. That was the first time I went on my Instagram live and I remember thinking how powerful it felt using my platform to share what I was passionate about. Whether you have one hundred or a million followers, using your voice is important. That experience made me feel comfortable launching 370 because I already went through a lot this summer. I did a lot, I learned a lot and experienced a lot so it shouldn’t be anything I'm scared of or backing away from but more so walking towards. So yes, I think the movement did have an effect on me starting my non-profit career. I’m just trying to create a community that I don't feel exists that I want to be a part of. I think I found my voice during that time.
Where do you see The 370 Foundation going? What are your next big plans?
Right now I'm in a planning mode and really figuring out how to get the word out about 370. I really want a studio space to conduct my own shoots, my own interviews and just have a place where my ideas can come to life. I would love to put a team together and hopefully find some sponsors. I’m just trusting my intuition and following my ideas. I don't know where they're going to bring me, but I feel like it'll be a good place because I'm in a good place and I'm really optimistic about the things I'm passionate about. So I have no clue where we're going but it's going to be somewhere lit and I can’t wait for you guys to be there.