Rani Patel Williams is working to rebuild the structure of marketing; creating long-lasting social and cultural impact for womxn and the youth of today, and tomorrow.
Rani Patel Williams (she/her) is a highly necessary voice of change within the advertisement and marketing industry. Through campaigns, initiatives such as #BrandShareTheMic, and her written work, Patel Williams is continually unpicking the lazy habits of a predominantly white cis male industry; intent on disrupting gender and racial divides for a more inclusive future. Having written an open letter to the industry asking it to admit it's blatant racism, published on The Marketing Society, Patel Williams is determined to use her voice of experience to challenge the norm and present solutions for change. We sat down with this powerhouse of a womxn to discuss the motivations behind her mission, taking us deeper into the destructive nature of gendered and biased marketing.
“I work with the power that I have and show that things can be done differently”
Over the past 12 years, Patel Williams has navigated her way through the world of marketing, witnessing the powerful impact it can have versus the repressive nature it can encourage. Having begun her career in advertisement for tech and alcohol companies, Patel Williams moved through freelance work with beauty brands before stepping into the leadership role of Business Partner for Livity. Patel Williams describes Livity, a Youth Marketing Agency, as “one of a kind”; designed to create a better future with the next generation of creatives, promoting brands to have a more purposeful place in young people’s lives. Patel Williams landed this role at an impressively young age, reflecting her driven and ambitious mindset, and putting her in a position to actively use her power for good.
Since taking on this role, Patel Williams has been refining her approach to rebuilding the structure of marketing for long-lasting, positive social impact. From co-authoring a report with Freeda about the future of marketing for womxn, to launching campaigns such as #BrandShareTheMic (amplifying black voices through long term brand collaboration), Patel Williams is setting an example of how change can be implemented.
Her ways of doing this appear to be limitless for alongside her day job, Patel Williams has also founded FANGIRL; a non-gendered accessory and apparel brand born in celebration of the Black LGBTQIA+ club culture. Patel Williams explains how FANGIRL “is a tool for self-expression. I want people to come at it from whatever gender or race, and be themselves freely”. Having launched FANGIRL at the start of 2020, Patel Williams has consistently implemented innovative ways to “tell stories and connect with a community that I care about but who I see aren’t being represented by commercial brands.”
“There have been so many times I’ve wanted to leave the industry, but if no one who looks and thinks like me is in the space then how will anything change. I want to be a part of changing the landscape for the better”
One such project included an online FANGIRL catwalk for London Fashion Week using CGI models. “This project was about exploring representation and the spectrum of the diaspora within the digital realm.” Many Black CGI avatars are being used as influencers online but they’re often built by white cis men. This also appears to be the case for AI bots that dictate algorithms, resulting in biased results including the shadow banning of content that is pro-Black and pro-LGBTQIA+. “If we were going to say these models were Black and from a certain background then we needed the research to back it up.” Working with the Black diaspora community of FANGIRL to gather research, Patel Williams collaborated with Digi-Gxl, a non-binary and womxn led project, to build AI bots that informed the tone of voice of the models. The extent in which Patel Williams went to create a true representation of the community she upholds is an active statement of how design and marketing can be and should be, executed with accountability for those they represent.
“Brands have a responsibility to serve humans, and allow people, wherever they sit on the spectrum of gender and sexuality, to have power and control over how they can engage with these products.”
When asking Patel Williams about the experiences that have shaped her approach to work she explains how it all started when she worked on a change behaviour campaign for the breast cancer charity, CoppaFeel!. Created four years ago, the aim of the TV advert was to encourage young womxn and men to check their breasts and pecs for signs of Breast Cancer; to trust their touch. Throughout the campaign’s development, it became obvious how important it was to show a female nipple being checked for signs of discharge or colouration. Due to the fact that this was an advert for daytime TV and female nipples aren’t allowed to be shown until after the watershed, Patel Williams then had to go through Clearcast, the board who govern all TV ads. Through a long and persistent process of proving why the shot needed to be included, Clearcast finally approved the ad. “This was the first time that a full naked breast was ever seen on UK daytime TV, gaining nationwide attention. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced.” The advert travelled into consumer press and intervened with a wider conversation about censorship and what parts of the body can be visible versus what can’t.
This led Patel Williams to understand just how much impact she could have in her job. “It made me feel like there was a small space where I could use all my skills to persuade people to do good, to learn and change their behaviour towards themselves. It was a massive stepping stone in my career. Anyone who knew me pre CoppaFeel! and saw the journey to now will identify that.”
The barriers and inequalities highlighted to Patel Williams when working on this campaign led her to question the never-ending gendered marketing strategies that impact the mindset of the consumer. From the shrink it, pink it attitudes regarding female-targeted products, to the markup on prices for such items, Patel Williams is adamant to confront the long term impact on social ideals perpetuated by gendered marketing. “Brands drive the economy. They influence Hollywood, TV, our culture. They play a huge part in pushing these gendered narratives of what a woman or a man should be, how a mother or wife should act. These expectations play such a destructive role by restricting self-expression and what we understand as identity.”
Discussing her own personal approach to gender, Patel Williams notes how “people don’t often come across cis women who behave like me. I am petite, I dress ultra-femme sometimes because that’s what I like to do but my personality could be described as having more “masculine” personality traits. I’m direct, I have no time for bullshit, I hold people to account and I have strong views and values.” In previous jobs, these traits often resulted in Patel Williams being condemned for her attitude, “I was challenging decisions and highlighting things that made people feel uncomfortable which resulted in me being seen as the difficult one, too outspoken or, even in some cases, a bit of a bitch”. Patel Williams points out how “if I was a white male, or even women with those characteristic, I wonder if I would be seen in the same light.” We think not.
“It's about challenging and debating what we understand as normal. Now is a great time to question what systems people are choosing to live their lives by and how we can be facilitating, supporting, and servicing them. We can’t keep on ignoring Black people, Asian people, LGBTQIA+ communities, disabled people; they make up our human race.”
Looking back at Patel William’s past, it is clear how these negative experiences have informed her approach to leadership today. “A lot of businesses have a fear culture, meaning people will be scared to admit they’re struggling with something. But when you feel safe you thrive, you create and you’re at your optimum. I want everyone who works with me to learn, grow and be nurtured”. For Patel Williams, it all comes down to open communication, something which she feels supported doing in the democratic environment of Livity. In her role as a Business Partner, Patel Williams is honest about the fact that it can be quite a lonely position to be in. “As a leader, I’m often trying to navigate new, unexpected scenarios (especially in the year we’ve had). So a lot of situations are my first. I approach my role by showing my vulnerabilities and being open with my team about that. I ask them for their opinions so they too can use their voice and challenge one another in a healthy way.”
“I have a strong sense of self but it's been a struggle. My journey has made me stronger and those negative experiences have helped me decipher who I am.”
By working with a supportive team on campaigns that create real impact for the future, it is clear just how much this environment is helping Patel Williams reach her full potential. “Me and my career are so tightly intertwined. The work I do has informed who I am and defined me to a certain extent. That's why I adjust what I do because I want it to form a better Rani, a better version of me.” With this attitude, Rani Patel Williams is leading the way by using her career to actively, creatively use her voice to speak up, challenge and improve the society we are part of. “Whether it’s creating products like FANGIRL, leading conversations on and offline, mentoring, launching the next #BrandShareTheMic coalition, or the work I do day to day with Livity and our brand partners, I ask - How am I putting my voice out there, where am I being heard, and who am I speaking to and for? Because I’m speaking for people like me.”
You can tune into Rani Patel Williams’ new radio show ‘Branded Black’ on Foundation FM, exploring how black culture and identity has been commodified and stereotyped within mainstream culture. See the work her and her team are doing with #BrandShareTheMic @brandsharethemic
Stay up to date with Rani’s work on IG @ranipatelw
Rani Patel Williams wears coat by Dylan Joel, blazer from Uooyaa.
Featuring 'Girl on Fire' & 'Shake It Don't Snake It' fans from FANGIRL