Freelance creative director, Hollaback Boi, shares his opinions on growing up an outsider and learning to love it. Hollaback Boi is 1 of 10 Aussies talking to us about issues that matter to them, via SBS 2 Facebook live video this month for #SBSUncensored.
By
Shami Sivasubramanian

22 Jul 2016 - 3:45 PM  UPDATED 5 Aug 2016 - 4:45 PM

At 23, Kurt Johnson has created quite a profile for himself; a freelance creative director for a variety of magazine and concept photo shoots around Australia, fashion editor for bi-annual arts magazine King Kong, an avant-garde stylist, classically-trained ballet dancer, and social media superstar.

Best known for his viral Instagram account, Hollaback Boi, Johnson admits not everything is as it seems. Though his Valencia-filtered pictures might look flawless, it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get where he is today.

 

The genesis of Hollaback Boi

Hollaback Boi began with an existential crisis at the tender age of 21, Johnson says.

“I was 21 and told myself I couldn't keep working casual jobs, I need to be able to better support myself. I just started freaking out,” he recalls.

“On social media, I really preach self-love.  Everyone is fabulous and special and unique in their own way and 110% truly believe that!” he says.

He was in a bar with a friend, drunkenly agonising about his life when he decided then and there to rebrand himself on Instagram.

“We just kept calling out different names hoping one would stick. And then Gwen Stefani’s ‘Hollaback Girl’ started playing in the bar and we were like ‘Oh my god! What about Hollaback Boy, but you spell Boy B-O-I?!’” he says.

 

 

Perks of growing up in The Shire

Before finding his feet in the fashion world, Johnson says he was like any old confused young person, just trying to figure out what he liked and what he didn’t like.

“I didn’t have anyone I could totally identify with growing up in The Shire [in Sydney], but I’m so glad I grew up in the age of the internet!” he says, citing Tumblr as one of his saving graces.

“The way industry works now is this: you have one token model of colour that everyone’s loving at the moment and twenty white models that everyone’s loving at the moment. It’s always outweighed,” he says. “That isn’t diversity. It’s bringing more light to your lack of diversity.”

But not having people to identify with during his formative years, forced Johnson to turn inwards for strength and support. Feeling alone, he says, taught him to develop an unwavering self-belief that has helped him forge a career in the fickle fashion industry.

“Growing up in the Sutherland Shire was isolating in so many ways but was so beneficial to me figuring out who I am,” he says.

 

 

How to get into fashion styling 

Johnson began his ballet training at the age of eight, attending a weekly class “for fun” as he says. But once Johnson began high school, his passion for the art grew, turning weekly sessions to tri-weekly sessions, and eventually a two-year full-time dance program on scholarship.

Still, Johnson wasn’t convinced it was what he wanted to pursue. And after completing his dance education took up a job in retail, at an Oxford Street boutique named State of Mind, a fateful opportunity that launched his fashion career.

A lot of fashion editors, stylists, photographers would come in and borrow clothing from our store, which was ahead of its time and carried quite a lot of brand no other store in Australia carried. So I met quite a lot of people through that,” he says.

Then one day one of them invited him to work on a photoshoot. and from there it “f*ing snowballed” he says.

However his dance training was not in vain; Johnson finds his sense of movement not only influences but helps how he directs models on photo shoots.

“I think I understand that aesthetic awareness. I understand how I want the body to move, how I want it to look like, and how to get from Point A to Point B with the body,” he says.

 

 

Real diversity in Australian fashion isn't there... yet

Johnson may appear to have several titles to his name, but his core passion – to bring diversity to fashion - transcends them all.

“The way industry works now is this: you have one token model of colour that everyone’s loving at the moment and twenty white models that everyone’s loving at the moment. It’s always outweighed,” he says. “That isn’t diversity. It’s bringing more light to your lack of diversity.”

Johnson finds the general attitude of the Australian industry is one of caution and cowardice when it comes to better representing models of colour.

 

 

Getting married... in New Zealand

It’s not just Johnson’s career that’s been coming up rosy. The 23-year-old is engaged to his boyfriend of over one year. However, Johnson says the wedding, due to be held in a few months, will be bittersweet.

“I do have a lot of creative designs for the wedding, but it’s not going to be a reality because Australian hasn’t legalised gay marriage. So, we’ve had to settle for a really annoying shotgun wedding in New Zealand instead,” he says.

“On social media, I really preach self-love.  Everyone is fabulous and special and unique in their own way and 110% truly believe that!” he says.

 “If we all just loved ourselves a bit more, I think there’d be less hate in the world.”

 

Kurt Johnson makes up one of ten 'social influencers' set to go-live on SBS 2 Facebook this month as part of SBS Uncensored; a project where young Australians can talk openly about what issues matter to them.  

Kurt Johnson was live @ 7pm on Monday, July 25 on SBS 2. Catch up below!

For the full lineup and schedule:
SBS Uncensored: 10 young Aussies coming to you LIVE on SBS 2 Facebook
SBS Uncensored brings to you ten young Aussies from around the country to talk on what matters to them when it comes to making a better Australia. LIVE on SBS 2 Facebook this month; get in on #SBSUncensored.