Storied #1. Custodia Chineva, Blogger, www.herchapter.com
You can’t just get positivity, you have to give it back as well. You can be positive for the next girl, you can share the information and touch someone else with it. - Custodia Chineva
I was scrolling through the Den Haag tag on Instagram in hopes of finding new cafes to try out, and maybe some interesting local blogs to read. As I scanned through the feed, a photo caught my eye of a beautiful woman, wearing a gorgeous outfit, posing in a location I recognized as being in The Hague. I clicked on the picture and stumbled upon the Instagram of Custodia Chineva.
Custodia is a fashion and lifestyle blogger who has been living in the Netherlands for the past 19 years. Originally from Angola, she overcame hardships, and a language barrier to build a life for herself and share her creativity with the world. She currently has almost 14,000 followers on Instagram and blogs regularly on www.herchapter.com, where she shares about loss, self-confidence and the importance of kindness.
I got the chance to sit down with her and ask her about her thoughts on being a creative in The Hague, women working together, building a support system and more.
How does living in The Hague either help or hold back what you do? It’s known as the city of peace and justice, but it’s not really known as a fashion city.
Compared to where I used to live (Groningen) I think the Hague is more open minded. You have a lot of different cultures living together. You also have a lot of opportunities not only as a blogger but as a woman. If I had stayed in Groningen I would have stopped with blogging, because it was just too far and expensive to attend events. I can go to events in Amsterdam (and locally) without worrying about distance or expense. In February I went to a Clinique event and I was like “Wow, am I here?” When I lived in Groningen, l probably wouldn’t have made the time to attend that event or even meet you or have the opportunities to network that I do now.
How do you find creative people who can help you?
I have my brother and his help is mind blowing. He sends me mood boards and photos from girls he thinks I should pay attention to. He says “you need to have a vibe, you need to tell a story. You need to have something that is yours. Something that people will look at and say “Oh this is Custodia!”
How do you tell your own story using words and pictures?
I came here from Angola, when I was 13 and I wasn’t talking. My foster mom was worried about me because I couldn’t express my feelings. I went to therapy and there she suggested I write down my feelings. I would buy magazines with my own money and cut out images and put them in my journal. I was becoming a woman and I couldn’t express how I was feeling about those changes. I started writing to myself about how I was feeling, even if I was heartbroken or had an issue, I would write. Now, if I’m having an issue, I sit down, cry, write it out and I let it go. I can look back at my experiences and say “You’ve been there before and you got through it, you’ve got this!” Writing for me is like therapy. I think writing and having my son saved my life. I look at some of my posts and I pat myself on the back. Writing is something I created, and no one can take it away from me.
In my blogs (on www.herchapter.com) I try to be as open as possible. I hope someone can read it and say “she went through all of these difficulties, but she’s still here, she made it” You can’t just get positivity, you have to give it back as well. You can be positive for the next girl, you can share the information and touch someone else with it.
Do you ever have fear and how do you get over that?
I think I’m one of the most scared people you’ll meet. There came a point in my blog when I was doing all of the work and had to tell my friend I wanted to continue on my own. I had to tell her “we are doing this together but I feel like I’m doing this myself, I need to take this to the next level, what should I do?” She told me, girl take it and go. I was scared to lose her as a friend, but she was and is always so supportive of what I do. Every time we meet we take pictures together. That’s what I mean about people who build you up. It could have gone another way, but she gave me the feeling of “you can have this and you can do this. She gave me the feeling “no matter how far you go we can go together”
How do you navigate negotiating for your business and yourself?
Sometimes I wonder how did anyone find me? The world is full of beautiful people. Brands usually contact me for collaborations. One day I was looking at a girl’s blog and she talked about sending out letters to all the PR agencies in her city. I told myself at the time, no that won’t work for me. But I follow Michelle Bruin, a fellow black girl with a blog. I met her at an event and she told me to sign up for PR so I did and I started going to events.
A lot of brands don’t use PR agencies, they send you a direct e-mail. I also struggle with how much to ask per post. You need to be very strong in what you want and your worth. As a black woman and a blogger they expect you to ask for less. I always think “If I came so far without you, I can go further without you. Eventually, they’ll be back when I get bigger and I’ll ask for more then (insert laughter). I collaborated with a handbag designer who approached me when I had a smaller audience. She gave me a bag as a thank you for working with her. I worked with her again when I was bigger and I didn’t ask for payment, because she believed in me when I was small and I want to repay those who worked with me.
I’m a full time mother, a full time worker, and a blogger how can I charge less? My time is valuable. It is a process, everything in the blogging world is a process, you’re going to research, say yes or say no, and sometimes people get scared a brand will not come back. Brands will come back if they want to work with you, eventually.
What are your thoughts on diversity in blogging?
At events I noticed that I was often one of the only black woman in the room. There were like 10 bloggers that looked similar and then me the lone black blogger. I wish there were more PR companies for bloggers of color like me. I wish I could connect with more bloggers who look like me at events. There are always 1 or 2 bloggers of color and no more. I always thought I was the only blogger with an issue with the lack of diversity. But at an event I met another black blogger and we both said “Have you noticed every event we go to there are rarely more than 2 woman with my color? If there are more it’s usually a +1. Of course it’s nice to get things, someone sees you and believes in you and rewards your hard work. You see bloggers getting rewarded for their hard work and you want that too.
Where do you shop?
Zara, I used to shop at H&M (until they did something shady: The monkey ad), Stradavarius, Primark and Asos. When I shop on Asos I always look at videos to see how the clothes are made, but of course I’ve gotten things that weren’t good. I hate to shop for Instabrands because they take forever to come and they get sold out so quickly.
How do you stay true to your style and not get caught up in the hype?
I have a friend from Somalia and I think she’s a true fashionista. She goes shopping and takes pictures and tells me “You need to buy this” I was complaining about likes and comments, and she said you need to do something no one is doing. I said everyone is doing the same. She told me, “You need to be colorful, you need to do something that pops.” So I started wearing more color. My closet is so full of color. Sometimes I feel like there are two sides, the colorful girl in the skirts and the practical girl in jeans and a blazer. I have my days off.
What are your thoughts on working with women vs. men?
I have a new photographer and she’s a girl. I love her. I used to shoot with a guy and he would just say stand there. But she comes with a concept. She’ll say Custodia I have something. She suggests outfits and combinations. A male photographer will never tell you to suck in your stomach, or button up your shirt or fix your hair. You’re never alone when you work with a female photographer, it’s more of a partnership. You can ask her for her jacket or purse for the photos and she’ll share them to you.
What do you think about people that say Women can’t work together?
If we have the same goals and the same path, you can either choose to think “No I can’t help you because I want to get there.” Or I can think “If we want to go far we can go together, even if you get there first, I can get there too.” In the blogger world sometimes you can feel negative vibes. You can ask someone about how they got to where they are, and they’ll be vague and not give you the real. I wish more bloggers of color would support each other, share and post each others content. It’s so powerful if we could get together and make content together.
Last question, what is your go to Brunch order.
Chai Latte, Soy Milk with Water and I love anything with Salmon. Interviewers note: We met at Club Vers in The Hague and she ordered spinach waffles with salmon and an egg.