- Words Miriam Balanescu
- Photo credit Missguided
Dani St. James’ Not A Phase is an unstoppable charity making sure UK trans+ communities don’t slip through the cracks. We get to know her better.
Dani St. James has had a rollercoaster of a career that includes everything from makeup to Ibiza nightclubs to a classic office job in London. Born in Wales’ Barry Island, she has woven her way in and out of industries that many only dream of working in, including fashion and music. You may even recognize her from an appearance on Channel 4’s First Dates.
But it was in 2020 that the multifaceted talent truly found her calling. After seeing an urgent need for support for the trans+ community, St. James founded Not A Phase. The young charity was born early last year when co-founder Jacqui Devon designed a T-shirt with the eponymous slogan to raise money for a trans+ youth charity. Realizing how much good they could do, the pair embarked on a pioneering fundraising project.
Not A Phase exists to support trans+ adults around the UK, campaigning to raise awareness, devising diversity strategies for companies, and investing in trans+ owned businesses and organizations – as well as providing a safe space for the trans+ and gender nonconforming community.
Already ramping up endorsements from Victoria Beckham and companies like Misguided, Not A Phase is set for big things. We talked to Dani St. James about her insider knowledge of the fashion industry, getting emotional at London’s Trans+ Pride, and beaches in South Wales.
You’ve had quite a varied career, at one point even working an office job in London! How did you start out and could you describe your career journey?
I guess you’re right, it’s been a crazy path that’s lead me to where I am now, but I believe that each of the jobs I have had has led to my role now with Not A Phase. I started off in makeup as a teenager in the late noughties and then moved away to Ibiza for a wild few years. It was there that I got into the job that brought me to London in 2012, running nightclubs. It’s strange to say that nightclubs would tie into my charity work, I know. I ran a really well-known queer venue called Shadow Lounge in Soho for a couple of years. I developed this huge network of people spanning the whole spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community. It was completely by chance that I went from this into an ops manager role for a big makeup company – with that job I travelled non-stop for three years, I loved it! I managed teams all over the world and when my feet touched the ground, I rolled the dice on a city job, working for a reputable recruitment firm in the city. I honed my people management skills, got a taste for HR policy, and then COVID hit. With the break from working, Not a Phase was born, and that’s where I am now: using all the people skills, the network, and the passion for helping people to try and lift up my community. Throughout the duration of my career, I’ve been really lucky to have made a decent name for myself with side projects and modeling gigs too. It’s been great.
Could you share some of your best and worst experiences of working in fashion and media?
My work in fashion and media has been both behind the scenes and in front of them. The worst times I can think of have been when running teams during fashion week, backstage in countries where everyone is stressed out, speaking different languages and we are all on the back foot trying to get the job done. I say these were the worst because of the stress involved in them. I’m much more relaxed than I think people would believe.
The best ones are probably the music videos that I’ve been in, as daunting as they are. No photoshoot has come close in terms of how fun they are to do. I’ve modelled in all sorts of genres, from Mel C to Yungblud.
What was the moment when you realized you needed to create Not a Phase?
It was a reactive start, to be honest. The start of 2020 was exceptionally tough for the trans community in the UK. The setbacks that we faced were terrifying and hate crime was and is still on the rise. A friend of mine designed a t-shirt that said ‘Not A Phase’ across it. She was selling them to raise money for a trans youth charity and as the days rolled on, I teamed up with her to help spread the word. That quickly became both of us wanting to do more than just fundraise. We looked at what was lacking and where the cracks were that trans people were falling into. Not A Phase was set up and the very long process to becoming a charity began. My friend decided to leave to focus on other projects towards the end of 2020 and I took to the helm with the support of our trustees, legal team, and our amazing supporters. Not a Phase became a registered UK charity in January 2021 and here we are!
What examples were you seeing of trans+ and gender-nonconforming businesses not getting enough support?
This spans far and wide: it’s not just businesses, but projects and smaller organizations too. We hear stories all the time about businesses that need a hand, from a little bakery in Margate to a nail shop in Glasgow. We have geared ourselves up to be a lifeline to those struggling, not just financially and materially but also with the support of our trustees’ business acumen and mentorship. It’s going to be a massive year for us and we can’t wait to get out there.
How have you found the past year – Covid-19 and social media storms over trans+ identity included? Has this affected your work?
Well, the pandemic changed everything for me on a professional level. I would never have anticipated my life taking this direction. Aside from my work life, it’s been a really challenging time both for me personally and for the rest of my community. We are fighting to protect our identities and our rights here, this ongoing saga currently shows no light at the end of the tunnel, but the love that channels into the charity really keeps me going. People have been just amazing.
Which of Not A Phase’s achievements so far are you most proud of?
The protest for our rights last year was a very emotional experience for me. By the time we stood up on the podiums looking out onto the sea of people and seeing so many of our t-shirts there, that was my proudest moment. It was very hard last year to get anything off of the ground – so many of our plans were paused because of the national lockdowns and we are only now beginning to roll things out, like our health and wellness programme that will be breaking down the barriers that so often prevent members of the community from feeling comfortable in fitness spaces.
What hopes do you have for the future of Not a Phase?
My hopes are that we have created something here that will go on and on. I’m so hopeful that the community safe spaces we have popping up around the country in a few months are going to become a lifeline to people. I hope we are never seen as another London-bubble organization and I hope that with our team able to grow and flourish, that we will be able to become an organization that people can turn to in times of hardship.
Tell us about some of the trans+ businesses and projects you are excited about right now.
I think that We Exist is fantastic: not only are they doing their casual shared working spaces but also have set up a trans medical funding project which I’ve witnessed with awe. 5for5 in Scotland is another fantastic example of a trans medical project that is really creating waves. The London Trans Pride team are phenomenal, it’s still in its early grassroots, kinda punk phase but is ever-growing. We love supporting that team in their growth.
What advice would you give to other trans+ and gender nonconforming creatives hoping to break into creative industries?
The barriers that you think are in front of you aren’t always real, it’s all smoke and mirrors. If you have the drive and you are prepared to do the work, it’s possible – all of it.
Where is your happy place?
There is a beach near where I’m from in South Wales, along the side of it there’s a cliff that juts out into the sea and when you walk to the end of it, you are standing at the most southern tip of Wales. It always makes me feel really at peace standing in that spot. There is nowhere that makes me feel like I can breathe more than Wales does.