In this new series, we interview the up-and-coming stars of the modelling world who are using their voices to say something important – whether they are passionate activists for women’s rights or politically active on Instagram – these are girls we want to be friends with and who we want you to follow. Meet the Role Models. Next up, it’s outspoken runway model and clothing designer Leomie Anderson.
How did you get into modelling?
I was scouted when I was 14 years old. I was coming home from school in South London and I looked a mess. I had red hair, blue mascara, so I looked great. (Laughs). Somebody from Premier came up to me and said ‘Have you ever considered modelling?’ I thought he was a pervert! I just got on the bus like, ‘No, thanks’. The next day he came back and he was like, ‘Can you give your mum our business card?’ Then a few months later, somebody else from Premier came up to me and I was like, ‘Okay, cool, two people from the same agency, maybe this is legit.’ I went in, and the rest is history.
You’re not afraid to show your opinions, which is great. Do you think that’s because models nowadays have to be big on social media and share their views on that? Or do you think you would always have been like that?
For me personally, I’ve always been like that. When I was at secondary school, I was always the person who was speaking up about issues and I was always trying to change things. I started my very first blog back in 2012, so I’ve been doing social media before. If I have something to say, I’m going to say it. I don’t really care, because I don’t want to hold back how I feel about anything or allow the industry to silence me in any way.
Do you feel any responsibility to be a good role model?
Honestly, I just started speaking and people started calling me a role model. Whenever I speak on something, my aim really is just to educate people. When I spoke about the make-up situation, I’m not here to call out any designers or make-up artists. It’s all about education for me. [Leomie drew attention to the fact that black models often have to bring their own foundation because the make-up artists don’t have the right ones.] I guess that when I put these things out, people just started calling me a role model. I do think about what I put out there, because I know I have a lot of young fans. I feel like I do have a responsibility towards them, but it doesn’t feel like a burden or anything. I think it should come naturally to everybody. We’re all role models to somebody, regardless of how many followers you have. I think that it is important for us to use our voices for good. Everybody should be passionate about something, so whatever you’re passionate about you should speak about. Some people are passionate about animal rights; some people are just passionate about their own hobbies like art or something like that. I think just always put it out there.
How often do you read comments from fans and how often do you interact with followers?
All the time. They tweet me everyday, so I guess I can’t really avoid it. I get a lot of emails and direct messages and stuff, people who have read the blog. That’s really interesting to me, to see how it’s actually helped people. All I can do is put it out there, I don’t know who is going to read it or if it will actually help anyone, but it’s still great to see good comments about that. You can connect with anyone, anywhere in the world.
You recently spoke at the UN Women for Women talk. How did you get involved with that and what did you talk about?
I had worked with the PR who was organising the event a lot doing different projects. He knows that I’m very passionate about speaking about fashion and diversity, so he just invited me to speak. It turned out that it was oversubscribed, which I was actually really overwhelmed about. I hope that I can use that space again to do something like that, it would be great. I just spoke about my experiences and the experiences of other black models in fashion. I spoke generally also about the pressures of the fashion industry, what the fashion industry is kind of going towards right now, and of course I spoke about female empowerment. The message that I really wanted to get across to the audience is that no matter how many followers you have, no matter if it’s one person or five or five hundred, your voice matters. Especially within fashion, you can see people complain about something, or when the consumer has something to say, they keep putting peer pressure on that audience to change their habits.
Do you ever worry that diversity on the catwalks is just a headline?
Fashion is just a reflection of real life. I feel like right now, because people keep speaking about it and because people care about that, fashion is going to care about that. But the moment other people stop caring about that, fashion stops caring about that. It’s just the way of the world. It’s not just about the fashion industry; the fashion industry is a reflection of real life at the time. When we were going through the recession, fashion was hit really hard. When people were really against size zero models, they introduced new laws. It’s really about the consumer always keeping what they care about at the forefront. That’s what I always say. I think that it will definitely be a trend that’s here to stay, the inclusion of different size models. But then every season can change. The next season, people might care about models with disabilities. It’s going to vary. I think that’s the beauty of fashion as well, it’s a very fluid industry. It can reflect what people care about, that’s what I like about it.
What do you think about fashion activism?
I think it’s great, but I also feel like some brands are just doing it because it’s the cool thing. Let’s be real, if you’re a huge brand that has huge amounts of money, then all you’re doing is making more money by using fashion activism. I don’t think that’s real in my opinion. People are sending out their products to women who have a high following, just so they can get the message across and make it look like it’s a whole girl band thing. You’re paying these people to do that, instead of doing whole talks, whole debates, a whole campaign based on the issue. You can’t just put a slogan on a t-shirt and expect it to work. In the same way, when I started, I knew that I couldn’t just launch a blog with no visual aspect because I knew it would have no press. I knew I couldn’t just launch a clothing line and have no message behind it. It’s all about using your following and using the fact that, yes, people will buy into your brands but also this is what you have to do. I think it comes hand in hand.
What made you decide to start your clothing line (Leomie Anderson the Project the Purpose) which features empowering slogans?
The thing that actually made me start was the fact that I wrote a post on my own personal blog and one of my colleagues on Twitter direct messaged me about consent and the pressure put on young girls to be able to say no to situations. When I wrote about that, it went viral. It was picked up by so many different news outlets. I even got to speak on BBC News about it. I realised that actually, when I put something out there, it can get a big response. So I was like, ‘Okay, I need to do more.’ I want Lapp to be an ever-evolving brand that reacts to what’s going on – like, hey, we have Trump now - and I definitely want to get kids off the streets when it comes to what’s going on with women’s rights. And not even just women’s rights, but any marginalized community.
How did you come up with the slogans for it?
I feel like you just have to pay attention to the climate and see what’s going on and summarise it. I guess we’re just in a generation where it’s 140 characters or less. I had to think of something that was catchy, and I was really inspired by Instagram when the elections were happening. I was in America at the time as well, so I guess I was really inspired by the protesters, the passion and the women that were involved. So yeah, I kind of just went with it.
How do you see Lapp evolving now?
My dream for Lapp is a) to be able to branch out and have the name already be so synonymous with women’s rights that I can just do branded clothes. So people can be like, ‘Oh, you’re wearing that Lapp jumper’. The blog aspect is always going to be there. I really want to develop the blog, develop a YouTube channel. I want to do workshops and I want to hold TED talks.
What do you think are the main issues that you would like to bring attention to?
For me personally, everyone is talking about diversity within fashion. But one thing that we also need to look at is the history of fashion in order to know what we’re doing going forward. If you watch James Scully’s ‘The Business of Fashion’ speech, it's about the fact that when he first started out, they were using twenty black girls because they had the most popping bodies at the time. It didn’t matter about race, it didn’t matter about any of that stuff. I personally want to host documentaries on Channel 4 and BBC1, basically exploring the history of fashion. I also want to branch out to talk about how fashion used to operate in the past and how things have changed such as ‘see now, buy now’ which we have seen by now isn’t working. It doesn’t really make sense for certain brands to do ‘see now, buy now’. People don’t really care; they’ll wear it when it comes out. Nobody is really in a rush for that – it’s like if I can get it tonight, I can wear it tomorrow.
Do you have any role models, either modelling or non-modelling?
Jourdan Dunn. She’s great. To me, she’s probably the only real supermodel of our generation, especially coming from London. I remember her from when she very first started out. She’s very, very down to earth. She hasn’t changed from when she was first starting out and I can appreciate that. And of course, Rihanna. She’s probably more my role model in that I want to emulate her and her business model. I love how she coordinates her brands and how she can take over any industry and it’s genuine. When she designs her clothes, it’s reflective of her. When she appears in movies, it’s still a reflection of her. It’s not ‘Oh, Rihanna’s in another movie’ or ‘Rihanna has another clothing line’ like some celebrities. Hers is very her. She’s got a very strong brand and a very strong sense of self.