Dress – Preen by Thornton Bregazzi | Hat – Berta Cabestany | Earrings – Yifangao Jewellery | Shoes – Alexander White
Leomie Anderson is no stranger to speaking up. Fresh off a busy summer of appearances at the Cannes Film Festival, a newly rolled out Redken campaign, and joining panels at VidCon, the bold Brit has been vocally advocating against racism and sexism in the modeling industry and beyond with her LAPP creative collective. The brand, which stands for ‘Leomie Anderson the Project the Purpose’, started as a blog in 2012 and has evolved into a platform that talks about everything from misogyny to sex education to empowering women in the workplace. The first rollout of the clothing collection included slogan tops and hoodies confronting issues of harassment and went viral when it was worn by Rihanna during the first Women’s March in early 2017.
In addition to her day job walking the glittered runway for Victoria’s Secret and features in Pat McGrath Lab campaigns, the social butterfly stands as one of the faces of Bad Gal Riri’s Fenty empire, appearing in both the Savage and Fenty Beauty ads, and recently styled the Nike Beautiful x Powerful collection earlier this year. Through it all, Anderson has flipped a social media following into a blooming media platform, set to connect the many through stories of the marginalized few. We spoke to the digital influencer about her start in the modeling business, becoming a boss, and the power of storytelling.
Dress – Con Artist | Tights – Falke | Earrings – Yifangao Jewellery | Shoes – Stylist’s Own
It’s been two years since LAPP’s start. What was your main motivation to start the brand?
I had my own personal blog and one of my followers tweeted me asking if I could write something about consent and the pressure that girls are under to send explicit images of themselves. I had never written anything about that topic before – I had done a couple of videos on body confidence but never something like that. I thought, okay I have a lot of young girls following me so let me write something real quick.
When I did it went viral and it got covered by so many different media outlets and I thought, wow, okay I can actually say something that I’m passionate about and get a response from it. I realized that I could only tell my perspective on things so I wanted to open up the floor to other women. In this day and age don’t you think that people are so obsessed with followers? I felt like that mentality can stop women from speaking up sometimes. They might think, oh if I start a blog who is going to read it? Or if I put a message out there, who is going to see it? Because I might not have a lot of followers.
There’s definitely that pressure there.
There is. And social media makes everything look so easy as well. So I thought, let me use the following that I have and give it to other women. I always loved using fashion as a way of spreading messages so I thought let me just combine the two and have the clothing and the blog side. I literally just put up a tweet like, “hey guys. who wants to write” and I was editing everything myself. I just built it up from there.
I feel like women have been silenced so many times and we’ve been erased out of so many storylines. Especially women of color so I wanted to create a platform where it’s for us by us.
You mentioned briefly how it’s evolved to also include a clothing line. What do you foresee for the next step, if there is one?
One of the biggest aspects that I want to work on is video content and events. I want to start building our Youtube channel with interviews. I want to do a lot more networking events that we can stream. I want to target that market now. It’s just about getting an investment so I can really push it and grow it. I want it to be like the female Buzzfeed in 5 years.
I want it to be a place where everyone can go but it’s all female contributors and we can talk about anything be it politics, sex, relationships, whatever. I feel like women have been silenced so many times and we’ve been erased out of so many storylines. Especially women of color so I wanted to create a platform where it’s for us by us.
And how has it been to be able to be your own boss and make decisions for yourself?
I really enjoy just jumping headfirst into stuff and when it came to this business I was really just learning everything as I was going along. Making mistakes, overpaying for this, buying the wrong thing from that but I learned from every single mistake and I enjoy the process of challenging myself to get better and smarter with my business. I would say that being in control of my own narrative when it comes to LAPP is really refreshing because it really has allowed me to highlight the passions that I have and to highlight the issues that I really care about whereas with modeling, I feel like unless you do have a huge platform or some way of getting that out there, you can care about something but you’re not really able to do anything about it. I’m a part of a community.
Amazing. And you know, I think when I think about it the online community has been a great rallying forum for all of the movements ignited in this generation. You think about the #MeToo movement, started online by activist, Tarana Burke. It’s one of the first time in my life viewing so many women organizing and being received.
Organize and mobilize.
Exactly. And I think that the most important thing to take away from that is it happened digitally. With the current political climate and with #MeToo, what do you think is the best way for a model to address issues that are happening globally? Do you think going to social media is a great starting point?
I think everyone is different. Within the fashion industry, there are so many different people who will be passionate about what you’re passionate about and be willing to help. My advice would be to aim for the stars so you might hit the ceiling. Like if you worked for a lot of designers and they are passionate about a similar cause to yourself then why not ask them to get behind you? Why not ask your agency to have you meet people like you guys [models.com] or an online publication to collaborate with them. I think that being a model, you have a unique opportunity to use the network around you to do good. I’ve always been one to go to my agency like, “can you get me in touch with….” And if they can’t okay… but who knows! You ask someone and they might get you in there! I think that’s probably one of my biggest tips when it comes to models. Because you don’t have to be a model who has been modeling for as long as I have to have a good relationship with someone. You could have literally just gone to see that designer and then they’re using you season after season for fashion week so why not do something with them?
Also, I know it sounds biased but I always say to write. I think writing is such a powerful tool. I think that even if you are not a professional writer if you have a certain amount of people following or even if you don’t have a following just create a thread! I always say Twitter threads are great because you don’t have to have a big following for it to pick up traction and start a conversation with people. Even if it’s just, your thread gets 5 retweets and then you’re going to get 5 replies back. I think that’s always a good way to start and gauge things enough, okay how far can we take this conversation? And I know that sounds really small but I really think that using social media and just testing the waters to see how many people can get behind you is always a good way to start something.
Turning to your career before LAPP, you’ve been working since you were a teenager for almost a decade now. What is it about the modeling industry that’s kept you going for years?
I remember when I first got scouted, I never thought that I could be a model. I thought it was one of those things like, ‘oh you’re a tall girl so you should do modeling’ just like when you see a tall boy you say ‘he should play basketball.’ But I was always so into fashion. I actually wanted to do fashion journalism before I got into modeling. I always wanted to be a part of fashion and always telling stories so it’s so funny because it’s gone 360 now because I’m doing talks.
Yes, I saw your TED Talk from last year.
I guess my passion has always been about storytelling and meeting new people. That sort of always drew me to continue on in this industry because you never know who you’re going to meet, you never know what’s going to happen for you and I really just believe that I haven’t achieved everything that I want to achieve just yet. So I’m just going to keep going until I do!
And what is the one thing you can point that after booking you’d be satisfied?
I think for me the one thing that I haven’t got yet is a big makeup or fragrance contract where you’re like the face of something. When you walk through the airport and you’re like, ‘oh my god that’s me!’ I want that moment for myself. However it wants to come so if you’re reading this, guys…I’m free!
She’s available! Haha! Well, it’s great because with the conversation on inclusion, specifically in the beauty industry, the focus has been on foundations. It’s like who can top the other’s number? First, it’s 45. Then it’s 47, then it’s 50. So it’s a great moment for women of all shades but I think the conversation was really sparked by what Rihanna did with her Fenty Beauty line last year. I know you’ve been in her campaigns so describe how was that experience?
I remember when I landed in LA that day to shoot for the Fenty Beauty campaign and they had a booklet of all of the different girls who were going to be a part of the campaign and as I was going through it I was thought, wow everyone is so unique and so different with their looks, you know? I felt really happy to be a part of that but I didn’t really realize the impact until it actually came out and I saw the lines of women lining up for their foundation and I saw all of the positive commentaries.
With Rihanna, she always puts her people first and she really cares about her customer as well. I know she really wanted to make sure that black girls had a go-to foundation and it was really really important for me to be a part of that conversation.
It really spoke to the power of social media.
For me personally, I love social media. I just love it. I can see how it can have negative effects on people but in my life personally, I enjoy it. It connects me with so many different people and I’m able to promote my business. I’m able to promote causes that I am passionate about. And you can get inspiration. I like to draw those positives from social media. Of course sometimes if I speak up about certain things you can also get trolls on social media but I personally would say that I haven’t been affected by them to that point where I felt like, oh I need to get off of it. But I enjoy it. I just enjoy that kind of connection with people from all over.
Social media has given a voice to the consumer for the first time. Before, fashion was elitist. Only the people who were in the shows and who were sitting in the front row had a say as to what to do in fashion. But now social media is a free tool that has united people who have common interests and concerns when it comes to the fashion industry and diversity as a whole. I think it’s good, so we’re definitely going in the right direction but I think it is because of us continuing to have these conversations and having important people speak up on it.
Yes, it seems that social media is the big connector. For models especially, I find they’re trying to use it for their benefit and putting their perspectives out there, especially talking about the causes important to them. Do you feel like it’s given you more power to control your own narrative?
Yes, exactly. That’s one of the reasons why I always try and push models to be active on social media because I know it’s not for everyone, but for models I always say to try and find a way to have a positive relationship with it because it’s a way that you can show people who you really are behind the makeup, behind the cameras, behind the glitz and glam and you really get to show who you are and control your own narrative. It’s a free platform, you’re free to use it in any which way you want to.
Before, fashion was elitist. Only the people who were in the shows and who were sitting in the front row had a say as to what to do in fashion. But now social media is a free tool that has united people who have common interests and concerns when it comes to the fashion industry and diversity as a whole.
We’ve gained a lot of leeway in terms of diversity but do you think the industry needs to do more for full inclusivity and is it important to keep the pressure up to make sure it’s not a trend?
I think when it comes to diversity we will have a long way to go where it feels completely natural. It’s definitely a new thing for a lot of brands and we have to keep having conversations about it in order for it to stick. I think it’s very easy for brands to slip back into their old ways and casting habits. But because we keep having conversations about diversity, about race, about ageism, about size – these brands want to reflect that and I feel like it’s an instance of art imitating life. Fashion obviously wants to be reflective of what people are talking about.
You’ve also been one of the faces of The Victoria’s Secret Show for the past three years and it’s been on a bit of an international tour as of late! It’s normally hosted stateside New York but first, it was in Paris, then Shanghai. Which city has been your favorite to walk in?
Do you want to know what? My favorite one has to be when we went to Paris. It was epic. Everything from the coordination of my friends to come along to the fact that it was the first time that I got my wings to Lady Gaga performing. Everyone was amazing and it was such a great experience. I got to bring my best friends with me for the first time and they came with me to Shanghai too so we’re continuing the trend.
My first time walking was actually the third time that I tried out for the show. Each time I went in I just had to mentally visualize myself on the runway. So when I finally got the call that I got it, it was such a whirlwind moment for me because I’ve been working on it for years.
Do you have any role models in the fashion industry or otherwise? Who are the people that really center you?
I would definitely say, my mom. The day that I got signed everyone was coming up to me like, oh amazing we’re so happy to have you blah blah blah! But when everyone left the room my mom turned to me and she was like, “these people are not your friends.” **laughs** At the time I was 14 and thought, whatever these people are great and amazing. But it’s definitely been something that has stuck with me throughout my career that this is a job and that you are a professional also. Since social media I think people forget that modeling is actually a job.
My mom has just always been so supportive of whatever I want to do and she’s always encouraged me to be free. Like when I wanted to do sports I was out there doing sports. I’m the type of person who has done everything and she took that same approach with modeling so I think that’s why I’m very down to earth about it. She was like if you want to try it and do it, great. If you don’t like it then you don’t have to do it anymore. That’s my drive as well. If I don’t’ like it anymore I don’t have to keep doing it, but I still enjoy it.
I’m sure you’re passionate about a lot but what are you passionate about these days? What is your motivation to get out to bed?
Taxes. **laughs** Yeah! That’s my motivation to keep on trucking! No, but all jokes aside, I think one of my biggest motivations is that I really want to develop my businesses. That is something that I’m really passionate about. I really want to be seen as a black businesswoman like a new Oprah or a new Tyra. I really want to monopolize on the fact that black women are starting to be seen and heard more. Now I want to just smash through the different ceilings. I want to have a Netflix series I want to have a documentary. I want to write a book. These are things that I want to get done like within the next I guess 10 years but 4-5 years more likely. Netflix, if you’re reading…holler!
What have been your best modeling memories so far?
I love Victoria’s Secret but my ultimate favorite one and an unusual moment was when I did a show for Philip Treacy, the hat designer. He’s epic and hadn’t done a show in 10 years (before ours). I was his fit model so I was working with him for two weeks beforehand. Imagine, all of the clothes were original Michael Jackson pieces.
I tried on like 200 different pieces of Michael Jackson’s original clothing. I even tried on his diamond glove, everything! No one can say they’ve done that. Jackson 5 outfits – some of them I couldn’t even fit my butt into. Michael was very small, I can say that. Yeah big hands, small waist!
With the good there’s sometimes bad – what have been some challenging moments for you? What have been some moments where you really tested your resolve to stay in the business?
To be honest, even when I’m going through really hard times in modeling I never think to myself this could make me stop. Because usually if you have bad times it has to do with other people, I think. Just because you meet so many different types of people, of course, you’re not bound to like every single person that you meet, right? So, why would I think in my head that I’m going to stop just because of that person? I don’t really have those moments but when I was younger and I experienced racism in Milan that was probably one of the times where I thought, “Woah, okay this industry isn’t as nice as I thought it was before.” That was a wake-up call for me but I won’t say that it made me think I didn’t want to be a part of it. If anything it drove me to want to do more.
What advice would you give to young models wanting to get into the industry? Who could learn from our experience?
I would probably say if you’re trying to get scouted or seen by the modeling industry I really do think your best bet is through social media. Again, I know it sounds like I keep saying it but I’m telling you! Look at Jeremy Meeks! If you are meant to be a model and be seen and if you keep using social media I feel like that is your roots.
I don’t even think it’s a joke, I think it really is the tool. Of course, you can go into agencies – that’s always the classic way as well. You can find agencies addresses and you can go in for open calls. They do have times for that, they do. But I also feel like organically taking some fire pictures for Instagram and just putting it out there? Foolproof.
Dress – Preen by Thornton Bregazzi | Hat – Berta Cabestany | Earrings – Yifangao Jewellery | Shoes – Alexander White
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