STYLE

Leomie Anderson On Why Words Are No Longer Enough, We Need Action To Improve Diversity In Fashion

Having black role models had a positive effect on her career.

01/02/2017 09:40 GMT | Updated 01/02/2017 13:49 GMT

Victoria’s Secret model Leomie Anderson has uttered a rallying cry for fashion and beauty brands to end tokenistic diversity gestures and make hiring a wide range of models the new normal. 

“The lack of diversity in fashion has been spoken about to death now, so I understand why people don’t want to talk about it,” the model exclusively told The Huffington Post UK.

“Even I get bored of talking about it, because sometimes it feels like you’re speaking about an issue and putting it out there, but no changes are really being made.

“Conversations are great, and keeping those conversations going and the topic current is important, but now the fashion and beauty industries really need to take a long hard look and realise that the market isn’t just paler skin tones.” 

Footlocker
Leomie Anderson is wearing Puma top, £18, Puma leggings, £25 and holding Puma Basket trainers, £65, from Footlocker.

Anderson has been a vocal advocate for increasing diversity in fashion and beauty since the very first time she donned her angel wings at a Victoria’s Secret show in 2015.

She revealed she’d previously been turned down for jobs because of the colour of her skin.

“Lighter skinned girls get more work than darker skinned girls,” she told BBC Newsbeat.

Then in 2016 she revealed the struggles faced by black models backstage at Fashion Week shows in a series of shocking tweets.

“We need more makeup artists and hair who are competent with all races backstage at shows,” she wrote, before detailing how the beauty team was unequipped to deal with her hair type and skin tone.

But Anderson is quick to point out she is not the first to raise these issues.

“Honestly we [models] have been speaking about this issue for ages - from when Naomi Campbell and Iman were younger,” she said.

“But I will say that after my tweets, a few months later I did start seeing a couple of little things that are changing.

“Superdrug introduced more skin tones into their foundations and they kind of mixed up how they do their makeup counter.

“These may seem like just little things, but they are really important, because when I was growing up it was just impossible to find my makeup. So I’m happy that my younger cousins can now go there and maybe find something - even if it’s just one product.

“I’m going to be doing all countries this Fashion Week for the first time in a couple of years, so I’m hoping that my experience will be a lot better than my previous ones when I was younger.”

Michael Stewart via Getty Images
Model Leomie Anderson walks the runway during the 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at Le Grand Palais in Paris on November 30, 2016 in Paris, France.

Even though things may be slowly improving, don’t expect Anderson to go quiet on the topic of diversity any time soon, as awareness raising is very close to her heart.

“When I was younger I wanted to be a fashion journalist,” she revealed. “I’ve always wanted to be a person who put a message out there to a big audience.

“It’s only as I got older I realised that as a model I can really use my social media following and utilise my brand to make a positive change, and that’s something I’m definitely going to keep pushing in 2017.”

Anderson said she supports HuffPost UK Style’s Fashion For All focus because she sees herself as an “advocate” for diversity in all its forms.

“I think it’s important for everyone to feel that when they look through a magazine or they go to a store that they are represented - whether it’s their ethnicity or due to a disability. I think that everyone should feel included.

“There still needs to be a lot more improvement as to who is represented in fashion images. I don’t think it’s fair that there’s only ever one black girl, or one Asian girl, for token’s sake. It’s time that we really diversify and represent the world that we live in today.”

Francois G. Durand via Getty Images
Leomie Anderson poses backstage prior the 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on 30 November 2016 in Paris, France.

Anderson believes that growing up in the metropolitan environment of South London has made her acutely aware of when there is a lack of diversity.

“London is definitely a bubble and for the longest time I thought everywhere was like it,” she said.

“It was only when I started traveling for work that I really became very aware of how inequality is still such a big factor, even in big western societies like the US.” 

Anderson believes fashion can be used as a means of communicating a message about yourself, or the world, in a way that transcends language.

“Fashion is one of the most universal languages, because whether you speak English, or French, or whatever, you can understand fashion.

“Whether you see a trend and you think ‘oh my gosh that could represent me as a person’  or whether you see Vivienne Westwood’s collection where she’s really vocal about climate change. I think fashion is a great tool to use because you can either literally convey a message in a slogan, or you can convey it through the vibe, the mood.”

Anderson herself is not afraid to make her views clear through an attention grabbing slogan. LAPP is all about empowering women and promoting confidence, positivity and unity through fashion and creating another platform to voice womens issues.

In 2016 she established her own clothing label: LAPP ( which stands for: ‘Leomie Anderson the Project the Purpose’), with the aim of creating clothes that represent not only the 21st century girl’s style, but also their issues.

The first range the aptly named ‘Consent Collection’ is based on the principal of reclaiming the word ‘non’ in the face of pressure, and includes slogans like “Lol Nah” and “You Tried”.

One of the reasons Anderson feels so passionately about diversity in fashion is because having black role models in the public eye has definitely had a positive impact on Anderson herself.

She cites Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell as her two greatest fashion idols - women who made her believe she could carve out a career for herself in the industry.

“Tyra - because of her business acumen,” she explained.

“Even though ‘America’s Next Top Model’ did sell me a lot of lies - I definitely thought I’d be pulling up to a million pound mansion when arrived at my model apartment. I didn’t realise I was going to be sharing a room with 12 other girls.

“But it’s ok Tyra - I’ll let you off for that one. It’s ok to sell dreams sometimes.

 “And of course Naomi Campbell because she’s from South London like me, she literally lived on the same road that my auntie lives on now.

“Also, the fact that she’s had such a long career is inspirational to me, because people are always so quick to say that fashion is ageist, but actually some of the most successful and most well-known models have been doing it for such a long time.”

You feel me?

A photo posted by Leomie Anderson (@leomieanderson) on

Asked to describe her style in three words the first thing that comes to Anderson’s mind is best represented in emojis: 🔥 🔥 🔥

“No I’m joking, my style is definitely a mix of masculine and feminine, so I would say gender-fluid, vintage and clueless - because ‘Clueless’ the movie is one of my favourite moveis and I just love the wardrobes in that.”

She is also a self-confessed “sneaker head”, who is happiest in fitness-wear 24/7.

“A tracksuit is for life not just for the gym,” she said. “I love feeling comfortable I don’t ever want to wear anything that’s restrictive. You should always just  live your life man, Be comfortable, do your thing.

“I’m always looking at what new innovative fabrics they use in trainers, whether it’s a flyknit or a type of leather or a patent material. I also always check out the shape, because I’m a size 7, which isn’t necessarily big but some trainers can make my feet like big so...

Trainers are another area in which Leomie is pleased to see growing diversity.

“I must say I’m super excited as I’ve seen a lot of pastel trainers in Footlocker’s latest collections, which I love, and a lot of real statement pieces,” she said.

“One thing I love as well, is that a few years ago women’s trainers were very much limited to just gym wear, or maybe there’d be a pink version of a man’s trainer, but now I’ve seen a lot of unique styles of women, like Puma’s basket hearts, - I’m really excited about the suede basket hearts drop this year.”

Chillin with @footlockereu today in @puma #itstartshere

A photo posted by Leomie Anderson (@leomieanderson) on

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