The Victoria Secret model turned businesswoman opens up on diversity, modelling and her new venture LAPP.
When you meet Leomie Anderson you immediately understand that she is not just a fashion model but much, much more. After being scouted at age 14 on her way home from school, she has campaigned with Fenty, Topshop, and Pat McGrath, and has walked for designers such as Moschino, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Yeezy. Not to mention she is known worldwide as a Victoria’s Secret angel.
As someone who has always been so eloquently outspoken on a variety of issues, such as the mistreatment of black models within the fashion industry, it was obvious that she was more than just a face. That’s why she began building her own empire. In 2016 she founded her brand LAPP (which stands for Leomie Anderson The Project The Purpose) as a direct response to the lack of resources available to young women who wanted raw, unfiltered opinions. LAPP has grown into a fresh athleisure brand and platform that embodies the 21st-century girl, representing not only her style but her issues too.
The online magazine gives opportunities to young women of all walks of life to write about what’s really important to them, especially now, with the world in the midst of a pandemic and a reckoning with the systemic oppression of black people. George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis while in police custody left everyone in a state of shock, urging a call to action to end injustice and inequality based on a person’s colour. Protests, activists and even influencers have been shouting Black Lives Matter in all major cities in the United States and Europe, making us hopeful that this moment will lead to lasting change in racial disparities.
Now more than ever, communities across the world are actively looking for ways to combat racial inequality. As a response, one way to support black people is by supporting their livelihood. Generally speaking, black business owners don’t get highlighted enough in the current socio-economic climate, therefore it’s more difficult to get costumers and achieve success. It is only by supporting businesses owned by historically-marginalised and underrepresented people, that we can promote inclusion and fix disparities.
Leomie Anderson shared with us her experiences of success and hardship in her career as a black businesswoman and the relaunch of her brand.
LAPP the brand is now live with a whole new look and an unseen collection. How do you feel about it?
Honestly, it’s been such a long journey to get to this point that it actually feels like I’ve just given birth! It just feels really amazing to finally get everything I’ve been working on for nearly a year now out there. Finally seeing it coming to fruition and seeing people’s reactions is great. Having the blog back with the new look makes me really happy because I wanted to do something that was fresh, and really did the content some justice.
You once said that you created LAPP as a safe space on the internet for women from all walks of life just to be able to share their perspectives, but what prompted you to start your own business?
One of the main reasons why I felt so drawn to start my own business was because with modelling, you don’t really have that much control over your life. You don’t have control over what jobs you’re doing, who you’re working with, how you look, what you get to say. So I wanted to just have something that was my own, and something that really gave back to the young girls who are following me. I wanted to go a little bit further than just using my platform to show my model-life and therefore create something that young girls could use as a resource and as a tool of inspiration because that’s what I would have loved when I was growing up.
So you created LAPP with the intention to become a reference point to all the young girls out there?
Yes, exactly. One of the biggest inspirations behind starting LAPP was my experiences with young girls. I was asked to speak in some all-girls schools in South London about consent when a piece I wrote for my old blog went viral and when I asked them who they would turn to for advice, where they would go for information, I was surprised that a lot of them just said older sisters or older female cousins. Obviously a lot of people don’t have that person in their life, so I wanted to created a platform that enabled girls to have a place to go for honest and raw perspectives on all different types of topics.
Has it been a tough path?
Hell yeah. Nowadays starting a business is glamorized and it’s made to look very easy, but the truth is that there are many struggles along the way. I like to tell my story and be very open about the problems that I’ve faced in business, not to discourage people but to show them you have to be very determined to get what you want. I came across a lot of obstacles but they’ve all built me and shaped me. The good thing is that now I can share my experiences with other people so they don’t make the same mistakes.
You have always been open about the issues that you had with your previous investor. What gave you the strength to start again?
In 2017 I was in a situation where I began working alongside somebody who approached me to help me and advise me with my factories and my production. What I didn’t know was that actually, the entire time when they were showing me invoices, telling me what the costs of things were, they were inflating the price by a lot then telling me that they were doing me a favour when that wasn’t the reality. When I left that situation I felt lost and I was looking for somebody who could teach me business expertise and basically just help me evolve my brand and my knowledge because I didn’t understand a lot of the business side of things. When I was introduced to someone else I got into business with then and he was promising me the world, saying that my brand was going to be in Selfridges by the end of the year and all of this. However, as time went on, I realised that none of the stuff he said was going to happen. I basically nearly gave away a portion of my brand in exchange for nothing because he didn’t really help me at all. I’m happy that I managed to get out of that situation but it was very messy and in the end he kept all of my stock as leverage against me and I had to start again. Honestly, though, it was the best thing that could have happened because it allowed me to be able to sit back and rethink what direction I wanted my brand to go in and what I wanted my brand to represent. What is LAPP The Brand? Who is LAPP The Brand for? Having that extra time really allowed me to figure out what I was doing and take it to the next level, which is what I’m trying to do now.
Talking about issues and difficulties, you re-launched your brand a few days ago in what could possibly be the worst situation ever: the Coronavirus pandemic. What are the challenges that you had to face in this period?
Well, it feels like it just came around so quickly. I think that in England people weren’t really advised properly as to how serious COVID-19 was so when it first came around, I didn’t know that it was going to have such a strong effect until I started speaking to other business owners such as Emma Grede, who founded Good America with Khloe Kardashian. I went to her for advice and I realized that I was going to have trouble trying to get my stock and stuff at this time. However, I just had to push through no matter what, because LAPP means so much to me, and I knew that I couldn’t just wait until Coronavirus passed for me to launch. I was like ‘No, I’ve already waited so long, I want to do it now. I put my head down and worked as hard as I possibly could, taking control of the things that I could control. Even though the Coronavirus has been really difficult, and it’s actually delayed my stock for a second time, I think that people also understand that we are in a pandemic, and have a little bit more patience for those who are trying to do something during this time, which is something I really appreciate.
So can we say your secret is your determination to succeed?
I guess so. I think I’m a very persistent person, every time an obstacle was put in front of me I didn’t see it as something negative that could slow me down. I see obstacles as something that should teach me a new lesson and enabled me to move forward with more knowledge and a little bit more experience.
With everything that’s going on and the current climate regarding to the Black Lives Matter movement, how do you feel about the situation and how did it affect your thought process with the re-launch?
I think what’s taking place now is something that has been brewing for decades but hit a new peak with the murder of George Floyd- it was painful to watch another black man get killed for no reason. At first, I contemplated postponing my relaunch but I realised that now more than ever, we need to use our voices and be deliberate and unapologetic with the way we as black people move. I decided to use LAPP Mag as an outlet for black women to share their thoughts and feelings during this time because I know how frustrating it is to have all these thoughts inside and be constantly angered by what you see in the media but not having a safe space to express it. I also think that people are beginning to see why we need to be very careful where we spend our money; a lot of brand have shown their true colours during this time and now people want to see brands that are black-owned or supportive of black people both in their campaigns and in their offices!
What do you see in the future of LAPP?
I see LAPP growing to be a household name when it comes to athleisure and sportswear that is inclusive – I am currently working on expanding the size range as we speak. With the magazine (we’re not even calling it a blog anymore because it didn’t do it justice) I want to keep going with the amazing pieces we publish, creating content that actually teaches and inspires women but also bring in more video content, hence why LAPP Fest, my online festival, is also so important to me. I also want to start doing more networking events for our readers but with the current pandemic, I’m not sure when that will be.
What is LAPP Fest?
It is an online festival I’ve curated, the first-ever online festival held by LAPP, and is going to be a mix of pre-recorded content and Instagram lives with some of our favourite women and influencers. I’ve been interviewing a variety of women over the past few weeks, with the intention of sharing knowledge, their perspectives on business, life and relationship advice, but also what we’re going through now with the pandemic. The premise of the festival is basically mind, body, soul and inspiration for women and everybody else. So stay tuned, because it’s going to be epic.
Have you had a mentor that helped you through the process of launching a business?
Honestly, I didn’t realize how important it was to actually have a mentor in business, but it really is. I think it’s not really something that is common amongst women whereas having a mentor is very normal practice for men. Of course, there are loads of women now getting into positions of power, but it’s still fairly new, so I think that we are still a little bit behind when it comes to the concept of having a mentor and sharing advice. I’m thankful to have someone as dope as Emma Grade who I recently reached out to advice but prior to that there wasn’t really anyone. That’s why LAPP Fest is very important to me because I want people to start having this kind of conversation, start asking more questions and not be afraid of somebody saying no. When bringing the festival together, I found that a lot of the people who I thought might say no, or say that they were too busy, were actually the first ones to reply back and say yes. I would love to see other women doing the same thing. In my own little way, I always answer messages from people who have questions about business, I’m always open to share my experience and my knowledge, whatever little knowledge I do have. I want this to become a normal practice between women because now I think it’s very male-oriented but we need to change that so more women can achieve their goals and get, you know, more power as well.
On this note, what would you say to a young woman who wants to start her own business?
I would say do your due diligence, don’t try to find somebody else to give you the answers straight away when you find things difficult or challenging. I would advise anybody who’s starting their own business to try and figure out as much as they can by themselves- it’s good practice. Don’t make my mistake, don’t rely on somebody that you don’t know and fully trust to give you the answers because you have to trust that their intentions are true and that they won’t take advantage of you- do your research. When you do finally go to somebody saying “I’m looking for an investment” or “I’m looking for a partner” or whatever else it may be, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for. I would also say make sure you make a list of things that you know that you are really good at and a list of things that are your weaknesses. Only after that can you start figuring out what type of person you would need to help expand your idea. Because for me, I thought that by going to my ex investor he was going to cure all the problems and all the things that I was unsure of, when really it was actually a variety of different people with different skills that I have come across now this past year that I needed help from to become successful. Now I know I dont need to give away a portion of my company to find great people. We all learn from our mistakes, it’s part of the process.
This year you also made it onto the 30 under 30 Forbes list for arts and culture, for your work with LAPP and its role in speaking up about diversity and empowering young women. How do you feel about it?
Honestly, this is something that I didn’t expect. But I always looked up to Forbes, especially as they started including more black women and women of colour. I always wanted to be acknowledged and known for being more than just the face. That’s why I was so happy when Forbes reached out and told me they were really interested in having me in their 30 under 30 list. I was so happy because I love modelling, I really do, but modelling is not all that I am. I’m not just a face, I’m not just someone that should be made into somebody else’s image. I have something more to say. I felt like being part of Forbes 30 Under 30 was an acknowledgement of that, of the fact that I’m actually trying to do something that is a little bit different to the stereotype of a traditional model.
Did you have to fight some prejudices as a black woman entrepreneur?
I definitely feel that young black women in business face a lot of obstacles because of people’s preconceived ideas of black people in general and then of being a woman as well. You know, someone may think that you’re not as smart, think they can take advantage of you and yes, sometimes you do get taken advantage of but you figure it out because one thing that these guys forget is that women in business, even if they don’t have all the answers, still have a very good gut instinct and we never, ever give up. One of the other biggest obstacles is that men don’t like it when you as a woman try to stand up for yourself or when you have your own opinions that are opposing theirs. That is at least what I found out when I began working with my ex investor, because once I started showing him that actually I do know a couple of things I realised that he was very misogynistic. He thought he was just dealing with a girl who was going to just be the face of the brand, but when he started to realise that I was a lot more clued up than what he first thought, that’s when we started to have problems.
And what about as a black model?
The biggest obstacles that I faced as a black model was the fact that people made black models feel like we should be grateful for even being allowed to be a part of the industry. If we spoke up about how we were being treated, even our own agents would say ‘You just need to take it on the chin, you should just be thankful because they changed your life in some way’. I’ve had agents telling me that I should accept ignorant and racist comments and not do something simply because I was being paid by them. But so is the white model next to me, she’s being paid the same way that I’m being paid but she doesn’t have to fight to be treated as an equal, she doesn’t have to defend herself every time that she comes on set, she doesn’t have to fight because they are unprepared to work with your skin and hair.
Did you witness any changes in the industry since you started modelling at the age of 14?
I feel like social media has actually been a very big help. Not only did they give models a way to speak up against injustices, it also gave the consumer a voice to be able to say “We don’t want to just see the same type of face, body, age range, etc. We want to see people who look like us”. Now, because of all that, we are starting to see a lot more changes and companies feel the pressure to have a brand that represents all people and all women. I think we are slowly getting to a good place, but we have a long way to go because there’s still a lot of tokenism and colourism within the industry. The problem is that now it seems to be just a trend: sometimes I feel like brands are hiring only because they don’t want to get any backlash. So even if they hire black models, if they’re not catering to them when they come on set, if they’re not being sensitive about their issues and their struggles, then we’re basically back to square one.
You have always been on the frontline of the fight against racism. So keeping in mind the dramatic recent events in Minneapolis, what would you say is the first necessary step to end injustice?
I think that one of the first steps is white people acknowledging that they are in a position of privilege and using that privilege to help bring about equality. It’s great having these hashtags trending on social media, but I still feel like there’s a lot of ignorance and some people just don’t want to understand what is really going on. They don’t want to understand why black people are angry, they just want to be able to live life through their various tinted glasses, because that’s how they were born. A lot of white people were born with rose-tinted glasses and just taught that everything’s great for everyone as long as you work hard, but that’s just not the case. Only when more white people understand and accept that actually things are messed up, are we going to start seeing changes. We can’t change the past, but what we can and must do is educate the people and change the future.
What’s the thing that you’ve done that you are most proud of?
Starting LAPP, no doubts. It was a time when not many people were talking about the issues running deep in the industry, and when I spoke up I didn’t feel scared or anything, I just did it because it felt like the right thing to do. Looking back to it again now, I realise I was a 21-year-old girl who exposed the industry for the mistreatment of black models and other issues, and I see how impactful it was. To this day, a lot of people still say to me how inspiring it was to them. This makes me feel so proud.
What are your career goals? Both as a model and as an entrepreneur
Honestly speaking, especially since the Coronavirus pandemic, I feel like I’m actually not off of modelling, but I’m just focusing my energy elsewhere. Let’s just say I’ll let the modelling jobs come to me. When I was younger, I used to have so many goals like ‘I want to shoot this editorial’, ‘I want to work with that photographer’, but I realised the industry just doesn’t work that way. So from now on, when it comes to modelling my goal is to reach more people. So if that means that a brand wants me to represent them, like how I represent Victoria’s Secret, that’s amazing and I would be super happy. If I get to work with a big name in beauty for example, that allows me to still express my opinion and educate their audience as well, then that’s amazing. But I don’t really have a specific goal for modelling anymore. I don’t care about being on the cover of magazines, because what I want to achieve now is being on the cover of Forbes. I want to be able to get in those spaces, especially spaces that were usually occupied by white, middle class and upper-class men. I want to infiltrate those areas and be myself, showing other women that they too can do that, even if they are black girls like me. We can be respected and be heard as well.