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How Leomie Anderson Went From Teen Model to Activist and Media Entrepreneur

The face of Fenty says friend and mentor Rihanna inspired her to be her own boss.
Leomie Anderson for Pat McGrath. Photo: Desiree Mattsson for Pat McGrath

Leomie Anderson for Pat McGrath. Photo: Desiree Mattsson for Pat McGrath

In our long-running series "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.

On top of modeling, running her own e-commerce and media brand, speaking out as activist for representation and inclusion and giving inspirational Ted Talks, Leomie Anderson could also write her own version of "The Secret." The 25-year-old multi-hyphenate is all about "visualizing" her goals and essentially making it happen, and her technique seems to be working.

After being scouted at age 14 on her way home from school, the Londoner walked her first runway at age 17 for Marc Jacobs, becoming one of the designer's favorites. Her impressive runway resumé includes other heavy hitters like Moschino, Tom Ford, Chloé, Yeezy and Fenty Puma. She's also walked a trio of Victoria's Secret Fashion Shows, for which she now-famously auditioned three times (and practiced visualization, of course) before being cast. Anderson's campaign portfolio is just as stacked: Uniqlo, Topshop, Jones New York, Fenty Beauty and Pat McGrath's revered beauty line, too.

But her societal and cultural impact may be her most inspiring accomplishment of all. Anderson's called out the fashion industry for a number of racist and non-inclusive practices, like when she was dropped from a London Fashion Week show because of her race, and when she was tired of makeup artists not having the products (or the skills) to work with a diverse range of skin tones. Anderson has built up a dedicated following on Twitter and Instagram largely because of her honesty and willingness to speak out. 

In 2016, she founded LAPP with the goal of empowering others to do the same. The two-pronged startup gives an opportunity to young women, who otherwise might not have a platform, to write think pieces on issues important to them, from politics to sex to, yes, fashion. LAPP also sells merch espousing its ideals (like a sold-out "Trump Dump" '80s-inspired graphic tee).

Despite her busy schedule, Anderson jumped on the phone with Fashionista in the lead-up to New York Fashion Week, when she'll unveil her latest LAPP collection. The multi-hyphenate also discussed why the "traditional" and safe financial route didn't work for her, what the fashion industry should do to be more inclusive and how Rihanna inspires her to be her own boss.

Anderson walks the 2017 Victoria's Secret Runway Show in Shanghai. Photo: Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images for Swarovski

Anderson walks the 2017 Victoria's Secret Runway Show in Shanghai. Photo: Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images for Swarovski

It's now stuff of legend that you went for three castings before your 2015 debut in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. What did you take from that experience that helps you in your career now?

When it came to Victoria's Secret, it was something I had always wanted, but deep down, I didn't know if I was actually a 'Victoria's Secret girl.' You can want something, but if you can't visualize yourself getting it, then it most likely won't happen. So the first few times I went to the casting, although I wanted it badly, afterwards, I had that internal doubt in me. But the year I got it, I said to myself, 'I can really see myself doing that.' And that's how I am when it comes to all of the jobs that I'm really passionate about. It was only when I visualized myself on that Victoria's Secret runway, walking, the wind in my face, and I knew when I got to the casting, I had to be the Victoria's Secret girl. If you can't see yourself doing something, then how can anybody else see you doing it?

How did your experience on the Victoria's Secret runway take your career to the next level?

I feel like it opened up a lot of doors for me because people could really see my my personality shine through and they could see that I could pull off something that was a bit older, a bit sexier. Anytime there's a big display of somebody's personality or confidence, people are more drawn to them.

You've been really successful in using social media to speak out for representation and call out ignorance in working with models of color. Do you have a strategy when it comes to social media and staring these conversations?

One of my first rules when it comes to social media is to not put too much of your personal life on there, because people then become so fixated on that. I like to show enough of myself that people understand who I am as a person but I feel comfortable. So when I do end up speaking up on social issues that I'm passionate about, I feel like people are listening a lot more. 

It really started with my YouTube channel — and I had my own blog [Cracked China Cup] back in the day — so I ended up being able to [publicly] express my opinions.  I started realizing, 'okay, my following is going up now and I have a lot of young females who are following me. What can I put out on my social media that can be more than [content to] just generate likes?' 

I thought I'd share my experiences as a Black model and the things that go on backstage at shows. I'd do YouTube videos during Fashion Week, where people see what the model apartment really looks like. Agents weren't really a fan of that one [laughs]. I just wanted to give an element of realness on my social media. As you can tell, I love to talk. 

In your Ted Talks, you discuss the financial arrangements for young models honestly and in detail. You've been fiscally responsible and business-minded from a young age. How did that help you build LAPP?

I knew it was going to be something that you have to build on and be consistent with and you have to be smart with your money. If you're starting a business, you really do need to have to have an idea of where your finances are going to go. I wouldn't be here today if I didn't strategize my own finances when it came to investing in myself.

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You have to have an idea as to what direction you want your brand to grow in. I always say I want it to be a little bit of a female BuzzFeed, with the blog aspect, and for the clothing I wanted it to be a fusion of athleisure and using fashion as a way of conveying issues for women and marginalized communities. 

One thing I will always say — and my advice to young people is — if you have savings and you have a dream or an idea: plan, plan, plan. I don't think sitting on money at a young age is always the right thing to do. I definitely think me taking the risk to start my brand was scary at times, but it was definitely the right thing to do, as a young woman with a business that is thriving and that's about to grow into something huge, I hope. But I wouldn't have gotten there if I had just sat on my savings and gone down the traditional route.

How did you decide on the content and e-commerce business model for LAPP?

I had the opportunity to go to speak at an all-girls school. When I was speaking with the students and asking them, 'where would you go for advice on,' say, contraception, they all said either a female family member or a friend. But if they didn't have that person in their life, they basically felt like they had no one. So I wanted to create a platform for people to share their stories, share their perspectives in order to help people. 

I wanted to incorporate the clothing aspect because fashion is such a universal language and such a great way to spread messages. You have Vivienne Westwood whose collection speaks to climate change, you have a lot of brands that [support] the feminist movement. I started with a T-shirt collection for young women featuring just cheeky funny phrases, but it got conversation going, especially for young girls, and grown women, too. Then the 'pussy grabs back' hoodies that Rihanna wore for Women's March... I just kept going with it. I loved the idea of incorporating something that's really important, a conversational topic into fashion, because why not? 

You've said that Rihanna is your role model and friend and she's also your employer. What have you learned from her that helps you be your own boss?

When it comes to Rihanna, every young woman can take her story and be inspired by it, because she's such an entrepreneur. She entered the game as a singer, but has ventured into many different fields successfully. I find that really inspiring because, yes, she's probably making tons and tons of money, but she's doing something with it. She's actually using it for her passions, which I love because that's basically what I've done, but obviously on a much smaller scale. 

You've talked about your experiences having to bring your own hair products to shoots and shows. How have attitudes, technical knowledge and product availability evolved?

I think that it's going in a more positive direction, but it's still very slow. The models have always been there, so it's really just down to people not wanting to embrace diversity and expand their skills.

But now because of social media, a lot of people who are marginalized have a voice to be able to say, 'this is my experience.' You have people who aren't even in the modeling industry, they say they go to certain makeup stores and can't find their shade or [only can] find two shades lighter than them. That happens in everyday life.

We do have women like Rihanna, who have started revolutionary makeup brands, because now everybody's trying to be inclusive, to include darker shades — and lighter shades in makeup, too — but I think it's about having the conversation and people speaking up. Once you have that movement, that will push the industry to progress.

Anderson at the 2018 BET Awards in Los Angeles. Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET

Anderson at the 2018 BET Awards in Los Angeles. Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET

You've tweeted and talked about how there needs to be more makeup artists of color backstage and diversity behind-the-scenes is just as important as representation. How can the industry work harder to make that happen?

The industry needs to pay respects to where the inspiration comes from, number one. Because obviously there's always talk about cultural appropriation within the fashion industry. I think that one way [to help is] if you're going to use a print from Africa, explain what's the [story behind it] so that people understand the roots of the culture. If the designers don't tell people then people aren't going to know the heritage behind it and that's robbing a whole culture and a whole group of people of the credit that they're due. 

Number two: I think that [companies] should start hiring more younger people and a lot more diverse people within higher roles, as well. That's why people celebrated Edward Enninful's role at British Vogue because it was such an anomaly, but shouldn't be an anomaly. How can you have diversity in your magazines and not have it within the workforce? That how things become fresh and new when you shake things up.

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You're an entrepreneur and a media boss and you're only 25. What do you want to do next?

TV presenting. I want to host a documentary — something outside of the fashion industry. I just want to do something completely different. I want to challenge myself, I want to do something that’s a little bit out of the box.

The above interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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