The Force is Female: In Conversation With Leah Abbott
As a designer who just graduated and is delving into the crazy world of freelance work, I am constantly trying to find women who are/were in my position to look to for advice. The Force is Female seemed a perfect fit as a point of inspiration going into my first year as a freelance designer/creative in London.
I heard that Nike was doing a collaboration called ‘Force is Female’ with Birmingham born songstress, Jorja Smith. ‘Force is Female’ was to celebrate the completion of her first solo European tour and female force in the creative industry, launching the new Nike AF1 Sage Low. Not only this, the collaboration brought Jorja’s stylist Leah Abbott into the project and held several creatives under mentorship and to help organise the launch event and curate for the concept. The mentees Leah worked with are aspiring stylists Abbie Naomi and Lottie Dion. Photographer Ana Sting and Artist, Erin Corrian-Alexis were also mentors to aspiring graphic designer Indiana Lawrence and photographer Flora Scott. All mentees worked closely with their mentors and in turn produced workshops, photoshoots and the ‘Unplugged’ event I attended in November.
The ‘Unplugged’ Event
When I walked into the event through a long corridor with various signposts pointing to a boxing ring/stage, photobooth, a bar, a print station, DJ amongst additional features such as mentee and mentor profiles. The event was full of young women and men, all clearly with an avid interest in Nike as a brand but also fans of Jorja too. There were t-shirts printed with logos and emblems designed by the mentees as well as a snack corner full of Jorja’s favourite treats.
After exploring the ‘Force is Female’ event we were invited to the boxing ring/stage where interviews took place with the mentors as well as boxers Zeina Nassar and Ramla Ali. They discussed how they became successful and aimed to help their mentees but also just explained why it is essential we work for ourselves and remember our worth as women within the creative and sports industry. It was about being fearless of pursuing what we love and I really resonated with it.
After interviews we had an intimate performance from Jorja which was honestly breathtaking. I did feel inspired to connect more with other creatiives and felt more comfortable asking for advice after the ‘Force is Female’ event because, let’s be real, 99% of creatives have been where I am now.
Not only was I lucky enough to be invited to the event but to also interview Leah and one of her mentees, Abbie Naomi. I’ve loved Nike since I can remember and really admire the approach and support they have/give with new and alternative talent in the UK, so I jumped at the opportunity and asked away.
What was the hardest occasion you had to style a look for and why?
Leah: I think styling Jorja’s first stage look for her last US tour. A lot goes into a show that isn’t required in other styling settings. Considering comfort, movement on stage, how the lights will hit it, how hot she’ll get etc. all come into play when selecting a look which is something I had to teach myself.
What do you look for when browsing clothing for Jorja to wear?
Leah: We love working with innovative smaller designers as well as the big labels. Something that accentuates Jorja’s class as well as her street style which she is keen on maintaining. She loves dresses and so I try to play with prints/colours/straps/lengths and jazz this up in as many ways possible and so the look doesn’t ever seem repeated. I also always consider her comfort- as a woman I want to make sure she feels confident and in control of her body as much as possible, not having to worry about any slip ups!
What element of personal style do you include when styling someone else or is it completely different to your own preference?
Leah: I think as a stylist you really need to be able to adapt to others styles even if they’re not right for you personally. I don’t want to mimic myself in any way and so I base it all on an individuals vibe and tailor it them. You can tell when someone has been dressed up in something that isn’t them.. it looks like a costume and won’t come with the right energy to carry it off.
What are your favourite Nike trainers past or present and favourite Nike collaboration and why?
Leah: I have always been a strong TN girl. For me they are sleek and sexy and also last for ever and so used to be great when I was a reckless kid haha. They are also completely unisex which I love in fashion, anyone can look greezy in them!
In terms of collabs I think Nike do it best when they do it by themselves..
In your opinion, how do women in the creative and music industry identify with Nike?
Leah: Nike is seen across all creative industries as most require a lot of physical activity and travelling which of course requires comfort. As a woman I love working in a full Nike tracksuit/sportswear when on set, quite often I have the same fit on as some of the guys on the same job! It shows it isn’t about gender but rather the fact that we are all hard working creatives there to do our job and with similar ideas and style. It allows us to all relate on a different level with gender removed from the equation as it should be.
What is the hardest thing about styling women?
Leah: Women are a lot easier to style than men and I have always said this! We are more open to trying things and often want help and input whereas guys are often stuck in their ways and come across as a lot more self-conscious when introducing something new that their friends/family may not have seen them in. Of course with women it is important to consider support of our bodies and curves but other than that it is a lot of fun!
How has this project made you want to progress further in your career?
Abbie: I think working on this project has made me think bigger, and not to be afraid to step out of my comfort zone. I think it’s also given me new inspiration to go and create more, even if it’s just working on my own little projects, I always want to be creating. Whether that’s styling, my brand nation, or planning events. Working on this project has reminded me to never stop creating.
A big thank you to Leah and Abbie for taking their time to answer our questions and of course we’d like to thank Nike London and Exposure London for allowing LAPP to cover this event and for the refreshing collaboration.
The Force most definitely is Female.
Written by Jessamy Mattinson
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