Thanks to platforms like Instagram, we can all share our creative work and tell the world what we think about everything from #avocado to #bodypositivity. But that doesn’t mean the path to success is easy, and in the age of the individual, working together and supporting each other is more important than ever.
That’s why a group of women set up a collective called GRLPWR Gang, to inspire other women in the creative industries and to offer guidance and support to the younger members of their ranks. We spoke to three of the group – models Emma Breschi and Felicity Hayward, and artist Elizabeth Ilsley – to find out what their secrets to success are.
Even if you don’t know their names yet, you’ll definitely be familiar with their work. Elizabeth Ilsley is responsible for those ice-cool leather jackets emblazoned with tongue-in-cheek quotes that you'll have seen all over Instagram, while Emma Breschi is making waves for her re-appreciation of the female form, and Felicity Hayward is continuing to shake up the modelling industry.
When it comes to fashion, these three women certainly know what they’re into and, like their success, that belief comes from having a clear understanding of who they are and what they want. After all, nothing lets you show off your personality quite like some much-loved, carefully chosen clothes.
We asked these three formidable women about being superhero creatives, how they made it, and what style means to them…
Felicity Hayward was 24 when she was scouted, dancing to Diana Ross, in an east London pub. Considering that most girls start their modelling careers at 15, this was even more unusual. But then, Hayward’s very first shoot was with Miles Aldridge – she’s never been one to do things by the book.
Hayward has enjoyed a meteoric rise to success, but she’s noticed all the way that there’s a real dearth of female role models for young women – who don’t look like the people they see in magazines. “I never thought I’d be in front of the camera,” she explains. “If you don’t have anyone that you can look up to, you don’t even think it exists.”
But that has never stopped Hayward from realising her own ambitions. “I’m from a really small town, and I wanted to show other girls that they could do the same.” Even when success did find Felicity, the model was still having to work overtime to make ends meet. “I really got thrown in the deep end,” she says of the start of her career. “I was working in a school and I had my hand luggage with me. I was flying to New York later that day and just went straight to the airport and flew and shot for Glamour.”
It paid off: a few months later she got a text telling her she was on the front of i-D. “It was a really big deal. And I remember I was moving house that day, and I couldn’t even afford to pay for someone to help me move my stuff. And I was on the cover of i-D!”
When she’s not on the cover of the world’s best fashion magazines, you’ll find Hayward trawling charity shops, a hobby she’s loved since spending time shopping with her grandma. “We used to go to charity shops – before they were trendy – and we’d look for anything wild,” says Hayward. "Eighties, shoulder pads, anything sparkly.”
If you want to understand the marvel that is Emma Breschi, you need to follow her on Instagram. Like, right now. She’s a true original and a serious breath of fresh air in a sea of #avocado posts and identikit #ootd’s.
The work Breschi has done and the things she’s achieved (so far) are not just the product of her own hard work, though. “It’s important to leverage the power of the group. Do you think one bumble bee can harvest all the honey on its own?” she asks. “No.”
And above all, you have to keep learning to get ahead in today’s hyper-competitive landscape. “Explore your surroundings, educate yourself and stay curious with what the world has to offer!” she continues. “Be willing to learn new things, because that will inspire you to be better at what you do and it just makes life more exciting. Don't just sit there waiting for something to happen... do something about it! Get up and try something new. You'll be surprised by what might happen.”
Talk about motivation. But behind the catchy turn of phrase there is more than just words – this is a role she takes seriously. Her Instagram includes regular unclothed selfies – all in the name of changing our perception of the female form – and she’s even posed nude for Juergen Teller in a Vivienne Westwood campaign.
But to be truly successful, you have to learn how to enjoy the journey as well as working with the big names, says Breschi. “I'm embracing all the opportunities and even failures that hit me,” she offers. “I've kept a curious and open mind, and with that I’ve learnt how to let go of any doubts.”
This free-spirited attitude even extends to her style choices; the model always lets her mood dictate her outfits. “My style on a day-to-day basis is whatever I want it to be,” she says. “There are no rules; I'll just go with the flow and dress however I feel that given day. I love trying new things and learning more from others and their own personal tastes.”
Considering she’s only just turned 23, Elizabeth Ilsley has one impressive CV. The young creative says her early successes – her jackets were stocked in Liberty just last year – were the product of happy coincidences and not being afraid to put herself out there. “Hard work definitely pays off, but you can only work so hard,” she reflects. “And if you don’t meet people and talk to them, you won’t get the opportunities you deserve."
Much like Hayward and Breschi, Ilsley, who studied art at university, respects the power of collaboration. And that extends beyond just her work ethic, she says. “I think I’m going to paint ‘We’re All Friends Here’ on my next leather jacket; it’s also what I had on my Accessorize tote. It means we’re all human beings, we’re all in the same boat.”
This conscientious side is perfectly offset by a very dry sense of humour. “I try not to take myself too seriously, I dress a bit like a cartoon character,” explains Ilsley. “I wanted to be a stand-up comedian all my life. I’m a bit of a joker really – I guess that’s why I dress in plastic trousers.” Fun is certainly part of Ilsley’s aesthetic – her style icon is Pamela Anderson. “The only thing I don’t agree with are her eyebrows,” she jokes. “They’re too thin for me.”
Success, of course, means something different to each of us. What makes Ilsley pleased with hers? “Being proud of something I’ve created and made,” she says instantly. “Seeing people in my leather jackets. I thought it was really cool; it was a young girl, too, and that’s who I aim for.”