There are traditional fashion models, and then there’s Leomie Anderson. At 26 years old, the British style star already has campaigns with Fenty, Topshop and Pat McGrath under her belt; she’s walked in shows for Moschino, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Yeezy and Victoria’s Secret, too. But four years ago, something changed. She pivoted from runway model of the moment to role model for the ages — and it all started with a blogpost.
Actually, it truly started on Twitter. In 2016, a young fan messaged her explaining a personal situation: She’d been pressured by boys to send nude photos of herself and have FaceTime conversations naked. The fan asked Anderson to speak about the issue on her blog, Cracked China Cup. Anderson generally used the blog to post things like the "Black Model Survival Kit", a video where she shared her favourite products to take to fashion week in order to avoid mishaps with makeup artists and hairstylists who were unprepared to work with black women. Sexual consent wasn’t something she’d covered before. But it was an issue that she was familiar with; it had played a significant role in her career since joining the industry at the age of 14. Taking stock of just how many young women followed her online, Anderson felt compelled to address it publicly in "An Open Letter About Consent And Saying No". It very quickly went viral.
"All my young girls reading this, know that you don't have to do anything that you aren't fully comfortable with, and that your no means something," she wrote. It wasn’t long before Anderson was invited to speak at schools, meeting young women trying to navigate these murky waters and hearing that they didn’t know where to turn in these situations. "That’s basically what sparked LAPP," she tells Refinery29. "I want to create an open, safe space on the internet for women from all walks of life to be able to share their perspectives."
LAPP, which stands for Leomie Anderson The Project The Purpose, is so much more than the next iteration of her earlier blog. Founded by Anderson in 2016, it has grown into an exciting new platform, publishing articles by an international community of women. On the blog side of things, you’ll find sincere discussions on everything from how fast fashion is harming the environment and maintaining a healthy lifestyle on a tight budget to "Blackfishing" — the practice of non-black people appropriating black features and culture — and personal takes on current affairs.
The other side of the LAPP coin is the coveted clothing collection you’ll undoubtedly have seen sported by some of your favourite celebrities on Instagram over the past couple of years. Members of the #LappBae tribe include models like Slick Woods, Neelam Gill, Jourdan Dunn and Bella Hadid; British singers Bree Runway and Jorja Smith; presenter Maya Jama; and Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. Back in 2017, Queen Rihanna herself (who Anderson fondly considers a close friend) wore a LAPP "This Pussy Grabs Back" hoodie to the New York Women’s March. In 2018, the brand hosted its first pop-up store in London. As for this year, Anderson tells us that she’s currently in talks to find a store partner and a physical space to host LAPP events.
Needless to say, building an empire is never without its hurdles. Behind the scenes, there have been long hours, serious hustle and unexpected shifts in plans. On Anderson’s Twitter page, you’ll find a pinned tweet from June 2019 in which she announced that an ex-investor was withholding her LAPP The Brand stock. "I’m sharing my story because I don’t want anyone else making the same mistakes I did, especially young women who men try and take advantage of in business," Anderson wrote.
Setbacks aside, Anderson kept moving forward. The next milestone came last year when Anderson was named one of the newest Victoria’s Secret Angels, landing one of the most coveted jobs in the business after four consecutive years walking in the show.
As she tells me about 2020’s big projects over the phone from a London salon — she needs to get her hair and brows done before heading off on a last-minute trip to Paris the following day — it’s hard not to be impressed by the scale and breadth of her achievements, but also by the cool, assured manner with which she describes the last few years spent carving out her own space in history.
As such, she’s extremely busy. We’d had a tricky day of missed calls while she attended to other commitments before finally pinning down a time to chat in the early evening. A couple of days before we speak, Anderson had been living it up in Ghana where (as confirmed by committed Instagram stalking) she’d been hanging out with her friend, singer Bree Runway. When she’s finished at the hairdresser's, she has to rush home and pack before jetting off in the early hours. Yes, it sounds super stressful, but for the most part Anderson is unfazed, clearly used to juggling the demands of running a business, advocating for change in the fashion industry, securing work as an in-demand model and chatting to excited journalists on the phone.
When she’s not tweeting about the new season of Love Island (last we checked, she’s a fan of friend-zone magnet Nas), Anderson is asking her 35,000 followers for their thoughts and recommendations. In early January, she put a call out for examples of black women being used as "banter" online. It’s a complement to an upcoming TED Talk at Warwick University, Anderson explains. "The theme they wanted me to speak about was my experience in the modelling industry and how social media has changed society’s beauty standards."
"I had to make sure that everyone in the room knew I was coming from the perspective of a black woman and that my experiences have been so shaped and defined by the colour of my skin that it would be impossible to speak about the modelling industry or social media without reminding everybody that these experiences are inflicted upon all black women, not just myself," she says.
It’s a frustrating but crucial topic in which Anderson is well versed. The model made headlines in February 2016 when she tweeted about the overwhelming number of makeup artists at London Fashion Week who were ill-equipped to work on dark skin. The following year she shared an infuriating story about being turned away from a model casting, apparently because the designer had already cast one model of colour. Diversity in fashion and the particular lack of representation for dark-skinned women is a problem that has plagued the industry for years. Although Anderson does feel that there’s been a shift in attitude, she says social media has been the key catalyst for change.
"Social media has become a way to protect minorities within creative industries because it allows us to unify, which people don’t want. It allows us to be heard in a way that isn’t controlled by the white, cis, male gaze," she says. The way Anderson sees it, people being vocal about not seeing themselves in campaigns and calling out organisations for discriminatory practices is really what’s pushing brands to do something about it. "And I think the fact that so many people like Naomi Campbell and Iman continue to unify and speak up every season about the lack of diversity seen on the runways. I think a lot of brands and people felt pressure… Off the back of that, I feel that so many more black creatives have been given really poignant roles," she adds, citing British Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful, and Virgil Abloh becoming artistic director at Louis Vuitton. "It’s inspirational and shows people that black does sell because that used to be the excuse they used to stop us being on the cover of magazines."
Victoria’s Secret has frequently been criticised for its lack of inclusivity. As someone at the forefront of the industry’s conversation about diversity, I ask how Anderson feels about where the lingerie company stands, having now secured a permanent role as an Angel. A big part of her excitement over landing the gig, she admits, was practicality. "A lot of models dream of getting a contract because our job is so volatile. I want to have something stable," she explains, which being an Angel can provide. "Victoria's Secret is a brand that I really love working with because they’ve allowed me to be myself. Funnily enough, a bunch of people want to talk about the lack of diversity [but] they're a brand that has never tried to silence me or make me feel uncomfortable with the fact that I'm very vocal on issues."
She continued: "I know a lot of brands, big brands, steer clear of anybody who says anything that's even remotely political. I know brands who are scared of girls who put #BlackLivesMatter on social media. So the fact that Victoria's Secret supports me in what I have to say really meant a lot to me."
The benefit that we all reap from women like Anderson who relentlessly engage with the more difficult conversations is undeniable. But surely that can’t be without its own pressures. "You know what?" Anderson offers, "I just started speaking one day and people started saying, You’re a role model. I was like, What? I was just saying what’s on my mind. But I realised that it was just important. It didn’t feel like pressure, especially not in the beginning because I felt silenced for so long and I felt the silence wasn’t helping anybody in the [same] situation. The silence wasn’t making my job easier for myself. I was still crying in the toilets and I was still experiencing [the] ignorance of racism."
In short, it sucked. Not speaking meant that more young models were going to go through the same experiences and Anderson is doing what she can to make sure that doesn’t happen. Anderson explains that she does adamantly enjoy, to use her words, "being able to use my platform for something other than posting pictures of myself." Speaking out means that she can make an impact for women – not just in fashion but across many different industries – who are undoubtedly experiencing similar issues.
People often ask Anderson whether she thinks anyone who has a platform should automatically become a spokesperson and her answer is a straight, unwavering "no" – it’s just not everyone’s forte. "That’s why you often see celebrities trying to say something that is poignant and good but just comes across wrong. Then, all of a sudden that person is villainised because they said something the wrong way," Anderson explains. "It’s just not everybody’s skillset to do that, honestly! And it’s just not everybody’s passion. To actually be a role model and to always have something to say, to become the voice of that, you have to be passionate about it."
Anderson is a voice we’re acutely tuned into, precisely for that reason. And with a possible podcast and dreams of a new YouTube channel in the pipeline, we can only hope her voice rings louder for young women now, and all the ones on the come up behind her.