Interview—Gemma Hampton, Illustrator

This October, we talked to the Cotswold-based illustrator, Gemma Hampton about how she developed her signature free-flowing style, her working life and the organic growth of her career.


I am drawn to organic forms and feel an affinity with botanical subjects. Working primarily in ink and watercolour, the freedom and fluidity of these mediums allows me to capture the essence of form through expressive line drawing and minimal mark making. 
— Gemma Hampton
 Cherries by Gemma Hampton (available as a print through her  Etsy  shop)

Cherries by Gemma Hampton (available as a print through her Etsy shop)

Your work often features simple and everyday subjects—particularly botanical or still life—why do you think you’re drawn to these?

Spending time in nature is hugely important to me. I enjoy long, slow walks in the countryside, observing the beauty of the surrounding landscape and find so much inspiration on these journeys. I use this precious time to switch off and take in all the sensations, helping me to relax, meditate and boost wellbeing. Gardening is a hobby I have taken up in recent years, growing produce and becoming more self-sufficient, embracing the change in seasons. I find the process fascinating and so satisfying. I am drawn to organic forms and feel an affinity with botanical subjects. Working primarily in ink and watercolour, the freedom and fluidity of these mediums allows me to capture the essence of form through expressive line drawing and minimal mark making. 


Tell us a little about your studio space?

I work from the home I share with my husband, daughter and our ever-growing collection of houseplants. My studio space is essentially our dining room. When creating larger artworks or packing card and print orders I work at the dining table and for smaller sketches and admin tasks I sit at an antique bureau. I sometimes work outdoors too, observing subjects in their natural habitat. Bringing nature indoors creates a peaceful energy and helps me to feel inspired. 


When did you first begin drawing? Have you any stories regarding your earliest sketches?

Drawing has been a passion for as long as I can remember. I used to sketch pencil portraits of my teddy bears and paint at a little easel wearing my father's old shirts. I have a vivid early memory of winning a colouring competition and going to collect my prize which, much to my delight, was a pencil case filled with stationery. As I grew older I took a break before sketching on a regular basis. 

  Syrup Bottle  by Gemma Hampton

Syrup Bottle by Gemma Hampton

How did you develop your signature restrained style of illustration?

My style has evolved over time. I have explored different mediums and used to work with lots more colour, though have always favoured still life and botanical subjects. I find my artwork reflects my personal tastes and has become more minimal as my practice has developed. I invested in a brush pen and ink a few years ago which transformed my drawing style. I used to work in much greater detail which I found wasn't particularly suited to the tool. Inspired by East Asian ink wash painting, I experimented with the use of simple sweeping lines and mark making. I am always striving to strip back the detail, which is harder than it appears. I often find I get the best results through sketching the same subject quickly and multiple times, changing the composition slightly each time. This way of working frees up my drawing practice, creating a flow of energy and a sense of balance.  

Did you study art or did your career as an illustrator develop organically?

I studied art at school but did a drama degree at university. Having taken a break from drawing and painting, I began keeping a sketchbook in my early twenties. I rediscovered my passion for drawing and found it therapeutic. I continued to create and develop my practice, experimenting with different mediums. While living in Bristol I began selling greeting cards and prints at local markets and from there had some products stocked by independent retailers. My career has grown organically at a steady pace and it has been a learning curve. I now take on commissions, exhibit my work and have recently started teaching brush illustration workshops

Has becoming a mother influenced your work at all—in how you approach your day to day tasks or has it changed what you want to create?

Becoming a mother has been both wonderful and exhausting! My daughter Enid is six months old and It is incredibly challenging trying to juggle taking care of her with creative work and housework. I am lucky to have such a supportive husband.  As I am generally quite an efficient person, I have had to learn to let go and accept that I am not able to get everything done. I've found it useful to tackle a few tasks on my list per day and feel satisfied with small accomplishments. I try to do some sketching and admin when I get a little free time while Enid naps, though I have had to slow everything down lately as she is my priority. 

You live in the Cotswolds, in what ways does living there influence your work?

We moved back here earlier this year after spending seven years living in Bristol. It is a real contrast to city life, much more peaceful and has a slower pace that I like. The Cotswolds is a naturally beautiful area with many walking trails, hills and quaint towns to explore; I find it very charming. The landscapes are picturesque and walking in nature is restorative. I always come back from a walk feeling inspired, full of creative energy. 

  Asparagus Fern  by Gemma Hampton

Asparagus Fern by Gemma Hampton


Gemma’s website: gemmahampton.com

Follow her on twitter: @gemhampton

Follow her on instagram: @gemhampton

Interview

Interview—Madara Freimane, co-founder of What's Your Legacy

Madara Freimane, co-founder of What’s Your Legacy, chats about her career, where it all started, and what’s exciting her about the sustainable fashion movement in our February interview.


Sustainability is confusing, it can be approached from so many angles. That’s why we created What’s Your Legacy.
— Madara Freimane, co-founder of What's Your Legacy

What did you study at London College of Fashion?

I did fashion styling and photography—I think it’s now called fashion production—it focussed on styling and producing shoots. As I was studying, I got interested in sustainability, so although it was a visual course—everyone else had very visual research—mine ended up being text-based, heavy books of paper, in which I was figuring out what’s happening in the fashion industry. The first project I did was about how we emotionally connect and disconnect to things that are happening around us. I was looking at war photography and how the photographers would absorb what was going on around them, but weren’t able to do anything about it. They just had to record it. It’s the same disconnect people feel when something really bad happens and they shut it out. We all know what’s happening in the fashion industry, but its too much to take in and you get overwhelmed. You start to realise that if you give people little things that they can accomplish, they’re more able to understand they can change things. Otherwise, you just think, “I’m not one of those big massive retailers, so I don’t have power”.

 

Did the movement towards transparency happen while you were at fashion college?

Definitely, and my first thought about it all was that I didn’t want to shop on the high street anymore, so what can I do? All I knew were the high street and luxury stores. I couldn’t afford the luxury ones and no longer wanted to shop on the high street. I’d research brands and it was confusing, one researcher might say they’re ok, but other sites would say they weren’t. I’d committed myself to shopping sustainably, so I googled it, which was actually really funny because the first things I found were paper dresses and I’m like “what even is this?!” [laughs].  I’d committed myself though, so I kept on searching and I did end up finding a lot of beautiful brands. Sustainability is confusing though, it can be approached from so many angles. That’s why we created What’s Your Legacy. It allows us to go to brands and be like, “Hey, I heard you do something sustainable, what is it?” From doing this I started to learn about all these different approaches, the fabrics and the technology side too.

 

Was there a particular event that switched you on to sustainable fashion?

I come from Latvia and grew up in nature. I did orienteering (which is basically just running through forests!) and traveled around the world doing competitions with it, so I was always in the forest rather than the city. Nature was something I was really connected to. I do remember my sister going to Sweden in her last year at high school and coming back with sustainable jeans and I said, “are they made from paper?” [laughs]

 

How things have changed!

Exactly! But then I came to study in London, which has so many high streets shops, and shopping became overwhelming. Back home it would be fun—you’d go and try to find something that other people didn’t have. You come here and have everything available, but nothing satisfies you. It’s too much and it’s missing something—that uniqueness. I remember going to and interning at fashion weeks (where I did street style photography) and I’d ask people “what are you wearing?” I’d imagine all these luxury brands and it was three things: H&M, Topshop and Zara. It’s boring! It made me think about what’s in my wardrobe and I was just the same. As I researched and thought about that emotional connection, I had this realisation about the the industry I was going into—I’d always known fashion was bad, but it’s really bad! That’s how it progressed, it was slow initially but when I began researching the industry I decided to change my habits.

I came to study in London, which has so many high streets shops, and shopping became overwhelming. Back home it would be fun—you’d go and try to find something that other people didn’t have. You come here and have everything available, but nothing satisfies you.
— Madara Freimane, co-founder of What's Your Legacy
 A shot from What's Your Legacy editorial shoot,   CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF RETAIL AND THE EXPERIENCE CULTURE  .

A shot from What's Your Legacy editorial shoot, CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF RETAIL AND THE EXPERIENCE CULTURE.

I love the sense of the humour at What’s Your Legacy, was it a conscious decision to approach fashion with humour?

I often joke that I’m going to go into stand up if everything else fails! It has to be fun, especially with sustainability as it’s so serious. People want to shop because they want to look good and have a good time. Also, it’s a part of me. I always call myself an introvert extrovert, so when you get to know me I can be funny, and What's Your Legacy should reflect that.

 

What’s Your Legacy has such a strong visual style, do you have any particular influences?

We always knew that we wanted to do the visuals ourselves because there’s so much out there that we didn’t like. Sometimes it wouldn’t even be the design of a garment that we didn’t like, it was just how it was photographed. My background was photography, so we didn’t have to compromise, and we slowly fell into a visual style. We definitely looked at different brands that we liked, like Glossier and all the millennial pink! I’ve always loved art too: Matisse and Alexander Calder. It’s funny, but I think social media drove our visual style as well. We wanted to create something that would catch your eye and make you think of our brand. If you see tonnes of images all of the time, how could we make ours recognisable?

 

It must be a lot of pressure to make all the content yourself! How do you cope with that?

I try to focus myself, although it’s not always easy! I go through periods where I’m really good at making content and then I’ll make something I’m not satisfied with. I try to know that you have to move forward, instead of spending too much time on something that you’re not convinced by. When we started, I watched a video called The Gap, which is about how you’ve an idea in your head about how you want things to look, but in the beginning you can’t always achieve that. You need to push yourself to keep creating until you get there. You have to believe you’ll get there. That it’s fine in the beginning if your work doesn’t look exactly as you want it to. It’s easy to be judgemental about what you do, sometimes I’ll look back and I think, “oh ok, we really put that out there…”, but it’s fine!

You need to push yourself to keep creating until you get there. You have to believe you’ll get there. That it’s fine in the beginning if your work doesn’t look exactly as you want it to.
— Madara Freimane, co-founder of What's Your Legacy

As you’ve worked with so many different brands, do you have any tips for sustainable start ups?

I think that all sustainable brands should understand that being sustainable is just how you produce, and that with the designs you’re competing with every other brand out there. A customer wants to wear something that they like visually, so if you’re not the best at design you should get someone in who is. Also, you need to figure out how you’re going to reach your customer. The amazing thing that we now have is social media, which allows smaller start-up brands to get exposure, but you have to commit yourself to putting out content. I struggle with that too! You have to do it though because there’s no other way that people will find out about you. Whilst you’re a fashion brand, you’re also a media company—everyone with an online presence is! You have to understand how important it is in getting your business to grow and to actually succeed in reaching customers. So I would say think about those two things—design and marketing—and how important they are. Sustainable fashion isn’t just this magical place where people jump to buy your product because it’s sustainable! You have to create the most beautiful product out there and have it sustainably made.

 From What's Your Legacy's shoot with brand   LAPIDARIUM .

From What's Your Legacy's shoot with brand LAPIDARIUM.

Anyone who’s changed anything is a human being too. We can all do it. Change will take time, but if you put your mind to it you can do it too.
— Madara Freimane, co-founder of What's Your Legacy

Are there any particularly innovative companies that incorporate sustainability into their business models that you admire?

MUD Jeans are really interesting. They lease jeans, so you can rent them and when you’re done you can send them back. They’ll sell them on as vintage jeans or take them apart and recycle them. You can also buy jeans from them and when you’re finished wearing them, you can again send them back. They’ll grind them down, re-spin the fabric, take all the parts off, and it all goes into new fabrics and jeans. They use the idea of a circular economy, which I think is brilliant. I think more and more brands should think about not just how they make their products, but what happens afterwards. This idea of re-thinking ownership—that as a customer you’re just renting everything you have instead of buying it is very interesting. I’m very excited about the whole circular economy. You know how in the world you sometimes think that there are smart people that can figure everything out? But, if you get ten people who are innovative—can think outside the box and forget how things were done before—and you ask them to reinvent it all, what could they do? You could come up with some great ideas about how to change things. Anyone who’s changed anything is a human being too. We can all do it. Change will take time, but if you put your mind to it you can do it too.

 

It’s not just companies that can be innovative, it’s everyone.

Yeah, that’s why we hold events where people can come together and brainstorm ideas. We give them a model of how to do it and let their imaginations go wild. It’s difficult to get your mind out of how things usually happen, so at What’s Your Legacy, we try not to think about how to persuade people not to shop or to do things that restrict their lives, but about how we can make sustainability convenient. For example, recycling facilities should be easy to get to, maybe on the way to work, so you can just drop things off. People don’t know what to do with their old clothing, so instead of saying “do your research”, why don’t I give you a tool to do that? I’m a vegan and I find it’s the easiest way to eat because it keeps you healthy, by limiting all the things that are maybe not the best for you, it makes you feel good. That makes it easy. Sustainability allows me to be unique in the way I dress. High street fashion made me feel like I always needed the next thing and then, when I bought it, it fell apart. I’d grown up dreaming about wearing these beautiful brands and, when I finally could, it didn’t give me a lot of satisfaction. Sustainable fashion makes me feel better and be unique. It’s easy because of that, and that’s the key.

 

Whose responsibility do you think it is to make fashion more sustainable?

I think it’s everyones. If the government would step in and make laws then things would change, but that’s not realistic. As a consumer you should do your part, as a retailer you should do yours. Everyone needs to work together but not in the sense of being restrictive—you should think about other approaches. Brands should create beautiful garments that are more innovative or longer lasting. From the research I’ve done our generation [millennial] and the younger generation do want to be more environmentally conscious, but they don’t want to compromise on what they want, or on a good aesthetic. Brands need to understand that.

I recently watched an interview with Patrick Finnegan, a 21 year old venture capitalist who’s working with Generation Z. He said they’re environmentally conscious, but they want something in exchange like online exposure. They wouldn’t buy into it just for the sake of it, but they would if they get a good rep online [laughs]. I think that’s very interesting—I get excited about these things!  That’s something we should keep in mind, how can we make them invest, would it be a repost or mention if they purchase this environmentally friendly product? It’s very interesting from a marketing perspective.

 A shot from the   DON’T BUY LESS – BUY SMART   editorial shoot on What's Your Legacy.

A shot from the DON’T BUY LESS – BUY SMART editorial shoot on What's Your Legacy.

Before the interview we were chatting about different ways of production, like block chain and circular, I wondered if you could tell us a little about these and your thoughts on them?

The thing with sustainability is that when I speak to a brand who says that their product is made sustainably, I don’t completely trust it. Especially if it’s a high street store that hasn’t worked like that before and now they suddenly do. It’s that idea of greenwashing. Block chain production would allow you to have transparency, as it could be encrypted that every step of the chain would have to be transparent. It’d also allow you to tell the story of a garment, which helps from a marketing perspective. I think in the future you’ll be able to go into a store and scan a tag and you’d have visuals of how it’s made and where it’s come from. It’ll allow people to connect with your garment. I think that’s what block chain will do. 

From the circular and sharing economy perspective, it’s about re-thinking ownership. As a customer you may barely use a garment, so rental services, (which seems like an obvious idea, but how do you make them convenient for people?) could be an alternative. I love Higher Studios. They do a subscription service because they figured out that when people rent a garment, there’s an issue of how much it’ll cost them to buy verses renting it. When you do the subscription, you maybe pay £100 a month (which might seem like a lot, but in certain cases it’s not) and you get access to garments that you can change as often as you like. It’s an alternative to fast fashion where you feel you have to have new things all the time. You can show off by wearing these crazy designs, instead of wearing black and white. You can change what you have more often, but the garment is of higher quality because it’s rented, and you get the feeling of having something new without the environmental damage. The founder, Sara Arnold, told me that when she was experimenting with it to see how people would react, there was one girl who said that each month she started to become more and more creative in how she dressed—I loved that. She didn’t need to buy the black garment because she’d have it all her life. She could wear these more creative designs instead. It also allows a designer to be more creative. Usually, as a designer, you have to think about what is sellable, but if you have a rental service where people only keep your garment for a short amount of time, you can move away from that.

For the circular economy, you think about how the garment can be altered so that, once it’s used, it can be made into the same product again or can go through more cycles. It’s not thrown out and left in a landfill somewhere. That’s another thing you need to think about as a designer when you create a product, what fabrics do you use? There’s a lot of different technologies available now and how you make recycled fabrics is improving, so it’s not the worst choice anymore. I’ve seen amazing recycled fabrics and you could never tell. I think that’s another super exciting thing.

 

Are there any particular brands you know that are incorporating this at the moment?

One brand I really love is Swedish Stockings. I met them a year and a half ago and they told me how they started their brand because they knew that most stockings were purposefully made to rip. They were like, “that’s crazy, why would you do that?!” The first thing they did was make stockings that’d last a long time. Now they’re trying to close the loop, so that they’re able to recycle the stockings and make new fabric. They’re not currently able to do that, so at the moment they down-cycle them (you can send any brand of stockings back to them for that). Also, their factories are solar-panelled and their production is great. It’s super exciting. When I talked to them, it felt like I was talking to a tech company. They have so much research behind what they do. It’s not just design, it’s both of those things.

 

Do you have any tips for shoppers who want to invest in more sustainable and ethical fashion?

Yeah, come to What’s Your Legacy! [laughs] There are a lot of amazing brands out there, and we want to give them exposure. I would say start slowly, because otherwise it’ll just be overwhelming. Start with one thing. The easiest things are your t-shirts and underwear, as it’s easy to find styles made sustainably with organic cotton and ethical production. Start with those things and don’t feel that you suddenly have to change everything! Don’t throw out all your high street things! I still wear some things that I bought on the high street seven years ago. I approach shopping by trying to find a sustainable alternative every time I need something new. At What’s Your Legacy we have a list of different brands that have one or another thing that’s sustainable about their products and have a unique style. It’s fun to go out in something and if people ask where it’s from, you’re able to tell them about a brand they don’t know. It gives you a good feeling. Do that, take it slowly, one thing at a time, and you’ll get there. In this world it’s easy to focus on all of the problems and to want this crazy big solution for everything, but it’s actually small steps that get you there and you just have to be patient. Do the best you can at the point that you’re at—if you’re a student then buying some of these sustainable brands may be way too expensive for you, so just figure out what you can afford. When you have more capital, do something better and go on like that!

It has to be fun, especially with sustainability as it’s so serious. People want to shop because they want to look good and have a good time.
— Madara Freimane, co-founder of What's Your Legacy

Quarterly Review

Quarterly Review—Summer

A look back at some of our favourite moments from this Summer.


Collaborations

Ashley Perkins, the creative behind Motified, explored the importance of moving away from disposable toiletries in her post What's in my Bag, which featured the #033 make-up bag. She tells us why sustainable fashion is important to her below:

I believe that we can use the clothing we wear everyday to let our voices be heard and encourage positive change, whether it be to improve the lives of other human beings or the life of the planet we inhabit. Sustainable fashion is important to me because it has opened my eyes to the possibility of a world in which we don’t have to sacrifice our future—or that of future generations—just to be “fashionable.”
— Ashley Perkins, founder of Motified
 A snapshot from Ashley's recent   What's in my Bag   post for  Motified  featuring the  #033 make-up bag in linen .

A snapshot from Ashley's recent What's in my Bag post for Motified featuring the #033 make-up bag in linen.


Interviewees

Over the Summer we interviewed two women who embody a mindful and conscious approach to living—Besma Whayeb, who documents her sustainable lifestyle on her blog, Curiously Conscious, and Lena Aisha, a poet and the founder of NEO by Lena who built her company on the principle of minimalism.

 

We asked Besma to share her advice for those who want to live more sustainably in our August Interview:

I would say look at your own life first, and see what little changes you can make. Not all changes suit everyone—I still buy more plastic than I care to admit—but the little things will keep you feeling inspired. The eco-friendly toothbrush you clean your teeth with, or the ethically-made handbag that you wear—they become reminders of living sustainably and can lead to even bigger, better things.
— The August Interview with Besma Whayeb

Lena shared with us how her approach to consumerism developed through reading Dominique Loreau's L'Art de la Simplicité in the September Interview:

It was the idea of “decluttering” that really struck me, and how, without even noticing it, most of us are “burdened by our possessions”. We all (hopefully) go through a spring clean every year where we chuck away things we haven’t used in eons. But we still hold on to a plethora of pieces we do not need, be it for sentimental reasons or purely because we’re hoarders. 

Loreau’s book helped me realise that the clutter we accumulate can have an enormous impact on our life—one that is almost imperceptible because it is so gradual. The book details the importance of living a minimalist lifestyle and how the order it brings can counteract everyday feelings of stress and anxiety and improve our self-image and overall quality of life.
— The September Interview with Lena Aisha

Behind-the-scenes

 A snapshot from the Veryan Studio  instagram .

A snapshot from the Veryan Studio instagram.

It's been a busy summer in the Veryan studio, making up orders and working on next season's collections. We've been hunting for new suppliers as well as working with our old favourites, and have some wonderful new fabrics to work with for the next couple of seasons.

As London has well & truly embraced Autumn, it's hard to remember the heatwaves of early Summer. Long days in the studio were filled with sunshine and we've never been so thankful for easy white linen dresses. After the long summer we're enjoying working with heavier weight fabrics and developing pieces that are in the works for late next year. These pieces have a loose tailored fit, perfect for layering over knitwear on cool autumnal days.

Just a note—the 2017 Summer Collection will be available in the full size range until Sunday 25th October at midnight BST. After that, a few sizes may be left in our Archive but these will be very limited.

 Sharing a peek behind-the-scenes in our  June photoshoot .

Sharing a peek behind-the-scenes in our June photoshoot.


Collections

Autumn is in full swing in London, so we caught up with the founder of Veryan to find out what's next for the label in the coming season.

Our next instalment on byveryan.co.uk will be a series of new designs for the Core Collection—stripes and super soft jerseys in easy shapes. Perfect for layering and seeing us through this transitional season.
— Veryan Raiker, founder of Veryan
 The  #033 make-up bag  from this Summer's collection.

The #033 make-up bag from this Summer's collection.

Interview

Interview—Lena Aisha, founder of NEO by Lena

Poet and founder of NEO by Lena, Lena Aisha, discusses the creative influences and processes behind her poetry, and shares how NEO came into being, in our August interview.


I have a wide range of artistic influences, but I suppose the common theme running through them all is, first and foremost, an examination of the human experience, and, secondly, a focus on individuality and self-expression.
— Lena Aisha, founder of NEO by Lena
 A portrait of Lena.

A portrait of Lena.

Can you tell us a little about your collection ‘Bones of Eden’?

Bones of Eden was my first publication. In truth, it was a very hasty decision to create it—I compiled the poems in the anthology over the space of a month. For the reader it comes across, I assume, as a very mild bildungsroman in poetry form. But for me the importance of it was never the content, rather the compilation. It was the first time I’d ever collected my thoughts into one cohesive body of work, and I feel as though having done that, I’m now more prepared to create longer, more complex pieces of work, and I’m starting to realise my dream of being a published author.

 

Are there particular subjects you’re drawn to when writing?

I think I’m very drawn to the themes of love, happiness, beauty and growth. Much of my work is an examination of how these themes fit into the human existence and I tend to write stories about my own or a character’s experience navigating through life.

 

Who are your artistic influences for both your poetry and writing?

Stylistically, I’m influenced by a lot of Romantic writers—fiction writers such as Enid Blyton and JK Rowling shaped my perception of the craft when I was younger, but as my work has developed I’ve noticed that my influences have also changed. I’m now very drawn to writers who explore grandiose themes (such as love, life and nature) with a personal sensitivity and poetry—writers like Thoreau, Emerson, Rumi, de Botton and Khalil Gibran. 

In terms of the content of my writing, my influences range across multiple disciplines. I find myself echoing the ideals of theatre practitioner Antonin Artaud in one line, and in the next expressing notions that are rooted in Stoicism or other similar philosophical schools of thought. I’m interested in a lot of different topics, and I suppose that they each find a way to influence my own work.

 

Have you any literary projects in the pipeline?

Yes! I’m currently working on my debut novel, which is as daunting as it is exciting. The story is an exploration of the four main types of love that the Ancient Greeks identified (Agape, Philea, Storge and Eros). I’ve found that modern stories are very centred around the last of these, Eros, which is the passionate romantic love we see focused on far too often. With this story, I’m trying to present a more holistic view of love—one that I find encompasses all aspects of the human experience.

I’ve always been a ‘publish the first draft’ kind of person (out of laziness or egotism I’m not sure), but with this story I want to tell it as well as I can, so it may take months or, more likely, years to complete. I’m in no rush.

 Lena at the recent NEO showroom event in Bethnal Green.

Lena at the recent NEO showroom event in Bethnal Green.

How do you approach your writing? Do you have a vision for the piece you want to create or the story you want to tell before you begin, or is it more spontaneous?

My writing process differs from piece to piece. For stories and longer pieces I usually start with a theme or a message that I want to get across. That is the epicentre—everything else (the plot, the characters, the scenery, etc.) branches out from that. 

With the novel I’m working on, however, it began with a very clear vision of the main character in their home—I knew their name, their occupation and their story arch a year before I began writing the book. This period, from the idea’s manifestation to its actual inception, allowed an organic growth that I’ve found to be invaluable. 

My poetry, however, is very spontaneous. My poems are all very emotion rather than plot driven, and so how I’m feeling is always my starting point. I’ve never made myself write a poem, rather when I feel as though I have something to say (even though at that point I have no idea what it is), I put pen to paper and let my words do all the expression.

 

Have you found that having feet in both the literary & visual canons has influenced your work in either field? Do you find the two complimentary?

Absolutely! Like many of the Romantic writers I look up to, my work often employs visual cues, metaphors and similes (mostly from Nature). I’m also an avid (albeit very amateur) photographer, and so have a very keen eye for beauty. This constant observation of the world translates into image-heavy stories and poems, which I think is now my personal style.

  Les Lares , one of the apothecary labels carried by  NEO by Lena .

Les Lares, one of the apothecary labels carried by NEO by Lena.

The philosophy of minimalism goes hand in hand with the concept of quality. When you have fewer possessions, the little you do have tends to be of greater quality.
— Lena Aisha, founder of NEO by Lena

You mentioned to me previously how Dominique Loreau’s ‘L’Art de la Simplicité' influenced your approach to consumerism. What was it about her approach to life that most struck you?

It was the idea of “decluttering” that really struck me, and how, without even noticing it, most of us are “burdened by our possessions”. We all (hopefully) go through a spring clean every year where we chuck away things we haven’t used in eons. But we still hold on to a plethora of pieces we do not need, be it for sentimental reasons or purely because we’re hoarders. 

Loreau’s book helped me realise that the clutter we accumulate can have an enormous impact on our life—one that is almost imperceptible because it is so gradual. The book details the importance of living a minimalist lifestyle and how the order it brings can counteract everyday feelings of stress and anxiety and improve our self-image and overall quality of life.

 

How do you fulfil this philosophy through NEO?

The philosophy of minimalism goes hand in hand with the concept of quality. When you have fewer possessions, the little you do have tends to be of greater quality. That is what I’ve tried to bring with NEO. I have and still am trying to create a compendium of high-quality pieces.

 

How did NEO come into being?

I think I fell into the fashion industry quite coincidentally. I was looking for ways to apply Loreau’s teachings of minimalism in a new project and at the time found myself very drawn to the sartorial world. The two combined to create what you see now.

 A design by  Meraki Collections , from  NEO by Lena .

A design by Meraki Collections, from NEO by Lena.

Have you any particular influences in the visual arts, in fashion, photography or otherwise?

In the visual arts, I’m very drawn to the works of photographers Yousuf Karsh, Richard Avedon and Steve McCurry. I think it’s the way they were and are able to capture the essence of the human spirit in a single frame, with Avedon’s portrait of Ezra Pound being perhaps my favourite photograph of all time. In the more traditional world of painting I’m influenced by the works of Friedrich (whose Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog is currently my favourite painting), Erte and Goya. Their work can evoke emotions and inspire certain moods.

The films of directors Behn Zeitlin and Richard Linklater are also influential in my story-telling, as both create movies that examine the human experience with great rawness and sensitivity. Fashion-wise, my personal taste is quite eclectic and varies from season to season, but I do greatly admire the Parisian sense of style, especially Caroline de Maigret’s, and English fashion director Sarah Harris. Two fashion-houses that I’m also very drawn to are Chloé and Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafino.

As you can tell, I have a wide range of artistic influences, but I suppose the common theme running through them all is, first and foremost, an examination of the human experience, and, secondly, a focus on individuality and self-expression. These ideals are ones that I share, and find to be the foundation of every one of my endeavours.

Additionally, Chimamanda Ngozi and Tracy Reese are two artists that motivate me to be successful. Their influence comes from their reaching success not just as women, but as women of colour, and in doing so breaking down barriers in a world that is often prejudiced. They’ve inspired me to forge my own path and hopefully be the impetus for others to do the same.

Interview—Besma, founder of Curiously Conscious

Besma documents the places she explores and the stories of those who are "doing a little more" though her blog Curiously Conscious. She shares with us the stories behind her approach to mindful living, tips on how to live more sustainably and gives an insight into her top natural beauty products in our interview below.


...I always try to give myself personal time, whether that’s a walk on my lunch break, or time alone in bed, to keep me mindful.
— Besma, founder of Curiously Conscous
 A series for  Curiously Conscious —Besma shares her  Sunday Reads  regularly including inspiring articles, magazines & books.

A series for Curiously Conscious—Besma shares her Sunday Reads regularly including inspiring articles, magazines & books.

You mentioned to me before that you've "worn a few hats over the last three years of writing—mindful lifestyle, conscious lifestyle, wellness lifestyle". Has it been a natural progression through each, from one to the other?

I feel like it’s been a natural progression along with my own life, really. I started writing when I first became conscious of eating healthily, and now I’m conscious of the natural and cruelty-free beauty products I buy, the ethically-made clothes I wear, even the food waste I make!

What, for you, distinguishes these lifestyles from each other?

I think there are many things overlapping with a mindful lifestyle, conscious lifestyle, wellness lifestyle—they all aim to demystify decision making, leading to better choices and more happiness.

How do you approach your daily life in a more mindful way?

I suppose it’s second-nature to me now, but there are simple things I do—I carry a rucksack with essentials like a bottle, cutlery, cotton bags to be more zero waste. I ignore sales and fashion ads, and instead follow brands whose ethos I share. And I always try to give myself personal time, whether that’s a walk on my lunch break, or time alone in bed, to keep me mindful.

 An image from Besma's recent post   Holidaying in Crete  .

An image from Besma's recent post Holidaying in Crete.

What is it about this approach to living that inspires you?

It’s probably cliché, but I grew up watching a lot of Disney films, and their protagonists are always good, kind, honest people. When you’re a child, you want to be them! When you’re an adult, it’s a lot harder to discern what’s good and kind and honest, but I’m finding this approach certainly helps!

It's wonderful that sustainability has become more of a movement in the last couple of years. How have you seen your audience respond to this?

It’s such a good thing—I feel happy to see it grow! I think my audience has become a lot more aware of sustainability issues, especially in their consumerism, and that’s thanks to campaigns such as Fashion Revolution or movements like Zero Waste. It’s great to feel like there’s a big group of people out there that also support what you do—it really makes a difference.

What is it that makes your want to share the stories of the "products, places and people that are doing a little more"?

I think it all started with my first blog, which was a kitsch indie music blog where I wanted to share little bands that I had discovered and loved. In a certain way it was like being a follower on social media before social media existed! Now though, I like to think that I’m helping create a greener place despite yet having the ability and opportunity to run my own green business… Stay tuned!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to live more sustainably?

I would say look at your own life first, and see what little changes you can make. Not all changes suit everyone—I still buy more plastic than I care to admit—but the little things will keep you feeling inspired. The eco-friendly toothbrush you clean your teeth with, or the ethically-made handbag that you wear—they become reminders of living sustainably and can lead to even bigger, better things.

You've reviewed so many wonderful beauty products over the years! What are your top three?

Ah, that’s a difficult one! They change based on my skin and the season, but right now I would say my Albus & Flora Lip Balm, Ere Perez Mascara and RMS Un-Cover Up.

 Besma shares a handful of her of her everyday favourite  natural beauty products .

Besma shares a handful of her of her everyday favourite natural beauty products.