Welcome to this weeks Future Female, Wonder Woman, Nicola St Louis, who talks about the importance of finding your tribe. And why encouraging young Women to speak out and raise their expectations of what they deserve from society is the way forward.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
NSL: Although I came from a very academic family with a mother who studied fashion design and a father who is an architect, art design, fashion and music was very much a part of my childhood. From my mother allowing me to ‘creative consult’ on the clothes she used to make for me, to going to see ballet dress rehearsals during my school holidays at the royal festival hall and I lapped it all up. I had the obligatory dressing up box – which some may say I have never grown out of! – Which grew into a love for customising and costume.
At school however, I maintained a keen interest in academia studying politics at A level leading onto a degree in the same subject. After uni and that initial “ oh my god, now I have to get a job’! panic I got a job as music administrator for Arts council London and worked at DKNY to keep my hand in fashion and retail. At one stage I had 3 jobs – one of them being customising jeans for some clients I had at my DKNY retail job. After being promoted to senior visual merchandiser for DKNY international I left there to join Miss Selfridge, as display manager where I stayed for 9 1/2 years before joining Anthropologie.
Q: Can you tell us something about your role at Anthropologie and how you got into visual merchandising?
NSL: Getting into VM was something that happened to me based on ability, passion and enthusiasm rather than something I trained for. I started working for Gap kids in their flagship store when I was 16 connected with the VM manager there and we then went on workshops around the stores in central London setting up standards and developing visual proposition. By this point I was hooked. It made my heart beat fast, I enjoyed the problem solving and the sense of achievement – and these are still the 3 questions I ask myself when looking at any new project or challenges that I have today. They are my deal breakers.
My current role is that of a district visual manager for Anthropologie Europe. I manage the creative teams across 5 UK stores and concessions in Paris and Nice. On a day-to-day basis that could mean anything from signing off floor layouts, apparel homeware concepts, mannequin styling, or feeding back on display presentations. My role is also to develop the teams I manage – enabling them to become even more creative and to ensure that the high visual standards that the brand is known for are maintained.
Q: What does Future Female mean to you?
NSL: Education – this is really where it begins for me. We need to educate girls and young women – our future females – in how to raise their expectations of what they deserve from their peers, partners, employers and society as a whole. We need to educate them to recognise overt and covert prejudice and discrimination. We need to educate them that they don’t have to compromise their bodies or minds to be accepted.
Empowerment – we need to empower young women to have a voice. To speak up for themselves and to speak up for each other. To speak up where they see discrimination, and where they see the need for change. To empower them to realize that they can support each other without implication or better yet not to care.
Emancipation – from stereotypes, outdated perceptions of femininity and ‘traditional‘ women’s roles. Freedom to write our own story.
Education + Empowerment + Emancipation = Equality. End game. What the future female needs to claim.
Q: What is your creative process?
NSL: I used to think that I was a creative in the purest sense but the older I get and the more I understand myself, I realise that I do need some parameters of organisation within the creativity! It usually starts with collation, – of images, colours, cultural references – even feelings – lots and lots of tear sheeting – and I do prefer good old fashioned magazine images. There is always the internet, but for me you can’t beat a mood wall! – Then brainstorming with my teams and creative collaborators to refine, edit and focus so that we can apply timescales and deadlines. In the different phases of my career I have had to undergo this process alone, within teams and leading the teams I manage. I think it’s important to be able to do all three.
Q: What do you love about your job?
NSL: Working for Anthropologie was always a dream job for me. The level of skill, detail and beauty that goes into how the stores look is like nothing I have experienced before. We used to go o the stores for inspiration when I worked for other brands and just stare at the visuals’ proposition and environment wondering how they have been created.
Now, not only do I know, I’ve been a part of the process and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.
I also love the inclusivity of the creative process. Its not that its ‘design by committee, but everybody can contribute to the finished article in fact its actively encouraged.
Q: Can you tell us about a project that is inspiring you at the moment, whether it be at work or a personal project?
NSL: I am currently involved in a super exciting project involving a collective collaboration of women who are developing an interdependent store concept. At the moment we are working on a pop up shop…. Watch this space!
Q: There is a shift in how and where women work, with the rise of small business entrepreneurs, what do you think of this?
NSL: I’ve experienced this first hand and I think this is a great movement, my mother being one of these superwomen who decided to change the narrative of her working life. She had worked in the public sector for years and then decided to reeducate, retrain and open her own small business in a completely different field. She works incredibly hard, but I know she finds so much joy in being her own boss. I cannot tell you how much I admire the guts and motivation that it took to start all over again taking such a big risk jumping into the unknown. I applaud her and other entrepreneurs like her in larger companies I think that flexibility in the workplace is essential for a dynamic and productive workforce. It improves quality of life and the quality of the work produced.
Q: What is inspiring you at the moment? Whether it’s creatively, personally or a friendship?
NSL: I am currently finding so much joy in my tribe at the moment soooo much. Years ago I read Kelly Kutrone ‘s autobiography called “if you have to cry, go outside” and while her life was a rollercoaster of a ride, there was one particular passage on ‘finding your tribe’ that really resonated with me. She spoke about curating a tribe – a support network – a council of peers, elders and like minded individuals who can be from any aspect of your life and who you can call on for advice, support or just a belly laugh over a glass of something nice. I really find that at this moment in my life I have got my tribe right – and lemme tell you, it took a while! They provide balance and a reality check and it’s a reciprocal relationship. All of my tribe relationships have integrity. Yoga is also a huuuge influence on my life that is a relatively recent development. But now wouldn’t be without it. Its one of the most fulfilling and inspiring things I’ve ever done.
Q: If there were one thing you would change about your life as a woman what would it be?
NSL: There is nothing I would change about being a woman. I love it. We are diverse, complicated beautiful creatures that are so incredibly powerful. I wish we could recognise, unify and harness that power more than we do – so perhaps the answer to the question is, I wish as a gender we had more awareness of the gravity of our power and how solidarity could make us even more powerful.
Q: Are there key messages you believe which should pass on to the next female generation or indeed to the current generation when it comes to gender equality? And how important do you think it is to change your story around gender?
NSL: Ask for what you want. Fight for what you deserve.
I don’t want to have to keep seeing that men and women are paid differently for the same job, that there are less women in board rooms even though they are as qualified and that women are still underrepresented in parliament when they make up 50% of the population. My hope for the future is that gender should continue to be part of the dialogue (how can we enable and empower women, how can we create opportunity? how can we ensure representation and equality?) but today we start to work towards changing the rhetoric and establishment to make sure that we don’t continue to hear the same old story around gender inequality.
Q: What are you reading at the moment?
NSL: I’m currently laughing my way through Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. Its one of those books you pick up to read a chapter of and find yourself laughing like a madwoman on the tube… I have taken to reading it in private spaces now…I’m savouring it as I don’t want it to end…also just started re reading the power by Naomi alderman. It. Blew. Me. Away. The first time I read it…its so relevant it’s like reading an alternative version of history. I’m recommending it to everyone.
Q: How would you describe your style?
NSL: That really depends on how I feel on any given day so I suppose you could say eclectic! I love texture, colour print and mixing it up although I can never be too far away from a leather biker or I’ll start to come out in hives! I definitely dress to please myself and I like the freedom that gives me to experiment. Fortunately London offers up inspiration by the bucket load and really lets you be whichever character you choose to be on any given day.
I am incredibly grateful to Nicola St Louis for being part of the Future Female series, providing inspiration to Women across generations, to go out and be the Future Female they wish to see in the world.
Want to join in the conversation? Head to the Join Us link on the blog menu and we will be in touch. We would love to hear from Women who have positive stories promoting gender equality, or challenging stories, where support may be needed.