As the people who follow our blog will know already, we are big fans of independent fashion and designers. We love projects that showcase this talent and scene, and although the catwalk show and the magazine photo-shoots are the things that catch the eye and write the headlines, the people behind the scenes that make things happen are the driving force behind that end result. We recently sat down with one of those very people: Sam Ward.
Sam has been heavily involved in the 'Leeds Scene' for a number of years. This is based in both personal and professional roots - She is friends with pretty much every cool indie designer and store owner in the city and she has worked for Leeds Guide and Harvey Nichols in the past, something she looks back on fondly:
"The Leeds Guide, was possibly the most fun you could have at work. Everyone talks about how great The Leeds Guide is, and I still love reading it now – there’s nothing like it in the North, they’re a great bunch of people with a true passion for the city, being independent themselves, they have this hugely balanced view of what Leeds needs. From there, I fell into the Press and Marketing job at Harvey Nichols. I was well out of my depth and learnt a lot of very harsh lessons very quickly. Luckily, I had a great mentor who pushed me right over the edge – I needed it in order to prove to everyone (including myself) that I could do that job really well. I miss the store every day – it has this really eclectic mix of people engulfed in this crazy fashion bubble – I love it!"
We got to know Sam last year during two Marketing Leeds projects: Leeds in Vancouver and Leeds in Barcelona. The Barcelona project gave a taster of the fashion talent Leeds has and the Vancouver project showcased that talent in a huge way to an international audience. Sam was one of the main players in the Vancouver project and we asked her how it had come about:
"I think we were all a little stunned with how it came about. I knew that Lisa Chadderton (who used to be Marketing Manager at Corn Exchange) was working on Vancouver Fashion Week and thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for James (Steward). I spoke to Marketing Leeds very briefly about what a fantastic opportunity it was for not only the designers but to promote Leeds as a city on an international stage, put a proposal together overnight and crossed my fingers. I was a bit teary when we got the go-ahead as I knew it was such an exciting project for everyone involved.
My primary role was to build relationships with international media, and maximise every opportunity to promote the designers and our wonderful city. In reality, I looked after everything from writing the press releases to dressing models on the day – it was an overwhelming experience, and in spite of a couple of hairy moments, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I also had some fantastic support over there from Katherine Busby – she is now the Events Manager at Harvey Nichols, having previously worked as Marketing Manager for Marketing Leeds – we had never worked together before, but made a fantastic team and it would be great to work with her again in the future."
We followed the project with interest back here in the UK. We always believe in the talent from our home city but to receive international acclaim and recognition is proof that the belief in well placed. We asked Sam to talk about the reaction to the show:
"Everyone has been unbelievably supportive and positive about the project. I think it changed many people’s perceptions about Marketing Leeds, and rightly so. It’s not easy for them as an organisation to keep everybody happy, and this was a fantastically creative way of promoting Leeds as a leading retail destination.
I wrote guest blogs for The Guardian which was a major highlight, and the comments on there were amazing – it was just good to see that so many people believed in what we were doing. My Dad told me that my three blogs were like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy – great start, a bit confusing in the middle but with a cracking final chapter. I was like, ‘Cheers, Dad’! I added all the blogs to my Facebook and people who I went to school with 15 years ago were messaging me to say how amazing the project was. The best feedback was from Leeds innovators and those pushing for change in the city – they have a completely different approach and it was great to see that they were just as excited as I was.
James and I have some very exciting plans in the pipeline which we can’t really talk about just yet. It’s been such a whirlwind since we returned from Vancouver, and we’ve gone from spending every second either together or on the phone to each other to having a little bit of time out. We’re working on a list of target boutiques, talking to manufacturers and getting some fantastic advice from Marketing Leeds on how best to take the James Steward brand to the next level. I’ll continue with my day job – I’m very lucky to work with a team of incredibly talented people; it just means that I’ll be burning the midnight oil for the foreseeable future!"
As we have said in lots of our 'introducing' posts, we are developing a number of projects at the moment, working with some of the city's most interesting talent and influencers. We actually had our first 'official' meet in December. Team Hebe are very excited about some of the projects coming out of this group of people and Sam feels the same:
"I’m excited and humbled to be collaborating with so many talented individuals on upcoming projects. When Lee sent through the introductions e-mail I couldn’t believe I was going to be working with all these amazing people. I’ve followed Bangs and a Bun for ages; she’s nuts but I just love her – she’s straight talking, and that’s super-important in a project like this. I think there can be times when influencers meet and talk a lot, without saying anything at all – that won’t happen with us – I can see us all having an opinion on everything, and leaving each meeting with a list of action points as long as our arms – and that’s definitely a good thing!
In terms of how it can help the city, having a team of highly creative, dedicated individuals who are all pushing to challenge perceptions of our city can only be a good thing. I think we all know from experience that a project doesn’t have to be big budget and ‘jazz hands’ in order for it to be successful – all you need is a lot of people who want to make it happen."
We agree 100% with Sam and are looking forward to working on things with her this year. She is one of the most important cogs in Leeds' underground and provides brilliant support to some of our best talent. Keep up the good work Sam!
More 'introducing' posts here: