Community is important now more than ever. A few weeks ago I spoke with Lisa Barrett and Lindsay Baker who host Ladies, Wine & Design in Birmingham. The program helps bring together creatives that identify as female to champion their work, build supportive networks and raise the conversation about issues affecting women in design.
First of all relating to current events, how are you both?
Lisa – I’m good thank you. It’s such a strange time to be living in, I’ve certainly had my up and down moments as I’m sure we all have over the last few weeks. It’s all very surreal, but I’m focusing on feeling grateful and keeping as busy as possible. Work-wise it’s a very turbulent time, most of my upcoming projects have been cancelled, so I’m trying to stay hopeful that things will improve for us all in the coming months.
Lindsay – It’s such a weird time for everyone and I have just been focusing on taking things day by day, as some days I can feel fine and then some days can feel more of a struggle. With being freelance it has made the work situation very precarious, and like Lisa I’ve had lots of projects cancelled, so I’m trying to use the opportunity to do some volunteer work and play with side projects to try and keep the creative bit of my brain going! And leaving plenty of time for running while the weather has thankfully been so good to us.
Can you tell us about your backgrounds in terms of design – have you always been freelance?
Lisa – I’ve been freelance for five years now. When I first graduated I worked for a small brand and digital agency, there were only around five of us. I was there for around four years before moving to a larger agency. However after a year of being there, I really missed being client facing, and missed having more valued creative input. I think it was quite a culture shock moving from such a tight knit team, to a larger structure with a lot more politics. It wasn’t really for me, so I decided to go freelance and haven’t looked back since.
Lindsay – I originally came from an Arts Marketing background, and worked as a Comms Officer at an independent cinema and photography gallery after I graduated. As budgets were tight at the venue we couldn’t outsource any design so I ended up teaching myself and designing print in-house, and then decided to go back to college to study part time for a HND in Graphic Design. I built up my portfolio working with a number of small agencies before moving to an agency where I progressed to Design Director, helping to lead a studio of 7 designers. I decided to make the move to go freelance in 2017 as I wanted to have more control over the kind of clients I work with, which is mainly the arts and cultural sector, charities and education. I felt that my skill set allowed me to offer all the facets of an agency, but in a more personalised package, and I love having the opportunity to work so closely with my clients.
For people who might not know what Ladies Wine & Design is, can you explain a bit about it?
Ladies, Wine & Design was founded by designer Jessica Walsh, it began in New York and is now present in over 260 cities worldwide. It exists to bring together creatives that identify as female to champion their work, build supportive networks and raise the conversation about issues affecting women in design.
What made you push for a Birmingham representative for Ladies Wine & Design and how did it all come together?
We actually first met at a Ladies, Wine & Design Brum meet up around five years ago, when it was hosted by Charlotte & Kerry. After working together on the Birmingham Design Festival Team we decided to relaunch the chapter taking the reins from Kerry and Charlotte who were busy with other projects. We felt that there was space for a female-led network to really give female creatives an opportunity to be heard, and promote the many talented women living, working and studying in the West Midlands.
We’re really keen to put on a diverse programme of events, from exhibitions to portfolio reviews, panel talks and social meet-ups. Our focus is to broaden our network further than just graphic designers, the city has so many talented designers and makers across lots of fields from architecture to jewellery design, so we also want to champion those women.
Numbers show that there’s a very small percentage of women leading the creative industry. We believe we can change that through mentorship and championing others’ work. Whilst there is still gender inequality in our industry, we think there is good reason for us to have a voice.
For men working with female & non binary creatives, what can they do to help change the numbers?
We think it’s important that we involve people of all genders in our conversation about parity in the workplace, it can’t just be women discussing the issues amongst themselves. As with all things surrounding achieving true equality and diversity it’s about challenging yourself and the conscious or unconscious decisions you make, we all need to be more aware of this. We think men (and women) have to call out behaviour that’s unacceptable and seek to build a team environment and culture, that allows all voices to be heard, that allows women and men to take career breaks (whether parental or for caring roles), that pays equally, that gives women equal chances for progression.
Traditional design agencies often have quite a laddish culture, and this alpha-dominance has long ruled in traditional agency structures, with many creative teams where women are in the minority, and even less women at higher seniority levels. This will only change if recruiters and creative directors actively seek more diverse teams at all levels. If creative teams remain mainly led by white male ideas, the ideas will always be the same, we have to push to change that. A diverse team will create a more varied range of design solutions that will help to meet the needs of a wider type of audience, ultimately creating more relevance for the agency’s creative output.
Being conscious of how accounts are shared around the studio team to allow balance in how creatives’ portfolios can develop, and ensuring equal opportunities across the team to pitch or access training are things which every agency should be constantly reviewing. Challenging structures and creatively addressing how pay, rewards and working hours could change to better suit the team should be an important part of each agency’s design process.
Lindsay – You and your husband run an independent fashion and art brand called True Reverie. Can you explain what that’s all about and what made you start it?
True Reverie is a fashion and apparel brand which we launched in January 2019 that aims to carry a message of positivity for Wolverhampton and the West Midlands, the people who live here and their cultural heritage. We began True Reverie with the aim to counter the negative press that our city and region often unfairly receives, through celebrating the things that make it a great area to live in, helping to build optimism and promote local pride.
We are proud to be an ethically conscious brand, using only water-based ink on Fair Wear garments, designed and screen-printed by us here in Wolverhampton. Our designs all tell different stories of life and culture in Wolverhampton and The Black Country, with collections so far referencing music, sport and industry. We also regularly curate pop-up events in Wolves, bringing a community of local creatives, designer-makers and musicians together to showcase talent within independent venues on the high street. We can’t wait to get back to doing more of these when this is all over!
Lisa – Can you explain a bit about why your favourite working relationships are often with independent brands and if you have one project in particular that highlights this reasoning?
When I worked in agencies I worked with lots of big brands, which I enjoyed, but it’s never the same as when you get to work with independent brands and the personal relationship you build with the client and their company. I think as a person I thrive on these relationships and really enjoy truly getting to know a brand and the people behind it.
How important do you think personal and side projects are to a creative person?
Lisa – They are always an important outlet, personally I like to learn new creative skills, I’m currently learning ceramics, so it’s good to try my hand at something that is not screen-based. There can be a lot of pressure on creatives though to always have a side hustle, so you do have to manage that creative energy and make sure you don’t over do it.
Lindsay – I really believe in making time for passion projects when you can, to allow you do things that inspire you personally. True Reverie was born out of an idea to do our first t-shirt design as a side project, which soon blossomed into a brand in its own right, and we’ve now sent our designs to people all around the world. So that has been really lovely to see how a creative idea can grow to create impact and be something that you can own and be proud of.
With your involvement with LWD and BDF, you seem to be amongst a group of individuals that are pushing heavily for a creative community in Birmingham, how important is that to you?
Lisa – I’ve been really fortunate to benefit in many ways from the creative community in Birmingham from career opportunities to meeting some of my best friends and my partner. It’s been vital to my career and personal life over the last decade. So I want to help build and sustain that community so it can grow and benefit more people. I think Birmingham has a certain charm of its own, the city is so small and therefore means we can easily build a very powerful community. We all want to build a stronger creative future for the city and we can do that more successfully when we come together and share our ideas.
Lindsay – I’ve spent a lot of time in Birmingham, through university and then my career, and a lot of my clients are based in Birmingham so it has been great to see such a thriving creative community develop and I am really pleased to be helping in our small way so that the community can reach out to even more people. We have such a diverse creative sector and the strength of our network will be in that diversity and the exciting, unique collaborations that can come out of it.
With the likes of Slack channels and forums being created, do you find the response from the Birmingham creative community reassuring and encouraging during this time?
Lisa – Everyone is facing a really tough time at the moment, and I think certainly in the first couple of weeks of social distancing, we were all rushing to online communities as a method of coping with a huge life change. It’s really nice to see that we can continue to support each other and meet other creatives online, and also just share in some lighthearted conversation and pet photos too.
Lindsay – I think our network in Birmingham is really welcoming and inclusive and the Birmingham Design slack channel is just one great example of creating somewhere to go online where we can ask questions, share news or random thoughts and see what each other are up to during what could be a lonely time for people. It’s reassuring to know that we are all feeling the same!
What advice would you give to other women who are aspiring creatives or who are experiencing discrimination in the work place?
Lisa – It can be really tough to speak out or challenge your workplace if you experience something negative, for fear of losing your job or making enemies. But you really do have to try and find the courage not just for yourself but for all other women. It’s always useful to sound out and get advice on confidence from other women in the industry, and get their perspective, I often wish as a younger woman I would have asked for advice from more senior female creatives.
Lindsay – And that’s why we try to have lots of different women involved in our LW&D events, from different creative backgrounds, at different stages of their career and with experience of different worlds. So that we can engage and inspire women to see what can be possible and take that power into their own hands; to ask for that pay rise, or more flexible working hours, or simply to be appreciated fully in their role. The qualities which make women a great asset to the team may be different from men, and these qualities are just as important to create a balanced culture and creative output so we must value them in ourselves.
During this crazy time, is there anything that you’re really into at the moment that is keeping you sane? Any podcasts, books, TV Shows, Music etc?
Lisa – This week I’ve been watching a fair bit of Netflix including Tiger King (How bizarre is that) and the new season of Ozark. I’ve been listening to Happy Place (by Fearne Cotton) and doing lots of virtual pilates and yoga. Lindsay’s soul playlist is definitely a winner for upping the positive vibes. (Go check it out)
Lindsay – Making playlists has been a fun pastime for me since we’ve been staying at home, music can always help me feel better and escape so it’s nice to create something that other people can dance round their living room to and forget about the news for a while! I’ve been making the most of mixing up my exercise between yoga, walking and runs in this beautiful weather. And I’ve started Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust trilogy as I was a massive fan of His Dark Materials, so that will keep me going for a bit!