Alice Leverton’s creative outputs build bridges for artists, that they often might not think of doing themselves. Curating charitable events as Smoke + Mirrors Collective in the past, Alice now co-spearheads The Ugly Girls Club; a brutally honest brand focused on the fight against society’s appalling standards for women.
(Photographs taken by LILY BROWN. Poster illustrated by LOIS ORCHARD)
Okay so first can you describe yourself as a creative for those who might not know you and your work?
I make space for creative work/ideas in the community. I always saw myself as someone who could bridge the gap between people making art but not really knowing what to do with it. My brain is a constant flow of ideas of how to communicate art through events/projects/fundraisers/ exhibitions.
The first event that anyone puts on tends to be a ball of stress, trying to flesh out exactly what needs to be done, who needs to be contacted, what to buy etc. how did you find the first event you did with Smoke and Mirrors? What process did you go through getting it all sorted?
Technically the first S+M event was a uni project, which was a definite ball of stress, but I’ll answer this question about the first public event I curated for S+M outside of education because it will probably be more interesting to read. Design Fair Brighton was a product of finding out about my dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, I was entirely driven by putting some good out in the world after being thrust into a whirlwind of shit and negativity so I decided to relaunch S+M as a business to support emerging artists and charity organisations through creative fundraisers. It ended up raising over £3000 and involved 52 local artists, so it was a pretty huge win all round. The first review of that event mentioned that it ‘introduces the concept of owning contemporary art to a youthful audience.’ and that really stuck with me as something I wanted to continue to achieve – the whole process is just a means to an end that can change the way we think/go about things.
I have to be honest I didn’t find it too difficult to figure out what needed to be done, I’m an irritatingly organised person and the planning stage of events has always seemed like second nature to me which is why I naturally fell into it once I discovered I could use it as a creative outlet. I swear by lists and notebooks. My advice to anyone would be write down everything you think you’re going to need, and anything not on your list probably isn’t that important because it’s not on your list. Trust your instincts, the world not going to implode if you don’t get a drinks sponsor.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from Smoke + Mirrors Collective that you brought on board to The Ugly Girls Club?
To constantly remind myself why I started doing it in the first place. And to recognise when I’m feeling pressure for a reason and when I’m just needlessly putting it on myself – then let it go. Self induced pressure has nearly been the demise of my career more times than I care to think about. I found it’s helpful to remember that this wouldn’t exist in the world without me. So whatever I do for it is what it is, no ones expecting anything from me or my work.
What made you decide to move from S+M to T.U.G.C.? Do you miss putting on events as a regular thing?
It wasn’t really a straight transition, they overlapped for about a year. When The Ugly Girls Club started it quite quickly became my main hustle over smoke+mirrors and my priorities changed. I think because I hadn’t previously considered myself a feminist; I was learning a lot about myself, the movement, why it’s incredibly important for all women, and the part I can play in giving a voice to that. smoke+mirrors started to torment me. It became something I was failing at because I couldn’t give it everything anymore, and it’s really hard to stay about and relevant with events as they’re time consuming, costly, and you have to constantly think of new ideas for them. When my dad died this summer, I decided to let go of it and move forward. In many ways it started with him, and ended with him. I wanted to allow it to be something that existed with me for that period of time when I needed it, and not come to resent it. I do miss regular events because for a long time it defined me, but then again that’s not always a good road to go down for yourself creatively. It’s been good to take on challenges outside of my comfort zone.
Obviously the name for T.U.G.C. reflects the stance pretty it takes eponymously; how did you go about branding T.U.G.C. and how did you land on a pants subscription to start with?
Branding The Ugly Girls was relatively straight forward because it’s just a visual representation of what we are. We are confident, bold, loud and playful so that’s how everything looks. The font we use for the logo/graphics for products is very simple because the word ‘Ugly’ says it all really. Our shoots and social media aren’t heavily curated it’s just girls saying what they want to say, doing what they want to do, showing what they want to show; anything goes really. It’s just us being us and being allowed to do so. I’m a crippling perfectionist for visual details and Hillary, my partner in ugly, is a lot more chilled as long as the message is right so it’s a nice balance really. We started with a pants subscription because it was a good way of communicating the whole ‘club’ idea, but also a way of working with a load of other women who could give more to the conversation than the two of us can alone. We chose pants because gals love pants.
What difficulties did you face with the pants subscription that made you cancel it in the end?
Our supplier went into administration (As if we needed any more excuses to hate on Dov fucking Charney) so we had to put it on hold until we found another one. We then realised ethical pants wholesalers just aren’t a thing that exist in this world. That’s been a huge set back in the sales side of things. We will relaunch the subscription when we’re back on track with pants, but probably not monthly as it felt like each subject/artist wasn’t being given enough time and attention in just 4 weeks. Especially when we’re dealing with triggering/political/emotional subjects.
You have seen coverage for T.U.G.C. in some high profile websites (HIGHSNOBIETY for instance), how beneficial do you really think this has been for the brand; and what would you tell fresh creatives to do in order to garner some attention to their own brand in a positive way?
It’s been hugely beneficial to the brand! It’s a real nice feeling when you start a little thing to put your ideas out into the world and big media platforms email you like ‘hey, we like what you’re doing here, we want to give coverage to that’ or ‘We’re writing something about this and want you to inform it’. Each time we’ve been featured somewhere it has grown our audience and allowed us to reach people that we couldn’t have found ourselves. As all the press has been quite varied we now have a lot of people of different ages/places/backgrounds/experiences which helps us to educate ourselves and develop the brand. We work a lot differently now to how we did because, quite simply, more people are listening and we have a responsibility to make a difference with what we’re doing. We’ve been unusually lucky I think with the coverage we’ve had (not to undermine a lot of hard work) but I’d say to fresh creatives: if you’re saying or doing something important, or to make this world a little more bearable, scream it loudly and unapologetically. People will notice.
T.U.G.C. as a brief synopsis is a column of resilience standing against society’s bullshit standards for women – what plans do you have for the next steps for the brand?
The next big step is to move into education. We’re developing seminars and workshops for all age groups to tackle the issues of identity, shame culture, rape culture and how this impacts self confidence and worth. The issues we see in society towards appearance, gender, sexuality etc. are being engrained in people from a worryingly young age and we want to find a way to have positive conversations to combat this.
What’s the best and worst advice you’ve been given as a creative so far?
Best – If you don’t like it, don’t do it.
Worst – File for self assessment.
What’s the best cheapo dirt ass scuzzy meal in Brighton for under a tenner and what drink do you choose?
The kebab shop round the corner from The Haunt is bangin. I’m veggie now though so my passion for dirty kebabs has taken a nose dive. Red stripe, always red stripe.
What’s the coolest moment you’ve had so far as a creative?
Being approached at my first event to collaborate on TEDxBrighton. I was approached by Hillary – who is now my partner in The Ugly Girls Club and my best friend. That moment was a game changer in lots of ways.