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Eda Levenson Is The Nail Artist Establishing Equity In The Creative Industry

This week we sat down with Eda Levenson, the founder of Lady Fancy Nails (LFN) and the co-founder of Scope of Work (SOW). Her brand LFN and nail art have been featured on several heavy hitting platforms such as Vogue, Dazed, ID, and Office magazine, while her talent agency, SOW, is creating a major impact in the fashion and media industries by diversifying and bridging the gap for POC folks by creating more opportunities. Eda’s experience in the fashion and education sectors makes her unique and a stand out creative who’s standing up for the under-represented in the media industry. Her story sheds light and introduces important issues and perspectives to the culture we live in. Get to know Eda more below and step into the world of LFN, nail art, and SOW.

How did you first become interested in nail art? 

Creativity was always my mode of expression all throughout my childhood and early adulthood. The thing that had initially attracted me to nail art is that it’s this really intricate expressive way to commutate your identity as a person and your individuality on your body. I found that nail art is this ultra –expressive and artistic way of communicating a way of who you are as a person. So I started practicing with my friends and at the time it was really important for me to create this circle of people around me that I felt like I wanted to explore this art form and that really what got me going.

What is LFN? How did it get started? 

LFN stands for Lady Fancy Nails. LFN is this opportunity for people to tap into their ancient sources of power. When I first started LFN and I was defining my brand and  purpose as an artist, so much of it was around women and femme identifying people.  We have this innate intuition as women and that’s our source of power because we live in a world where we’re constantly being crushed. We are subjected to so much dominance over our bodies, over the way we look, over the way we function, and interact with the world. So as I started practicing nail art it became evident to me that there is this incredibly powerful practice and opportunity to bring people together. Also, for women to embrace  something that was rooted in self-care and what I see it as radical self-care. The better we are as people the better we can resist against dominant powers. It was also a way for people to tap into their own individuality and express that through their bodies, through their nails. It’s not like your clothes or a tattoo. The thing about LFN, its constantly evolving and giving people opportunities to show up in the world in a new expressive way.

What inspires you the most when doing nail art?

So there are two sources; first it’s about connecting with people. That’s actually the thing that I appreciate most about my craft now is that it connects me to people in my life and builds time in our hectic lives in New York to spend time  with one another other. I have built a lot of close friendships because of nails. It makes me love what I do so much because it gives us these moments of intimacy that most people don’t have the opportunity for anymore.

The second source of inspiration is  people’s personal styles and aesthetic. I try to make  sure that it doesn’t just look like my artwork placed on someone’s body. I work to get an idea  of who they are as a person, a sense of what they’re style,  and then match that through my designs.

Can you explain what SOW’s function is and its purpose of diversifying the industry? How is SOW accomplishing this?

Scope Of Work is a talent development agency for young creative of color that establishes equity in the creative industry. I co-founded SOW with Geneva White, who is an incredible photographer. This work is deeply personal for the both of us as two women of color who are artists and educators. From inception, it was critical for us to design a model with a deep commitment to ensuring that young people of color have a rightful place in the creative community, have the capacity to flourish, and can act on their influence and power.

At its core, Scope Of Work is about dismantling and addressing how dominant culture has sustained systems of oppression and institutional racism. These mechanisms of isolation have existed for generations because our country was built on slavery and genocide and as resulted to the current condition of the creator sector. There is a significant lack of reflective representation of people of color and SOW is a blueprint to addressing this. We build strong partnerships with the creative community to nurture and truly invest in the next generation of creatives of color.

What has your experience been like working within the media industry? 

In the last few years there is this growing narrative around representation and diversity, which is encouraging. Although, the concept of diversity representation has been co-opted in the mainstream media  and its core intention is empty. The reason being is because the media space views this progressive change as a trend. For example, companies like Pepsi and, their attempt to co-opted this idea of the Black Lives Matter movement and put Kendal Jenner as the spokesperson of that story line is so problematic because it’s empty and its only used to capitalize on this concept of diversity and social justice movements and that’s bullshit. If people want to actually participate in change, there is a way to do that which doesn’t continue the cycle of exploitation and cultural appropriation.

In terms of my direct experience with it, I’ve been on set where the only other person of color is the talent. The creative director is white, the art director is white, the photographer is white, the assistants are white. So who are the people that are actually doing the narrative storytelling? If the people in power are just casting a black model, Asian model, or  a Latina model, this is only demonstrates the first step forward because we have to move beyond that and go deeper. Otherwise, It’s actually really empty at the end of the day. So now with LFN I’m beginning to create more opportunities on set where I can bring assistants from  SOW. My dream would be that I’m on set as a nail artist where the entire team are young POC creatives from SOW!

There is a stark lack of representation of POC folks in the media industry and creative world in general. What can we do to address that? 

When we first launched SOW, we did a deep dive into the state of the industry to get a better understanding of the issue and pain-points that impact the creative sector and young POC. Some of the stats  are crazy. From our own experience, we feel it because we’re in the industry and we’re like yeah, there is a lack of representation of people of color. But when we started looking at the numbers it’s actually way worse than we thought. It’s so stark. When for instant, the design industry, according to AIGA in 2016, is 73% white , 8% Asian, 7% Hispanic, 3% African American. Louis Vuitton name its first African American artistic director ever. Recently Vogue had their first black photographer to ever shoot a cover.. Photography brand ambassadors program for Canon is 93 % White, 5% Asian, 2% Hispanic, 0% black. For Nikon is 96% white, 4% Black , 0% Asian , 0% Hispanic. This is a super clear call to action to do everything that we can to actually impact and change what is happening here. The sustainability of the creative sector at large is contingent on it.

You manage two successful businesses that are both rooted in self care. How do you practice self care?

SOW is about our larger community responsibility to the greater good of our community. So, LFN is about what we do to keep up the fight. What do we need to do to keep on going because the issues are so big and so it’s a chance to reflect, turn inward, and ask the question, “well, what do I need to do to take care of myself?” Not in a super selfish way. I have a responsibility to my two businesses, the communities we serve, , so therefore I have a responsibility to keep on going.  That can be a major challenge, so I have built this incredibly deep and supportive network of people around me that give me the room and  chance to sit down once in a while. I have two amazing business partners, one is my sister and the other one is literally my “ life wife” and I couldn’t do it with anyone else but them.

The necessity to remain steadfast and resilient was part of the motivation of us recently launching the LFN x Circumference Daily Cuticle Oil. We partnered with Circumference to develop a healthy and restorative approach to hand care that  explores wellness as a powerful intersection of personal practice and community connection. We focused on caring for our hands because it’s often our first points of contact with each other, and the under-appreciated workhorses of our creative and professional lives. We are so excited to offer something that will allow people to engage in radical self-care!

Stay tuned to Milk for more creatives impacting the world.

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