babyface is the female collective you need to know
Claire Burman and Nellie Eden wanted the accomplishments of females celebrated, so they started a platform to do it themselves.
Claire Burman and Nellie Eden
While the annual International Women's Day 2017 rolls around on March 8, every day is a celebration of women's achievements over at Babyface HQ, the brainchild of creative producer Claire Burman and journalist Nellie Eden. The pair met at Sussex University and bonded after moving to London and immersing themselves in its burgeoning creative scene and the females that were making things happen. But they quickly realized something was missing: a platform to talk about the amazing females they were encountering as well as the chance to consult on projects with brands who wanted to talk to females but didn't know how. And with it Babyface was born. While the two-year-old agency is in its infancy, the girls have already worked with the likes of Champion, Topshop, Hello Kitty, Vans, and Evisu, as well as cleverly curated a tribe of London's most innovative female talent across photography, art, fashion, music, and more. We sat down to get to know the Babyface girls a little better.
What are both of your backgrounds?
Claire: After studying for a law degree I moved to London and decided to do the total opposite and pursue a career in events. My experience lies predominantly in fashion events and production. I'm ridiculously anal, incredibly organized, and you'll likely find me running around with a walkie-talkie and earpiece, generally not relaxing at any event, ever.
Nellie: I have always been a journalist by training. I'm very lucky to have built a career out of words. Writing is what makes me happy. I've worked as a journalist for titles like Marie Claire and Refinery29, but about six months ago I took the plunge and went freelance. I now continue to write but spend every other waking moment next to Claire on a laptop.
What exactly is Babyface and why were you compelled to start it?
Babyface is a female community and creative agency. In essence it's a digital and real-life manifestation of the immense love and appreciation we both have for the women around us. We started Babyface in 2013 from a very pure place of recognition of all the brilliant, smart, daring girls we were meeting. Inspired by these women we decided to create an online and offline network where they could talk about their work and what they were up to. We began by interviewing each girl, got her to recommend the next, and naturally the network spun out from there. The aim was to create a unique platform where women could celebrate each other's work without the sterile corporate feel of LinkedIn or the awkwardness of approaching someone cold in a club. When the opportunity arose to work with our community on projects, it was clear we'd hit on something. New ways to work with women is still very much our fuel. Now we regularly host a radio show, where we invite women in and chat about everything from politics to contraception, produce events, curate experiences, work with brands we love, and continuously find new ways to bring everyone together.
What do you look for in girls who join your network and how do the girls continue to inspire you?
We don't have a set list of requirements but I think all our girls share common traits, like courageousness, intent, talent, opinions, purpose, and strength, but honestly there are too many qualities to list. What we hope we have is a highly diverse and mixed cross-section of females who all contribute something inimitable to the network. Certainly when we're looking for new people to talk to, we love that feeling of "wow, she's doing something new" — which we get all the time. The girls who we've had on Babyface since we started out, and everybody in between, continue to inspire us as we see them grow professionally. Leonn Ward, who shot our first ever project in her small Peckham studio, directed a fashion film for Isabel Marant starring Gigi Hadid last week and is a perfect example of someone we're so proud to have on Babyface. G'warn Leonn!
What do you consider when taking on new projects?
We always ask ourselves, "does this project feel right for Babyface now?" Whether we're producing imagery, video, or a dinner, we don't like to do anything straight down the line. We're always looking to add a little bit of Babyface magic, whether that's tonally, via the casting, or conceptually. We hope our ideas are always at their core positive, feminist, and thoughtful. That might sound pretentious, but nothing we put out there is done in haste. We feel we have a responsibility for our output to always stay true to our community and our values of [creating] better working lives for women and more diversification within the creative industries.
What advice do you have for younger females looking to follow in your footsteps?
This sounds trite, but be true to your own taste and opinions. Doing what everybody else is doing has never fostered originality or progress. We think women in their guts always know what's right. That and be prepared to work long, hard, thankless hours, collaborate with friends you trust, and head high. Setting up your own thing is all blood, sweat, and tears, but it's the most rich experience and we're not even halfway there yet.
What were some of the things that frustrated you being two females in the creative industries?
That we were constantly being underpaid, undervalued, and sneered at. Being effeminate, being of diminutive stature, and looking a lot younger than we are (hence the name) has never held us in good stead professionally. We've always had to barter harder for the checks than our male peers, or speak louder in a board room to have our opinions heard, but we know that the work we produce at the final hurdle has meant people have had to sit up, pay attention, and take us a whole lot more seriously. Having said that, from within the creative industries we have made some of the most wonderful and crucial relationships of our entire lives.
What are some of the things you have been most proud of since its inception?
Everything we do, we're super proud of. We still have 9-5 jobs which means most of our free time, actually, ALL of our free time, goes towards Babyface. It's worth the sacrifice but we spend most evenings and weekends working. Nothing beats the feeling of getting everyone under one roof, the most recent occasion being our annual Christmas shubz. It's always a palpable reminder of the power of Babyface. Forty girls all sharing three microphones and screaming/singing Destiny's Child in the back room of a Chinese restaurant was a powerful moment!
What are some of the things you still feel need changing surrounding females in the creative industries in comparison to your male counterparts?
Pay. Can you please just start paying us? Recognition. Please begin to acknowledge that women have as much intellectual, creative, administrative, and imaginative scope as men? Diversity. We are not one marketable consumer audience driven my the same aspirations, hopes, fears, and dreams. Just like men, we are intersectional, varied, and complex individuals who deserve to be listened to not just lumped together and dismissed in the workplace.
If you had to give one iconic brand the Babyface touch, who would it be and why?
That's such a good question. For us right now, Durex. So many sexual health centers are closing down in the UK and young women still don't have access to the services they so desperately need. Sex has for so long been marketed as a solely cis-male recreational activity. Also Fiorucci, because our 14-year-old selves would be chuffed. And maybe Battersea Dogs & Cats home to fulfill all our kitten-based dreams!
How do you see Babyface evolving?
The roll-out! We hope Babyface flourishes into a beautiful, full-time creative agency (complete with Diptyque candles) making work that better understands women, supports women, represents women, and inspires women. No biggie.
To each of you, who is your phenomenal woman and why?
Claire: My younger sister, Laura Burman. She's a mighty little woman who's a million times braver than me and I'm in awe of her positivity and capability to do whatever the hell she wants all the way from across the ocean.
Nellie: My mother, Mandy Pooler. Life without my mum's hardline Northerner advice would be tough. She is proof that you can come from little, achieve everything, have children, stay graceful, and do it all without a man's help. I've never seen the woman flustered. Go mama!
Text Lynette Nylander