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Meet the graduate empowering women of colour with her art

BLACK GIRLS ROCK: Artist Leonie Tomlinson wears a dress with one of her Afro-tastic designs

AS A young girl, artist and fashion enthusiast Leonie Tomlinson idolised white Barbie dolls, Disney princesses and cartoon characters.

But as she grew up, she wondered why none of her favourite characters had deep, brown skin like hers, or thick, curly hair.

“One day, I asked myself, ‘Where can I find characters I like that look like me?’,” Tomlinson recalls.

It was this question that encouraged the creative juices to flow into the bright, bold and vibrant production of her art company La’Ebony – where she designs trendy merchandise featuring brown beauties with feisty ‘fros and curvy cartoon silhouettes.

But La’Ebony is more than just a brand or a business; it’s a message that she wants to be heard loudly and proudly.

“My aim is to empower young black women, and inspire them to feel confident about themselves in a world that is trying to strip us from our natural selves,” says the 24-year-old, who set up her luxury black art brand less than a year ago.

Ideas for her business started brewing while she was studying fashion and textiles at university, where she was the only student in her class to draw black models. While her other black peers were “worried” and “scared” to draw black illustrations, Tomlinson stood her ground.

“Other girls seemed to be worried to do the same – they assumed that the models should be white,” the artist explains. “I was like ‘this is my collection, I’m going to draw it how I would want my models wearing my designs to look’.”

As her beautiful sketches caught the attention of lecturers, family and friends, the artist started to think of ways that she could showcase her work outside of her sketchbook.

As an avid reader, she started making bookmarks, featuring her sassy, natural hair-wearing black characters.

“I love creating, pretty, curvaceous black women,” she says.

Although Tomlinson’s Afrocentric art is far from a new concept, it’s somewhat of a rarity in the UK – and this is something the designer wants to address.

“There’s nothing like what I’m doing in the British market,” she says.

“In the first few months of setting up La’Ebony, I got customers in America ordering. It was great to know I was already being recognised internationally.

“But my main focus is to do something for the UK, because these kind of products do exist but they’re being made and are popular, but it’s all in America.

“I used to search online for the kind of products I make, and they would always take me to American websites. But I hope to change this.”

The freelance artist and graphic designer, who dreams of becoming an art teacher, still makes her bookmarks, but now also prints her funky sketches on anything you can wear or use, including mugs, T-shirts, bags, mobile phone cases, hoodies, notebooks, calendars, make-up bags and cushions.

“Anything I can print my design on, I sell,” laughs the recent graduate.
Tomlinson also sells a Black Girls Rock: La’Ebony Vintage Barbie doll, which she handcrafts and transforms herself.

She continues: “I’m so passionate by my brand. A lot of my products are handmade the old fashioned way. I sit down and draw everything. What person wouldn’t want something like this where they know someone has taken their time to make something special, rather than having something that is mass-produced and everyone can get their hands on?”

The artist, who sells her creations via Instagram and hopes to open up her own black art store one day, adds: “It’s great to know that my artwork is in someone else’s home.”

For more information, email laebonyarts@hotmail.com and follow @laebonyarts on Instagram

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