“I have a 9-5 and I freelance to survive in New York, where everything is mad expensive.”
The dark haired, olive-skinned woman sits in front of me in her quaint, studio apartment in Queens. I have known Jas Leon for a while now and found it important to share her story after understanding and familiarizing myself with her experiences over the years. The photographer and creative director encompasses a story of hard work and raw grit, having to fight for all that she has accomplished. Though you may be thinking “Yeah, so? Everybody does”— Jas Leon’s arena happens to be in an industry built on two things: nepotism and elitism.
Reeling back for a bit, the 23-year-old is currently a freelance fashion photographer, creative director, and PR coordinator. While one may think that this is enough on someone’s plate, Leon also works full-time at the French fashion label Maison Kitsune. She explains to me that the realities of living in such an expensive city, such as New York, include having to work a regular 9 to 5 job on the side in order to get by.
“I wish I could focus on my freelancing projects full-time, or maybe even intern for a large company, but realistically I wouldn’t be making enough money to pay rent or other bills,” says Leon.
Leon’s claim is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Fashion internships are often unpaid, limiting the opportunities to those who are still supported financially. These internships are most suitable for college students, as the demand of a minimum of 2-3 full days at an unpaid internship oftentimes collides with the schedules of full-time, paid jobs needed by people who are financially independent.
How this affects the work of freelancers in the fashion industry is quite simple and obvious. Without the ability to intern for a company, contacts and references are sacrificed. This is extremely detrimental to one’s work, as the phrase “it’s not about what you know, but who you know,” is most relevant in the fashion industry. Ultimately, the easiest way to overcome this is by having a large social media following.
Though I could go on and on about the flaws within the industry, I’ll choose to highlight and admire Leon’s perseverance and determination.
Leon has only been in New York City for six short months, and made the big leap from her hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada with longtime partner Miah. Miah also shares the same experiences of having to work a full-time job while pursuing his ambitions in fashion design, such as developing his own label, Penni. In order to make the move possible, Leon sold many of her prized possessions including her clothes and hard-earned studio equipment.
“The New York City hustle is very much real, and there was a time where it really got to me.”
But despite the odds working against her, Leon has been able to achieve many major accomplishments. This includes successfully launching her own online publication, collaborating with various models and artists during New York Fashion Week and driving the marketing sector of a startup brand.
Speaking of editorials, it is also important to note that Leon’s productions and photo shoots are handled by her and only by her.
Typically, photoshoots include a photographer, art director, stylist and producer. This layout allows the people involved to focus on their specialization while dividing the work needed to have a successful production.
Leon, though primarily identifying as a photographer, does it all.
“I mean, it’s nice because when you’re doing it all, the outcome is more accurate to your vision. But I’m just so over styling,” explains Leon.
Accordingly, Leon’s quality of work is good enough to land features in highly coveted streetwear magazines despite having to be a one man army.
As for the future, Leon is still pursuing her dreams of becoming a full-time freelance fashion photographer while developing smaller brands like Penni.
Though it sounds a bit cliché, Leon has proven that with a fierce determination and even more hard work, one may overcome the obstacles that are faced.
As our conversation comes to an end, a glint in Leon’s eyes becomes noticeable.
“I’ve never actually sat down and talked about it. Saying it out loud makes me realize how far I’ve come from the start.”
View more of Jas Leon’s work here.
Leon’s Instagram: @jasleon
By: Isiah Magsino