Her platform, Project WomanKIND, was built on championing the lives, journeys and achievements of ALL women - encouraging us to be true, authentic selves, to take up space, to hero sisterhood by supporting and lifting each other up and to encourage women to let their colourful personalities and shine bright and bold - because that truly is something to celebrate! We were excited to have a chat with this powerhouse woman about her career, @projectwomenkind, on building confidence on the days you don't feel so confident & how she's inspiring women through daily mantras to live your true authentic self with her podcast venture, The Affirmation Project.
Let’s start at the beginning! Who you are and what do you do?
"My name is Jessica Vander Leahy. I am a model, a writer and sometimes a podcaster"
What star sign are you and how do you identify with this sign?
"I am a Sagittarius and I have to admit I don’t know very much about star signs—I’m not sure if I believe in them, but I’ve been told that contrarianism is a very Sagittarian trait!"
What would you say your biggest influence was growing up?
"I think my biggest influence was, and always has been my family and my close circle of friends.They are definitely the people that’s opinions matter to me and who help me to stay on my authentic path."
Creative, Model, Influencer, Founder, Writer...you’re a total powerhouse! Where do you think this came from in your upbringing?
"I would definitely say that creativity is a huge part of all of the aspects of my career. I would also say that my mum was a huge driver of expressing yourself artistically growing up, so that’s probably where I feel like it’s very natural to just make things and put things out into the world".
You’re the Founder of #ProjectWOMANKIND, an amazing women and body empowerment platform - can you tell us a little bit about it?
"Project WomanKIND was something that was born at a time when the body positivity movement, diversity and feminism movement wasn’t really at the forefront of the media conversation. In the years since it was made a lot has changed a lot in terms of mass media and fashion’s messaging, which is great. For me, while I still have love for that project, the ultimate goal was that one day it would be obsolete because everyone’s mindset will already be thinking about how they can always be more inclusive and more diverse, especially in the fashion industry."
You’re such an inspiring advocate for body positivity and celebrating women for all that they are and that is something we always look to champion at Nine Lives Bazaar. However, we know we all have those days where we’re not feeling so confident and this is when we reach for our brightest & most bold NLB pieces to lift us up! On the days where you feel this way — what’s your go-to tool kit to make you feel more confident?
"It’s normal and natural to have days where you’re not 100% feeling yourself. In my experience, you just need to cultivate activities and little routines that build you up. For me, when I’m in a confidence rut, I always love throwing myself into meditation or exercise or hanging out with people who I think have really positive influences on me."
Jess wears the Sahara dress in desert
And you’ve recently added Podcaster to your repertoire - talk us through your newest creative outlet, The Affirmation Project? Tell us what inspired you to start this podcast and how has it helped you cultivate a healthier mind, body and spirit?
"The Affirmation Project podcast was really born during a time of COVID, where I feel like we were really retreating into ourselves and the world is changing so fast. I think that was very challenging for a lot of people. So I wanted to contribute something that encourages people to take that extra few minutes to really ground themselves in their authentic individual intentions for the day. Most really successful people I know do some kind of affirmations or mantras and I think it’s just really important for keeping perspective of what’s really important to you!"
Speaking of podcasts, what are you listening to at the moment?
As a former news editor, I listen to a lot of news podcasts. 'The Daily' from the New York Times and 'The Squiz' are really good to stay informed. I also have been listening to Barack Obama’s 'Renegade Past' podcast with Bruce Springsteen. I mean, The Boss and Barack, can you get any better? Also, on a long drive Esther Perel’s 'Where Should We Begin' should be on your list!
When it comes to fashion representing who you are and forming part of your personality, how does your personal style reflect yours?
I’m extremely expressive in the way that I dress so if I’m feeling really bold you’ll see that in the way that I’m presenting in the world or if I want to just be more low key, I’ll be casual in jeans and a good T-shirt. I think it’s really important to use fashion as a tool for highlighting your uniqueness; it makes it more fun and less competitive!
How would you describe your personal style in three words?
Fun. Free. Individual.
What do you feel the most ‘you’ in?
It depends on the day... sometimes it’s a ballgown and sometimes it’s a mechanic suit from a thrift store. I like mixing it up, always!