We Who Seek: Leta Sobierajski
- Let’s start at the beginning—when did you first fall in love with art and design; how did you come to pursue it professionally?
When I was young, I was pretty cut off from culture. I grew up in a really tiny town in upstate New York and our internet speeds were abysmal. Fortunately, my grandparents lived in Long Island and we’d visit them often, taking day trips to Manhattan to visit an art museum, opera, ballet, or a Broadway show. It gave me a very glamorized perspective on New York City, and I insisted that it was the true epicenter for creativity (though I still think this way).
I told myself that after graduating high school, I would live there. I explored photography and painting; I became infatuated with graphic design after designing the school yearbook (cover to cover!) and eventually went to Purchase College, an hour outside of the city. I didn’t know much about the history of design or its significance, but in my first year I took classes like painting, sculpture, drawing, and silkscreening and got an understanding of how to work with my hands, how to integrate it into my work, and what it could potentially accomplish. I took classes on Bauhaus-style color teachings and had a weekly class that met in Manhattan (but also sometimes Brooklyn) where we’d visit galleries, museums, and events, and we’d critically review and debate our findings with each other as part of our assignments.
During this time, I also took on many internships which I considered “research” for me to understand what I did and didn’t want to do in my professional career. I worked with FILA at their design studio in Manhattan and (somehow) became their shoe photographer; I interned for free at NYLON Magazine and assisted in designing page spreads and learned that I definitely did not want to work in editorial; I interned at a small hands-on studio in Brooklyn that carried out a range of services from branding to stop motion animation, which I loved; I tried agency life at Ogilvy but It wasn’t for me either. It took a lot of trial and error! When I graduated college, I had the choice to cozy into a job at Ogilvy with a cushy salary or to be the sole designer at the small hands-on studio in Brooklyn I had interned for previously, and I went with the latter.
- You’ve been working independently since 2013. How did you decide to strike out on your own, and was that at all challenging at first?
I don’t think there’s ever a “perfect” time to do it. I was at a job that wasn’t fulfilling and I had dreamed of a working life where I could control who I worked with and what I worked for. I think it’s easy to glamorize the idea of being self-employed, but I never had the opportunity to work for someone who I idolized—nor did I have a mentor—and I think that’s why I didn’t end up having a very clear road map, but a gut feeling is a gut feeling! All the circumstances seemed to lead up to the very point where I like to think that my career truly began. It’s terrifying—I can liken the feeling to staring at a raging storm with your eyes open as wide as they can be; but I finally felt like I could have control over my life to make decisions solely for myself and, potentially, my future. Having control is something I wouldn’t give up for anything. I still don’t know what i’m doing half the time but that’s the fun of it all.
- You’re known for the unique and brilliantly bizarre aesthetic you bring to every project. How did you hone this aesthetic? Did finding your own style coincide with deciding to go independent?
When I decided to take the leap, I didn’t have an aesthetic that I felt I could call my own, which was quite scary since I was trying to take the leap to formulate my own work! I hadn’t ever given myself the time to explore a personal style and conveniently I had a lot of free time on my hands being jobless.
I struggled with imposter syndrome for a while, telling myself that I did not have a style nor would I find one. But when I challenged myself to make personal work, I did begin to have a distinct voice and the images I created reflected my own interests—sculpture, figure, color, and cleanliness. Each time I made a new project, it was one step closer to honing that vision. I think that finding my own “style” and deciding to go independent didn’t happen intentionally at the same time, but because I was officially unemployed the fight or flight mentality kicked in, I knew I had to start creating something that might help set my portfolio aside from someone else’s.
- You now run a creative design studio with your husband, Wade Jeffree—when did you decide that you wanted to start collaborating on a creative business?
When Wade and I started dating, we were attracted to each other for many reasons, but one of the most evident ones was because of our mutual passion for our work. We both felt like our work gave us purpose and couldn’t find much separation between our work and our lives. Very early on, we created a portrait project together for fun, and then we eventually began collaborating on client projects. His creative opinion was the one that mattered most to me, and everything seemed to evolve rather organically together. I think the project that solidified our professional possibilities together was the branding work we did for Le Turtle, a new wave French restaurant that opened in the Lower East Side. Wade was working at an agency and I was traveling for speaking engagements, and between two continents and an 8 hour time difference, we came up with something we thought was pretty spectacular. Then, we got married, had our wedding dinner at Le Turtle, applied for Wade’s green card (he’s Australian), and opened a studio together.
What began as a design studio is now a multi-medium practice that spans sculpture to installation and photography. We consider ourselves less as graphic designers and more… dare I say it, “artists” now. While design is forever at the root of what we do, our work together has evolved past the point of categorizing ourselves as simply specialists of brands or logos or books. We’re now crossing into unknown territory and it feels exhilarating.
- At Seek, we value personal style as a vehicle for creativity and self-expression. In what ways does your fashion sense/personal style dovetail with your aesthetic as a designer?
I’d like to say that I have a bit of a “try anything” attitude, though I still keep my strengths and weaknesses in mind when doing so.
- What do you do when you’re seeking inspiration?
We have two principles that we abide by to help manifest our work. Setting parameters helps us determine how to interpret a brief. One of or principles is “design as performance,” in which we ensure that there is this physical aspect to what we are creating. We see our work as something that invigorates and excites us, and we utilize our own bodies in our work out of necessity, keeping ourselves engaged and involved in an equal physical and mental balance.
The other principle is “purposeful eclecticism,” a simple method of reinventing a brief, seeking a twist, and flipping the perspective to discover an otherwise unobtainable solution. It’s all about interpretation—we try to understand the initial intention and then give it a twist.
These are the two mindsets that we begin with to help us see a little differently, but we also refer to our extensive collection of art books, architecture, and fashion. We are big collectors of resources and are in constant search of the perfect book to expand our library.
- What do you wear to feel the most free and confident?
I love wearing anything that feels like armor—strong silhouettes, striking patterns, and beautiful materials give me as much inspiration for my work as they do self confidence and body positivity. Comfort is extremely important, and even if something makes me look like a space alien, as long as I can move and walk in it, it’s perfect.
- How do you incorporate sustainability into your life?
I think that over the course of the pandemic, i’ve become a lot more waste conscious and have been trying to do as much as I can to reduce our carbon footprint. We buy in bulk as much as we can, foregoing single use plastics and packaging. Our cooking capabilities have also improved immensely and so rather than buying, say, a jar of almond butter every week (we go through it far too quickly, it’s embarrassing), we make our own. We rarely purchase processed foods and instead tend to primarily purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve even mastered saving the scraps for broths and juices. I used to purchase natto, the Japanese fermented soybean dish, which comes in individually packaged styrofoam and it made me feel awful each time i’d throw it away, but i’ve since learned how to make it myself and now I can avoid all of that additional packaging and waste. I’ve had some pretty extreme eczema on my hands and face in the past, so i’ve grown to appreciate the power of pure ingredients and their benefits and I find that things taste more delicious when I make them myself.
While we want to maintain a level of sustainability with the work we create, sometimes the budgets we are given don’t point towards the most eco friendly solutions and in that case, our aim is to work with repurposing in mind. We’ll reuse the materials from our sets and break them down further for personal projects so they can have a second (and hopefully third and fourth) life.
- What is the best advice you’ve received so far and who did it come from?
Wade always says “the work you do is the work you get,” and I stand by that 100%.
- What advice would you give to up-and-coming artists and designers who are looking to start working independently?
Personal projects—do lots of them! Working for yourself will teach you what your strengths and weaknesses are, as well as what you do and don’t have interest in. It’s important to get an understanding of who you are and what you want to achieve before you start telling other people what those things are.
- What are you seeking more of this year?
I definitely can’t say “normalcy,” because I don’t truly know what normal means anymore! For me, i’m looking for more ways to escape into the work that we make and for new sources of inspiration that don’t need to be achieved through long-distance travel.
See Leta's Instagram: here
See Leta and Wade's work: here
Leta is wearing the Goa Dress in our hand block printed Geode print. Find it: here