Creative Lives Podcast — Leyya Sattar talks unlikely TV role models and challenging inequality in the industry
Since year eight at secondary school, Leyya Sattar knew she wanted to work in the creative industry. Her role model? American TV show Ugly Betty’s Wilhelmina Slater; “Seeing a woman of colour in such a position of power made me feel like I wanted to be a creative director.” But after completing her graphic design BA and working her way into a great job, Leyya became frustrated with a distinct lack of real-life role models, and felt that discussions around diversity didn’t always account for the breadth of underrepresented voices. In this week’s podcast, we find out how Leyya went about promoting the change she wanted to see, how her career has taken shape and the learnings she’s gathered along the way.
Creative and Co-founder of The Other Box (2016–present)
BA Graphic Design, London Metropolitan (2010–2013)
Together with with fellow creative Roshni Goyate, Leyya set up The Other Box in 2016, as a creative consultancy and platform encouraging inclusivity in the industry. In that short time they have already earned an impressive amount of awards and accolades, including making the #Forbes100 Women Founders in Europe list, and being named a Top 50 Trailblazers by Campaign magazine and AMV. We started by asking Leyya to describe the platform on her own terms, how it came about and what the work looks like from day to day.
Leyya graduated from London Metropolitan with a degree in graphics in 2013. But she admits that her first 18 months were a real challenge, as she worked retail jobs to make ends meet, and took on underpaid design work to grow her portfolio. It was at London-based design company MYWW, founded by design strategy specialist Emma Sexton, that Leyya got her first break. Here she got to try her hand at everything from social media management to project management and went on to become a design manager.
“I promised myself that whatever I did, I’d enjoy it. It gave me more purpose than just working to be successful and rich.”
But balancing her full-time work with The Other Box was beginning to take its toll. Leyya was feeling the effects of overworking and eventually burnt out. “I got full-on pneumonia... My biggest learning was that it was from a fear of missing out on things. I said yes to everything, and wasn’t very strategic. Now I have to be really careful; it’s a constant reminder not to go too hard. I had six weeks off, and it really forced me to look at myself and what I wanted from life.”
Leyya said the experience also took her back to a particularly painful time during university, when her stepfather passed away. “Something he said that haunted me, was ‘work, work, work, that’s all I’ve ever done, and look where it’s got me. That’s really sobering to hear, especially from someone you love. I promised myself that whatever I did, I’d enjoy it. It gave me more purpose than just working to be successful and rich. It allows me to live the best life I can.”
As part of a wave of new companies, platforms and initiatives pushing for greater inclusion and representation across the industry, The Other Box has been received with open arms – with one of their recent live events selling out in just 20 minutes. Leyya finishes by talking to us about why she personally feels the movement towards greater diversity has been able to accelerate, her vision for the future of the industry, and the advice she has for those starting out now.
All above images taken from The Other Box’s event created with support from Skinnydip London, captured by Muna Ally.