Photos of the Elephant Room participants

In My Shoes with Great Strides Mentees

When we move together, small steps become big strides. It’s part of our manifesto at Clarks, and no one knows the strength of community and collaboration better than the mentees who took part in our latest One Month Mentors programme.

Championing diverse and underrepresented talent, as part of Black History Month we once again joined forces with The Elephant Room for a confidence-boosting, career-cultivating partnership ‘GREAT STRIDES’ – matching ten incredible individuals from the Black community with senior mentors in the creative industry.

Through talks, workshops and one-to-one conversations, the mentors shared their knowledge and experience to guide, support and inspire. And now, our mentees chat about how the programme has profoundly shaped their futures: from igniting confidence in their career directions to the power of building a whole new meaningful network.

“Great strides happen when we go together. I love the African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone – if you want to go far, go together.”

Mercy Abel

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Mercy, a Tanzanian gal with a Glaswegian Heart who loves to have a chat! My 9 to 5 is being a Communities Manager for creative agency, John Doe, building a network of collaborators to create more nuanced storytelling in advertising. My passion projects involve positively highlighting Black talent and stories through founded platforms Into A Black Mind and Strong Black Woman, and improving knowledge exchange across generations on my Gen Z careers podcast audacity of we.

What does ‘great strides’ mean to you?

Great strides happen when we go together. I love the African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone – if you want to go far, go together.

Have you felt supported throughout the programme?

Absolutely. I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that my mentor, Gerry, was the answer to my Black woman mentor for 2022 prayer! She helped me to build and reinforce my confidence in my identity and encouraged me weekly that I have expertise and value to bring into every room I step into, as well as our mentoring partnership.

Does The Elephant Room X Clarks have your trust to keep building a relationship beyond the programme?

You might as well call me an ambassador because I will shout about the programme as loud as I can and stick around for as long as The Elephant Room and Clarks will have me! In all honesty, I wish that every emerging Black talent seeking mentorship gets to have the OMM experience.

Gina England

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Gina England and I’m a mixed race (Igbo, Indian and British) female who was raised in Southampton and came to London 7 years ago to pursue a career in the creative industry. I began my journey in fashion PR before pivoting into the world of strategy and research. I’m blessed to be working with some of my favourite brands including Spotify, Nike, Dickies and Depop, helping them to uncover insights that inform wider brand or creative strategies. The work I feel most rewarded by involves uplifting marginalised communities through helping to tell their story and programming talent in campaigns and projects I work on. One of my biggest passions is music; my father is an extremely talented musician and a producer – he has inspired me to express myself creatively. Outside of my strategy work, I’ve helped emerging music artists with their music PR and branding – I do it for the love of music and uplifting emerging creatives.

What does ‘great strides’ mean to you?

Great strides to me means a collection of smaller actions which build to the bigger picture. Like everything in life, you have to pace yourself and can only control what is in your environment but it’s power in numbers, right? So, the collection of those small actions results in great strides.

Have you felt supported throughout the programme?

The team at The Elephant Room (big up Shannie and Michaela) and Clarks made me feel so comfortable and secure throughout the whole programme, always allowing room for flexibility. The workshops were inspiring and gave me so much to think about alongside the gems my mentor drops every session!

What's the next big thing on your list?

I’ll be putting into practice some of the tools my mentor has given me, sharing more of my work, and continuing to look for emerging artists to support. Outside of my strategy, research and PR work I’m an aspiring DJ, and have been learning for the past three years – so I’ll be putting myself out there by releasing mixes and curating sounds from artists I love!

Tiana Esparon wearing Clarks Originals

Tiana Esparon

Tell us about yourself.

Hi, my name is Tiana Esparon, I'm 25 years old and last year I graduated from Kingston University where I studied Fashion Design. Since then, I’ve started a maximalist, dopamine-filled crochet accessories brand called Sitrin. I focus on one-of-a-kind pieces, high quality, joyful pieces that can be treasured for years. I'm inspired by music, art, my friends and family, and African and Caribbean culture.

What is your USP?

My USP is that I create unique, handcrafted pieces that are full of unusual colour combinations, tactile textures, and are also sustainably and ethically made.

Tell us one thing that has inspired you during the programme.

My fellow mentees! Everyone is so talented in their own way and so focused and full of dreams.

How confident are you about your career development now?

There's still a lot I don't know; there's always more to learn, but all of the different talks and people I've met in the past month have taught me some amazing new skills and given me new ways of thinking about my own creativity and passion.

Nadia Lamaani

Tell us about yourself.

I am an Artist/Painter from South East London that creates #ArtThatHealsTheHeart. My work mainly consists of acrylic on canvas, however I also do photography, book illustration, commissions, brands collaborations, body art, mural painting, host Paint & Sip classes, masterclasses and art therapy. I have recently illustrated Pamela Nomvete’s autobiography, and I walked alongside Cephas Williams as one of the chosen six Black creatives to attend Cannes Lions Festival 2022. Aside from my creative world, I work with young people, facilitating workshops on the topics of financial education and independent living. I love what I do in its entirety and it’s my mission to incorporate the best parts of myself to serve others and bring healing to their journeys.

How would you describe what you do in three words?

Meaningful, deep rooted and heartfelt.

What has been one of your proudest moments?

Pitching my presentation to Clarks!!! Omg… what an opportunity! I never imagined doing something like this with such a renowned and respected brand. I’m really proud of how much I’ve learnt within such a SHORT space of time, it just shows that the people you are around can have such a HUGE impact on who you can become, even in the smallest amount of time. Winners create winners!

Does The Elephant Room X Clarks have your trust to keep building a relationship beyond the programme?

Absolutely! I’d love to continue working with both brands. I feel it is a great community that really nurtures individual talent and harnesses the ability to CONNECT with the community and celebrate their differences!

Perola Janice

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Perola, a 26-year-old creative technologist whose work focuses mainly on augmented reality (AR). I use augmented reality to create immersive experiences that help people engage with things they love such as brands/music etc., driving a deeper connection between artists/brands and their consumers. I also write about technology and share thoughts about life on my Medium blog.

What does ‘great strides’ mean to you?

Taking calculated risks and not being afraid. Failure is part of the process of trying many things and eventually being successful at one (or a few).

What has been one of your proudest moments?

I create a lot of my own stunts, so every time I create something and launch it, I feel really proud – whether it’s something for a brand or something I’ve created just for the fun of it.

How confident are you about your career development now?

More confident than I was at the beginning of the mentoring programme. I feel like it gave me some sense of direction and reassured me that I’m doing the right thing.

Olive Hooper

Tell us about yourself.

Call me Olive. I’m a multidisciplinary designer based in Amsterdam, born in London, descending from Jamaica. I am building CYFR WORLD, a brand that collaborates with talent to create meaningful merchandise.

What is your USP?

I am a self-taught designer, meaning that my approach to design and perspective on creating is unique in topic and medium.

Tell us one thing that has inspired you during the programme.

The design perspective of my peers and mentor has inspired me during the programme. Having access to people with a wide knowledge of their disciplines, who share how their approach could benefit me, encourages me to (as Nelson said at the Clarks day) learn concepts well enough to teach someone about it.

How confident are you about your career development now?

My favourite saying is ‘Direction over speed’. I hadn't realised that once you’re going in the right direction, with others, your speed will increase by default – until now. I am confident that my career development can only blossom from here on out!

Nelson Adeoti

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Nelson Adeoti. I’m an entrepreneur, communications professional and content creator, and I’m the founder of Black British music and culture platform @9bills®. I’m a personal finance enthusiast creating content around personal finance everywhere online.

What is your USP?

At 9bills® our uniquely engaged audience of music enthusiasts and opinionated critics is our USP. Adulting 101 (my personal finance content) is personal finance for millennials and Gen Z, in plain English from a Black man who has been there and done it. No gimmicks.

How confident are you about your career development now?

I feel much more confident about the direction of my creative outlets now. I feel more confident about what I have achieved and what I will achieve in the next few months, too! Watch this space :)

What's the next big thing on your list?

Building a team! For the longest time, I’ve been working on everything all on my own and often spreading myself too thinly. If you want to go quickly, go alone – if you want to go far, go together.

  • Alika, a songwriter/artist/record label owner from West London

Alika

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Alika, a songwriter/artist/record label owner from West London. I work a lot on syncs, most recently BT Sport and Hugo Boss. My record label FNL Records recently launched with the aim of helping musicians facilitate their careers and goals.

What is your USP?

I am a multidisciplinary Black woman in a male-dominated field.

Tell us one thing that has inspired you during the programme.

Hearing and seeing the talents of the speakers and fellow mentees.

What's the next big thing on your list?

Chart placement as a record label.

Blessing Simeon

Tell us about yourself.

I am a 22-year-old Black British Nigerian from London, UK, and the founder of creative collective, We Are Dokia! We transform the way brands engage with youth audiences and help Gen Z creators create the compelling content to become their niche’s favourite creator.

What is your USP?

Over the last few years, I have built a 20k+ following on Twitter by sharing my love for pop culture and have engaged hundreds of fans through organizing multiple IRL projects. This experience has given me extensive, first-hand insight into what makes Gen Z tick and what moves them to action.

How confident are you about your career development now?

I feel very confident about my career development having completed the programme. By working with my mentor, I have gained a better understanding of ways to move the needle every day.

What's the next big thing on your list?

My next big thing is completing my final assessment for university this November! It’s an 8000-word essay on Black Twitter and how they use language to participate in communal identity formation – so it’s really “in my bag”. After I submit this, I’ll be fully immersing myself into the creative industry. I can’t wait!

  • Latoya, a multidisciplinary creative freelancer

Latoya Reisner

Tell us about yourself.

Hi! I'm Latoya and I'm a multidisciplinary creative freelancer working within the music industry. I also work as an academic researcher and DJ. I just recently finished working on a paper with my friend Kamila Ryjamdo – looking into why Black rap musicians in Manchester struggle to perform in venues, touching on the lack of Black representation in Manchester music history. It's called the 0161 rap gap! I also DJ and I'm a part of a duo called SHIMRISE.

Tell us one thing that has inspired you during the programme.

One of our speakers discussed hustle culture with us and how we shouldn't get trapped in the 'everyday grind' mentality. That inspired me because as a freelancer it is really easy to get caught up in the 'grind everyday' mentality because you don't know where your next job and bag is coming from. But in doing that, you can really lose out on looking after yourself and your wellness which just creates bad anxiety. That really inspired me to make sure I don't get lost in the workflow. Her honesty and transparency were really refreshing.

How confident are you about your career development now?

I feel more confident about it because the programme has encouraged me to keep going, and I was also in a group full of really talented, sick, diverse people. That alone is a whole new network.

What's the next big thing on your list?

To move to London to create new relationships. Progress with my DJing and to smash my current creative producing jobs.

Ismael, a Bristol-based events photographer

Ismael

Tell us about yourself.

I am a Bristol-based events photographer looking to undertake the position of a visual artist/creative director. A keen interest of mine currently is telling community-based stories through portraiture. I am hoping to do a photoessay series to branch out through this form of storytelling. In the future I would love to work with set designers and stage managers to help capture their visions. I aim to develop a portfolio that will allow me to collaborate on projects as a director of photography as well as experiment with documentary filmmaking. Many of my projects are influenced by, and include, the rich African and Caribbean communities of St Pauls and Easton. I look forward to further developing these projects and sharing them with the refined direction this programme has offered me.

Tell us one thing that has inspired you during the programme.

I found it really refreshing and inspiring how attentive the programme was towards what I was looking for in a mentor as well as the direction I hoped for with mentorship. I’m very keen on all forms of storytelling, and the talks helped me better understand the greater scheme of what I’m hoping to achieve.

How confident are you about your career development now?

With the direction this programme has given me, I am very confident about what I want to achieve, and I understand better how to work towards that vision.