Leta Sobierajski is the independent New-York based designer who is bending and breaking the rules to build her own individual style. She combines traditional graphic design elements with photography, art, and styling to create utterly unique visuals.
After a degree in graphic design from Purchase College and few years work for design studios under her belt, Leta decided to take the path towards a solo career in 2013. She opted to explore the limitless nature of creativity, with her works spanning across multiple mediums from practice brand identities, to obscure editorials.
After amassing countless solo success stories, Leta set up a joint design studio with husband, Wade Jeffree in 2016. They utilised their unusual gifted eye to revitalise the creative world.
Since beginning her career, Leta's rare talent has seen her working with icons such as Adobe, Bloomberg Businessweek, D.S. & Durga, Google, Gucci, IBM, The New York Times, Refinery 29, Renault, Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Target, Tate Modern, and UNIQLO among many others. She has also been recognised as an Art Directors Club Young Guns 15 recipient as well as Print magazine’s New Visual Artist.
We caught up with Leta as she broke down her amazing career for us:
Can you tell us a bit about your career and how you got started?
I’m a creative working between art direction, graphic design, photography, and installation. I’ve recently shed the lone title of “graphic designer,” as I don’t think that gives an accurate depiction of the work I do anymore, so I’d rather keep things open-ended. I think I’m in my second evolution state, kind of like Pokemon!
I went to SUNY Purchase College for graphic design in 2006 and graduated in 2010, making a beeline for Brooklyn. My career began working for a small independent studio named HunterGatherer where I learned that there was no obligation to commit to one thing. The studio did everything from branding to stop motion animation, and I learned to have a hand in everything we did, literally. We produced our own props and sets in the studio’s woodshop and photographed everything ourselves. It was inspiring and enlightening, and the studio felt very reflective of what I wanted for my own practice when I was to “grow up.”
Alas, I wanted experience in other fields and eventually took two consecutive jobs at commercial motion graphics studios to see how that would feel, but I ultimately ended up hating the environments and began to moonlight at night with my own personal projects and freelance work. Not only were those environments lacking in creative energy, but I couldn’t convince myself to support the clients I was obligated to work with—how could I feel passionate for a big bank or a revolutionary toothbrush when I had no personal connotations with it aside from what my creative director told me? It felt very soul-sucking to me. I was miserable for about 16 months before quitting.
I didn’t have much of a plan after that. It felt very much like I was experiencing a “fight or flight” moment, and I knew that I had to work with what I had to make something of it. I felt like I was blindly running reckless, setting up a website which showcased none of my client work. I pushed all my furniture aside in my apartment to create fruit still lifes and felt like it could be my creative calling. I had no real work to show and yet I emailed everyone I could think of, sending them these images and apologizing for causing interruptions in their days, hoping that something would stick and I’d get hired for a couple dollars to make something that would help me build a client list. I did pro bono work with the hopes of gaining some exposure and some personal experience, and eventually unpaid work turned into paid work, and somehow here I am now!
How does it feel being a young female in the industry?
Liberating, compelling, and of course, challenging. Pairing with my husband makes things a little bit easier, honestly. My goal is to work hard and make work I’m proud of, and I hope that behavior will be inspiring to others around me, whether female, male, or other. I always giggle when I receive an email where someone assumes my name is male (i’m not sure how this assumption is made) but I did once have someone say that I could “bring my wife as a +1” and that cracked me up.
Of course, there are always difficulties. One of them is often times being one of the only woman in the room. This isn’t just in a design meeting, but at a creative event, or just in everyday life. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s often quite blatantly obvious that I’m the only woman (and in my case, often much younger than everyone else!). Now that I’m 31, I feel a little more like a “grown up” at the table. It’s empowering, but also comes with its own stresses and points of self-consciousness. Am I speaking up enough? Is it as obvious for me as it is for everyone else in the room? Am I overcompensating? Am I allowing myself to be underrepresented? I’m grateful that conferences are doing more to make sure that their lineups are well-rounded through gender and racial diversity, but I hate that this is sometimes a move done for the sake of ticking boxes and making claims. With that, I have been to a lot of amazing design gatherings recently that have been so well-rounded, so inspiring, and so courageous and I don’t want to sound like I’m making massive generalizations here.
Do you have any influential female forces in your life, or women that you’re inspired by?
I’ve found that the female camaraderie I’ve made is so motivating and the women I surround myself with are extremely inspiring and talented in their own right. It pushes me to work harder, do better, and be more compassionate and embrace my emotions.
So many of these women have paved their own paths (not just in New York, but all over the world!) and continue to climb in their respective fields, and that keeps inspiring me to do better in my own practice. I’m relieved that we can speak to each other about our challenges and our goals and motivate each other to succeed in our own endeavours, whether they exist as online articles, at gallery exhibitions, or on a billboard. I want to help push women to fight harder for their own forms of creativity and their own individual methods of expression and I hope I can help motivate us all to support one another rather than ostracize each other for our desire to experiment and play in this pursuit of a greater happiness and life fulfillment.
You have a design studio with your husband, Wade. Do you think collaboration is important in your field, and if so, why?
I was always hesitant about collaboration, but I think that my feelings changed after I met someone I felt unimaginably compatible with. Wade and I can sometimes finish eachothers’ sentences, but other times, we’re thinking of entirely opposite approaches and that keeps our work interesting. One can challenge the other’s idea and improve upon it. Growing up as an only child in a rather isolated area, teamwork was something that didn’t occur very often for me, or quite frankly wasn’t available, but now I realize that our personal bandwidth only goes so far. We make up for what the other is lacking and encourage each other to think differently and that feels like a true partnership. We can do more together and accomplish something greater.
Your skills span across many industries, how do you think this brings another level to your work?
This was never done intentionally, but I truly enjoy challenging myself to try new mediums and achieve as much as I can on my own by learning what I can to get by. Perhaps it’s a complex, but being self-sufficient and having a hand in everything we create gives me such a closer and more personal connection with the work that we’re making. I think that though our work can be multifaceted and multi-medium, because we’re handling each facet of a project, it still feels genuine to our vision from concept to completion. There’s a level of fault that we like to achieve in our work and we embrace the imperfections that come from this type of self-guided practice, and I think it’s become a bit characteristic of the work we make. I love to embrace something like that, knowing that while it may appear refined, we still want to allow room for error to allude that what we’ve accomplished is developed by a human hand.
What’s your favourite project you’ve worked on so far?
I think a better way to answer this is by the year. In 2019, we created an indoor playground for adults for Valentine’s Day, a summer sculpture series for New York’s Seaport District, and a holiday campaign for one of our favorite companies, Herman Miller. Not to mention all the shoots we did for clients like Brizo and Away! Each year is different and poses its own challenges, but these three sculptural projects have felt rather influential for the direction in which we are leading the studio in 2020. We can all say that our work is emotional, whether through a painting, a brand identity, or a sculpture, and one of the biggest rewards I’ve received are the emotional reactions I’ve observed by people interacting with our work. More of that in this new decade, please!