It isn't easy coming up with an introduction for the astonishing, multi-talented force that is Hannah Bailey. Recent recipient of Campaign Magazine's "Digital Maverick of 2016", Hannah Bailey's precocious talent, drive and motivation for what she believes in has seen her manage PR for some of the biggest action sports brands in the world including her current position at non-profit charity Skateistan, found her own creative agency, Neon Stash, and write and shoot (a talented photographer to boot) for a multitide of outlets including Dazed and Confused. A tireless promoter of creativity, of positivity, of women in sport and just women generally being rad, being imaginitive and being original, I am so excited to introduce Hannah Bailey to the "WHY I" mix. Kick back and settle down for a killer read with the awesome Hannah.
Tell me about where you're from and a little more about yourself.
I am from Edinburgh, Scotland, born and bred there. I spent a lot of my childhood playing with my big bro and doing sports, all of them I had the chance to really. My bro used to put me in goals and fire footballs at me - then shout at me if I didn’t commit to jumping in the air to save them. I was always up for playing outside and running around, and it wasn’t until I was about 15 that I started thinking about being a girl. Sport continued to give me a community and focus, but when I left school and everyone’s focus turned to university, I felt a bit lost. In my early 20s I decided to run away to the snowy mountains to see what else and who else was out there and I found snowboarding. That was a pinnacle decision which has led me to what I call life now...
Talk me through your career to date - how did you break into your industry?
After a few seasons in Europe and Canada I was hooked on the vibe of the action sports industry. I never thought I would have the chance to work in it, but on my way back to Edinburgh after a season in British Columbia I decided to stop by London. That’s when I got my foot in the industry by getting a job with Quiksilver and Roxy. It was only on reception, but I was so stoked to be there every day for years that I took all the opportunities that came my way. They got me involved with marketing, sales, trips to events and media with athletes. My passion became my work. After about a year and a half, I was offered the opportunity to take on the PR for Quiksilver and I jumped at it. Outside of work I was getting more active in pushing the female action sports scene. I was really passionate about finding it more of a platform as the athletes and activities had really inspired and encouraged my life and self esteem. I started writing for Cooler magazine, interviewing loads of the biggest action sports names. Then finding other creative ways to get female action sports in the media, and that’s when I started picking up a camera shooting for Lomography.
In 2012, off the back of handling Quiksilver’s PR, I started my own communications agency, Neon Stash, taking on DC Shoes as a client. I was working to do more communications than just PR - from social to content to events. I started Tie Dye High Five as a case study for what we could do at Neon Stash - experiential, creative, pop-up tie-dye workshops and activities (the brand is still going strong today!). Over the years I worked on projects for Monster Energy, O’Neill, Red Bull, Roxy.. But was still focusing on pushing the female side of things and continued to work with the media to find space for action sports. I contributed pieces to all sorts of platforms from Dazed Digital, i-D, Huck to Women’s Fitness. Brands and media started approaching me and Neon Stash to feature women in action sports for campaigns and shoots which was always the aim, to change the way media represent women.
ACTION SPORTS PORTRAY POSITIVE ROLE MODELS IN MY OPINION AND HELP BREAK DOWN GENDER STEREOTYPES.
Last year I was offered the communications role at Skateistan, the non-profit organisation which empowers youth through skateboarding and education, with a particular focus on girls. I really wanted to learn more about communicating for an action sports for development charity, which is something I am gaining by working here. With the Olympics including skateboarding for the first time at 2020, it’s an exciting time to be in the global skate industry, especially as a woman.
Your achievements are incredible, Global Communications Manager at one of the world's leading action sports charities, Director of your own communications agency, avid promoter of all that is creativity, fun and inspirational project and media making in women's sports, including editor of new magazine THE FREE LIFE, photographer... How have you managed this trajectory?
I AM AN OPPORTUNIST WHO IS FULL OF IDEAS AND LOVE TO COLLABORATE.
A lot of it is to do with timing. I happened to start in the industry at a really good time for women and to start my own thing when less people were doing so. I was approaching brands and people with ideas and making things happen. Often it meant working in an array of roles to get the ideas to reality - and that’s how I became the photographer for some projects, creative for others, producer, communicator or storyteller. If you have an idea you can make it happen, and knowing the right people also helps. I am thankful for all the people who have supported and collaborated with me over the years!
What are you most proud of?
This year has been a real highlight in my career. Working with Skateistan I got to head over to Johannesburg in August to open the new Skate School. It was such a pleasure to meet all the local staff and work alongside them, but more so playing alongside all the smiley students. It was an inspirational trip!
Hannah's recent project in South Africa for Skateistan
Also last month I was chosen as one of Campaign Magazines Digital Maverick’s. It’s an absolute honour to receive such an award for my work over the years and really justifies the long hours and focus.
I also had the chance to put on a solo photo exhibit over the summer with Lomography. My show ‘Skate Stories’ showcased 5 photo stories from my skate adventures over the years and was exhibited at their Carnaby Street store for 8 weeks!
Have you found any obstacles in this industry? How have you managed them?
Pitching ideas to brands and media involving female actions sports has always been the obstacle. There have been so many no’s sometimes I felt like giving up and pretty deflated. Once a car company (name not to be disclosed) had signed on to do a big female focused adventure campaign and then called me a week later to say their marketing strategy had changed its focus to 18-25 men.
How do you believe the female voice can be better amplified within the male-dominated action-sports industries? Is it important to do so?
The exciting time is now. The female voice in action sports has had to shout alone and really push platforms for the spotlight until now. But recently core magazines have started to include female athletes without being pushed and without really calling them out as girls. It’s always been the aim. Mainstream media and brands are also using female action sports without being pushed to do so. It’s on the radar and people are ready for it.
The Women’s Skateboarding Alliance is a great example of how women in the industry have helped to form and pathe the way. They are the female voice for women’s skate in the US and help manage athletes, events and campaigns so that it is not misused. It’s in good hands because it is formed by the likes of Mimi Knoop (legendary skater) and Kim Woozy (of Mahfia TV).
Have you had any role-models that have been critical to your career?
THE PEOPLE I HAVE WORKED WITH AT BRANDS AND MEDIA OVER THE YEARS HAVE BEEN ROLE MODELS TO ME. THOSE WHO HAVE GIVEN ME THE OPPORTUNITIES AND LISTENED TO MY EVERY IDEA. THEY BELIEVED IN ME BEFORE I REALISED ANY OF IT WAS POSSIBLE. THEY HELPED PUSH ME DOWN A PATH I DIDN'T EVEN SEE.
What motivated you to start skateboarding relatively late into your 20s?
I had always thought about skateboarding and wondered what it felt like to cruise a bowl or push around and it was the summer after I had ACL reconstruction that I decided it was now or never. A few of my (guy) friends who skated committed to helping me and encouraging me but a real defining moment was when Lucy Adams called me to invite me on a skate trip to Malmo. I had just got on a board so I took my cameras to shoot it - ending up featuring the trip on Dazed and Cooler magazine. It gave me a purpose as the photographer and storyteller, so less pressure on my skating. It has been a slow process for me to learn even the smallest things but so rewarding. Starting to skate truly changed my life and has taken me to the most amazing places - from the jungle of Cambodia to the unknown of Luxembourg, and I just got back from a DIY spot in the Californian desert with Helena Long! I love skating and I love shooting it, it’s great being able to combine both. I am very lucky!
What do you love about skateboarding?
The people! All the inspirational people I call friends who I met through skateboarding. It opens you to a community of passionate and creative folk who are doing the most interesting things. I’m always like, ‘wow cool’, ‘wow awesome’,’wow really?!’
My favourite thing about the act of skating is that feeling when you drop in on the bowl and cruise around. Also how the littlest achievements feel incredible and make you think any thing in life is possible.
What are the greatest challenges?
Having the time to do it all!
Does mental strength play a bit role in the sports you love like skateboarding and snowboarding?
Of course it does, but actually not so much in the approach I have to these activities. For me it is as much about the adventure than the skating or snowboarding, so you’ll find me hunting out the powder bowl or looking for the skate bowl in a remote forest.. I’m less likely to be in the park where you are more likely to slam and need the mental strength. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had my injuries though!
What do you do to harness the mental strength required to overcome things like fear?
Maybe I have the fear of not being good enough to do these activities, more than the fear of doing the tricks. But you realise quickly that the scene is welcoming to you being a part of it regardless of whether you can kickflip or not. As long as you are in it for the right reasons!
Do you believe there are any differences in the management and promotion of men's sport Vs women's?
There is a lot more money in it that’s for sure so everything is relative. At the moment brands are less likely to invest in women’s skate because it’s still a risk and budgets are tight. But things are definitely changing. There is still a huge gap in the inclusion of women at pro comps and the prize money on offer, but things are changing slowly. The world is showing a really keen interest in women’s skate and brands are getting ready!
What do you believe can be done to encourage more girls and women to take up action sports?
I think we are doing it. We are giving action sports an accessible voice and face so that other women and girls can see what it means to be part of it- through events, media, athletes and brands. Women need to see other women taking part in something to be encouraged to try too. Skateboarding has the most notable change. With Street League including women’s skateboarding over the past year, women are on a global platform. It’s trendy to skate and so big mags are talking about it (see the latest i-D video on girl skaters as an example). In the UK, there are multiple girls-only skate nights which help encourage participation and GirlSkateUK has been running for a few years now to showcase and promote the scene. All these things contribute to increasing participation levels.
What are your goals within your career for the future?
I’ve never really set goals for my career, I think that’s been the key to its success. Haha! But of course I will continue to work in action sports, I have a lot more to give and many more ideas to make happen. Most recently,
I am spending more time on mentoring younger people in the industry and love to give back in this way.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
To roam free. I love working in digital marketing and communications, but a lot of my time is spent at a laptop. I do work long hours to make everything happen and deal with everything that comes in. My future self is going to be away from the digital a lot more and enjoying even more adventures and outside air. I also really want to challenge myself physically, in a hike Everest sort of way.
What are your greatest motivations?
I am motivated by those around me who are also doing it their own way.
How do you take down-time and relax?
I couldn’t survive without yoga and movies, those two things take me away from the real world for a bit, so I appreciate it even more when I return.
What inspires you?
Fresh air. Silent moments. Laughing with friends. Sand dunes. Smooth concrete. Sunny days. My film cameras. Friends. Things my mum says.
Thank you Hannah! You can find out more about Hannah and her creative persuits here:
Tobias Lee imagery @IndoorSurvival Instagram
Next up, we chat to music maven Georgie Rogers. Presenter of the Music Discovery Show on Virgin Radio, tireless champion of industry-breaking new talent, and roving reporter for BBC6 Music, we delve into the mind of Georgie Rogers for our next session of WHY I.