The Leicester venue guide

After a tumultuous year and a half, venues need your support like never before. Here are some of the best places to see live music, theatre, comedy and more in the city

De Montfort HallDe Montfort Hall
@demontforthall
www.demontforthall.co.uk
Leicester’s grand civic concert hall sits on the shoulder of Leicester University, like Steve Ovett in the 1500m. Or maybe a more up-to-date reference.
In the past it’s played host to acts ranging from Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra, to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to Led Zeppelin and Iron Maiden, to the The Clash and U2, to Amy Winehouse and Adele, to … oh, loads more. It welcomes all manner of good touring stuff, from crowd-pleasing theatre shows to top TV comedians to major gigs.
Coming up: Laura Marling, Paloma Faith, Kasabian, Alan Carr.

Curve - photography by Hitz RaoCurve
@CurveLeicester
www.curveonline.co.uk
Leicester’s striking ‘inside-out’ theatre, which was designed to pull back the architectural curtains of a playhouse to allow audiences to get an idea of what goes on behind the scenes. Don’t leave Leicester without visiting at least once. The Exchange bar over the road is good too.
Coming up: Simon Amstell, Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell, Tokyo Rose, Derren Brown, A Chorus Line.

O2 Academy LeicesterO2 Academy
@O2AcadLeicester
www.academymusicgroup.com/o2academyleicester
Two gig venues (capacity 1,400 and 500) built into Leicester University’s Students’ Union as part of a multi-million refurb of the 1950s building back in
2011. The SU had another major makeover this summer.
Coming up: The Libertines, Beastwang, The Skints, British Sea Power, Gary Numan.

The Y Theatre
@TheYTheatre
www.leicesterymca.co.uk/theatre
The oldest surviving theatre in Leicester, with a programme that takes in comedy, music and more. Find it near the railway station.
Coming up: Gary Delaney, Comedy of Black Origin, Iain Stirling, Sukh Ojla, Slim.

The Little Theatre
@thelittleleics
www.thelittletheatre.co.uk
The stage where a young Richard Attenborough took the first steps of his acting career is home turf for the Leicester Drama Society. The Little Theatre – find it off Granby Street – puts on a panto each year, and also hosts gigs for the Comedy Festival.
Coming up: Six Feet Away, My Mother Said I Never Should, Cinderella.

The Big Difference
@BigDiff_Venue
bd-tickets.co.uk
Royal Blood, George Ezra, Blossoms, Wolf Alice, Russell Howard, Romesh Ranganathan, Katherine Ryan and Tom Allen … you’ve missed them all at this cafe/bar/venue on Leicester’s High Street previously known as the Cookie.
It’s recently been taken over by the charity behind the Leicester Comedy Festival.
Coming up: Olga Koch, Black History Month Comedy Night, Rachel Fairburn, Kae Kurd.

The Musician
@MusicianVenue
www.themusicianpub.co.uk
A little bit hard to find if you don’t know Leicester that well: a small-but-perfectly-formed venue that punches well above its weight, bringing critically-acclaimed American roots artists – among others – to the East Midlands.
Coming up: Trials of Cato, Alice Robbins, Alabaster DePlume.

The Soundhouse
@The_Sound_House
www.thesoundhouseleicester.co.uk
Independent venue a short walk from the railway station that specialises in rock gigs.
Coming up: Hanya, False Heads, Beans on Toast

Firebug
@FirebugBar
firebugbar.net
Bar and 100-capacity venue, near to the DMU campus, in the old Gas Offices building on Horsefair Street, which has hosted gigs by Foals, Frank Turner and Frightened Rabbit and comedy shows by Stewart Lee, Russell Howard, Josie Long and more as part of the Bottle Rocket comedy night and Leicester Comedy
Festival.
Top tip: it does slap-up breakfasts at the weekend too, and they don’t start serving them until midday.
Coming up: Echobelly, Gender Roles and Sound of the Sirens.

The Shed
@getintheshed94
getintheshed.co.uk
Seedbed venue that first opened its doors in the mid-1990s. Home to the Ambush alt-club night, with past guest DJs including Enter Shikari, IDLES and more.
Coming up: Miss Bowie, Ohana, Oceans Apart.

2Funky Music Cafe
@2funkymusiccafe
2funkycomplex.co.uk
West End – no, not that one – venue, just off Braunstone Gate … so really handy for the DMU campus.
Club nights and tribute acts galore, and it’s recently had a major refurb.
Coming up: Sicaria Sound, Carroll Thompson, And Still I Rise, Polski Stand-Up w Leicester.

Attenborough Arts
@AttenboroughAC
attenborougharts.com
Leicester University’s public arts venue, which offers a mix of performances, exhibitions and courses.
Coming up: Chief Springs.

Upstairs at the Western
@UpstairsWestern
upstairsatthewestern.com
Leicester’s only pub theatre – just 42 seats above one of the city’s best-loved neighbourhood boozers.
Coming up: Too Pretty To Punch, Doomscroll.

The Phoenix
@PhoenixLeic
www.phoenix.org.uk
Leicester’s independent arthouse cinema, with an ace cafe. Well worth the schlep to the other side of town.

DSC_2259

Cinema de Lux
www.showcasecinemas.co.uk
Your nearest – and swishest – cinema. All the big new releases, and pretty much right on your doorstep. Fancy seats available too.

A student guide to places to eat and drink in Leicester

Just started at De Montfort University? Never been to Leicester before? Want some recommendations on pubs, cafes, bars, restaurants and takeaways in the city from a like-minded spirit who’s pretty much the same age as you? Ah. Sorry. Can’t quite help you there. Journalism lecturer Jeremy Clay will have to do instead.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Here I am, in a strange new city, with no idea what’s what. I wish I had some tips on things to do and places to go from a dreary, middle-aged, white man.’

Well, it’s your lucky day.

But before we begin, you should probably follow Cool as Leicester. It’s full of stuff about bars, restaurants and whatnot, and it is not run by a dreary, middle-aged … etc.  The website is here.

Leicester has all the usual chains, from the blah-blah burger and pizza places to the likes of Revs, Cosy Club, Brewdog, Hogarths, Five Guys, Tim Hortons, the Giggling Squid, Rileys and so on. We’ll take it as read that you know all about them, shall we, and press on to the independent stuff that help make Leicester tick.

This is just an introduction, mind – some suggestions, to get you going. This is your city now. One of the pleasures of moving somewhere new is finding your own favourite places.

Pubs and bars

Let’s start on home turf. The Soar Point is one of DMU’s go-to pubs, with screens showing BT and Sky Sport, pool and foosball tables, and a balcony overlooking the Mile Straight (that’s what they call the stretch of canal that runs by the campus. And if you think that’s a little bit odd, wait til you hear about Frog Island).

At the city end of the campus is the Bowling Green. They screen live sport here too, and the food menu includes all-day breakfasts, which is handy for those days when your body clock is catastrophically out of sync with Greenwich Mean Time.

If you go through this medieval archway …

… you’ll find:

a) the church where Chaucer is said to have married;

b) the castle where Parliament was once held, and where everyone arrived armed with bats in case it kicked off;

and c) Leicester’s smallest pub: a bonsai boozer called The Castle, which is run by the SU. Or at least it was before the pandemic.

Will it be open again now? Good question. Erm, I haven’t checked. If you’re a Journalism student, there’s your first lesson, right there.

Cross the canal from the campus and you’ll find Braunstone Gate, home to 2Funky Music Café, Natterjacks, the rock bar the Metal Monocle and the city’s original brewpub, the West End Brewery.

The chances of your taste in pubs coinciding with mine are so remote it’s hardly worth me mentioning some of the ones I like the best. But I’m going to anyway. The Globe has been going since 1720, so it would be rude not to visit. The Rutland and Derby is a handsome old pub with a menu that includes Canadian catnip poutine among the usual suspects. The Black Horse, also on Braunstone Gate, is brilliant, and you’ll absolutely love it – but maybe in about 25 years’ time.

Wygston’s House, on Jubilee Square, is both one of Leicester’s oldest and newest pubs, as it opened in 2017 in a 15th century building. It’s not the cheapest place to drink but you’ll be sitting in a place that was already quite old when Shakespeare was born. Plus it does two-for-one on gins on Fridays until 9pm (I’m not on commission for any of this, honest).

The Tree, on the High Street, describes itself as a neighbourhood hang-out, which may or may not make your teeth itch, depending on which side of past-it you are (excuse me, while I attend to some furious teeth itching). But people are really fond of it, and it has a spiffy little garden. Plus, they allow dogs in, so if you’re missing your own, and want to treat someone else’s as a fleeting surrogate, knock yourself out.

At one point, people might have called Firebug a bit grungy. Insert the current term here. It’s open until 4am every single night of the week and has a pop quiz on Tuesdays, should you feel the need to answer questions about … *Googles band names from the last decade* … girl in red. Cough.

If bars, cocktails and/or gin are more your thing, try Sophy, 33CankStreet, The Gadabout, Manhattan 34, The Exchange Bar, Bruxelles, 45 West and the Bottle Garden. Though best not on one night. And good luck with your finances.

Don’t drink? Need a night off? &KITH is a cafe and dry bar with non-alcoholic cocktails.

Food

If Leicester people can agree on one thing, it’s that they can’t agree on which is the best samosa shop. Which is a bit odd, as it’s clearly Mithaas on the Narborough Road. They do swoon-inducing, cheap veggie curries too.

Belgrave Road, the self-styled Golden Mile, is variously said to be home to the biggest or one of the biggest Diwali celebrations outside India. It’s also quite possibly the veggiest stretch of road in Britain, with loads of meat-free restaurants. There’s a little-known bit of media law that requires every national journalist visiting Leicester to go to Bobby’s for a quote (and in the hope of blagging some free bhajiis, no doubt). 

Kayal, on Granby Street, near the railway station, has taught a culinary trick or two to Paul Hollywood and the Hairy Bikers. It serves up seafood, meat and vegetable curries from the tropical Kerala region of India, while its sister restaurant Herb, just across the street, is purely vegetarian and vegan.

Even in Leicester there’s a risk of mediocre take-away curry misery. Play it safe by trying the splendid Little Club or Paddy’s Marten Inn (as seen on Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain).

Full disclosure: I’ve not been to Istanbul. Nor have I been to Istanbul, on the Narborough Road. But I know for a fact – a fact – that people rate them both. It’s usually crammed.

There’s no sign outside Casa Romana, just a green door on an unassuming side road off Belvoir Street (it’s pronounced Belvoir, by the way. You’re welcome). Inside, you’ll find one of the best Italian restaurants in the Midlands: simple food, done brilliantly. Book in advance: Casa Romana is half-restaurant, half-cult, with a devoted following.

Casa Romana doesn’t do pizzas, mind. When you crave a *proper* pizza – and with the power of suggestion, it’s quite possible that’s suddenly right now – then Maurizios delivers, in more ways than one. 

Nearer to campus, Peter serves traditional Neapolitan pizza made with hand-shaped, fermented sourdough that’s a country mile away from the standard American-style stuff churned out by the chains. This is the place that Claudio Ranieri where brought his Leicester City squad to reward them for the first clean sheet of their title-winning season. Peter also do DIY home pizza kits, if you want to give it a whirl yourself. (Ranieri not included.)
Even closer to campus is Bagos. They deserve your custom if only for this:

The Korean-inspired Grounded Kitchen is a Leicester success story which has spread across the Midlands. The original store is on Queens Road, deep in Leicester University territory, with a new outlet just opened at Fosse Park shopping centre out near the motorway.

And if we are breaking the rule a little by mentioning smaller scale chains, say hello to Tamatanga, Bodega Cantina and the newly-arrived Afrikana. Birmingham’s opulent Varasani is making a foray into the East Midlands with a new restaurant on the High Street due to open later this year – stand by for an all-out Instagram onslaught.

But sometimes (read: with indecent regularly) nothing else will do but a good fry-up. In which case – *taps nose, winks* – haul your bones to a Leicester institution, the Rialto, in Malcolm Arcade, which first opened in 1963. When the restorative power of hot oil + salt has worked its magic on you, they have games consoles. Honourable mention for dezombification breakfasts: Cafe Two Ten, at the far end of Narborough Road.

Café Roma, on Halford Street, is a good bet for pasta and a proper espresso, and actually feels a bit like being in Italy, if you face away from the window and/or squint a bit. Head towards the Curve theatre, and you’ll find Grays Coffee Shop & Kitchen. Well, you will, if you know where to look. It’s squirelled away in the LCB Depot business centre, but it’s no works canteen. The current menu includes tuna toasties, vegan burgers and quadruple-cooked chips. Quadruple! Have some of that, you thrice-cooked slackers.

The Victorian tellers and clerks who used to work in the striking Grade II-listed former bank by Every Street, near Leicester’s Town Hall Square, would be quite startled to hear it ended up as a coffee house, and even more so – once you’d explained the concept – that it’s vegan.  Prana, needless to say, is far more likely to make you coo ‘get a load of that ornate cornice work’ than your usual cafe. Obscure fact: the name Every Street, comes from the taxi firm that used to be there, which boasted their cabs went to every street in Leicester. Huh!

Crafty Burger is a much-loved regular pop-up restaurant which runs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the St Martin’s Coffee Shop – random review on TripAdvisor: “I have never been disappointed”. By St Martin’s Coffee Shop, we imagine they mean, rather than life generally.

Bread and Honey, a stone’s throw from the campus – if you can lob a stone several hundred feet, that is – packs a lot into a small place: home-made soups, fresh cakes, Belgian single-hot chocolate and Monmouth coffee too, which apparently makes people who know about such things levitate slightly with joy.

In case of sunshine – or gloom, or joy, or simple persistent nagging by your sweet tooth – try Gelato Village, on the edge of St Martins Square. USP: luxury ice cream, made with Leicestershire milk by two splendid men from Turin. The result is about as far from a Strawberry Mivvi as it’s possible to get. What’s that? Oh, ask your Nan.

Want to eat and work? Try the The Distillery, which offers lunch, bottomless soft or hot drinks, wifi and power for a tenner. That’s bottomless, as is in you get refills, not a calamitous flaw in the mug design.

If you’ve got a visit from the family pencilled in, and they have deep pockets, push the boat out with a posh curry at Chutney Ivy (opposite the Curve theatre and handy for the Exchange bar). North Bar and Kitchen, which promises British classics created with flair, is a short walk from the campus, on the Hinckley Road. Keep going along the road – no, further … more … no, you haven’t gone wrong, promise – and you’ll eventually come to Winstanley House, a smart wedding venue/hotel/restaurant/bar on Braunstone Park. It’s in the city, but you’ll feel like you’re right out in the sticks.

Winstanley House

Back in the centre of town, The Case has been feeding mums, dads and their freeloading student offspring for decades. Restaurant reviewers would probably use the words space or room approvingly.

A final tip: Leicester’s LCB Depot, near Curve theatre, hosts #LastFriday at the tail end of each month, with street food stalls, music and arts.

They mean business: the entrepreneurs who took the plunge in the pandemic and are on the up in lockdown

Four Gen Z go-getters tell Philippa Blakeley about using their creative flair and finding their enterprising spirit in the age of Covid-19

Skiin, started by Saffron Spence and her twin sister

We might have been living through a pandemic, but another contagion raged at the same time, one which was much more fun, relaxing and often rather tasty. Let me remind you of the banana bread obsession we witnessed during the first lockdown. This was possible for the vast majority of us because we had much more time on our hands.

But for many that spare time came at a big cost, through being furloughed or even made unemployed, and it meant many were left needing a second job to help maintain the income they had prior to the pandemic. The non-essential retail industry is one which took a real hit, but for lots of start-up businesses into this industry, they were not deterred.

That doesn’t mean it was easy, the Federation of Small Businesses is predicting the loss of around 250,000 small businesses as a result.

We spoke to four women, who made the most of the opportunities the pandemic presented, by starting their own small businesses – discussing the importance of the virtual world for their businesses, tackling lockdown restrictions, and the benefits of shopping small and sustainable.

Bridie Heath, 22, London

Charity might start at home, but for Bridie that was her work life. When her workplace – a charity shop – was forced to close and Bridie was sent home, like the rest of us, she needed to find new ways to keep herself busy. This was when she took up crocheting in the first lockdown.

Bridie’s first lockdown was already full of creativity, even before she found her love for making earrings and coasters from polymer clay. But as lockdown went on, and it felt as though normality was getting further and further away, Bridie saw this as her opportunity to make a fundamental change to her life.

Initially, doing crocheting was something Bridie enjoyed because it meant she could physically make something for herself and wear it, especially with the environmental benefits this has. She even found the idea of being able to make her whole wardrobe from scratch an exciting prospect. “I started with crochet and making something by myself and being able to wear it was really nice. I think sustainability in fashion is so important, to wear all my own clothes would be fantastic,” she says.

Just before the second lockdown, in October, Bridie began creating earring designs and coasters from polymer clay. “I never really wore earrings that much until I started making my own earrings and I loved the freedom of working with the polymer clay,” she says. This hobby has now become her job, after she started her business bgroovydesigns, alongside her part-time job at a charity shop. To begin with it was something she was very worried about, and took a while to decide over. But with limited work opportunities due to the pandemic, she decided to take the plunge.

“I had seen other people do it and I thought if they can do it, why not I,

“I was really nervous because I’m not a big self-believer but now just to hear that people like my stuff is so rewarding,” she says.

Bridie has also now found a new love for wearing her earrings, which are inspired by 70s fashion, combined with experimental patterns and bold designs. “I love wearing them out, I feel so confident and when people ask me about them, it’s so nice to say they’re mine and it’s free advertising,” she says jokingly.

As we move out of the pandemic and back into more normality, Bridie has aspirations to continue growing the business as it is something she has really enjoyed, and due to the benefits it has brought to her mental health. “In an ideal world, I would love to do it full time, but I do realise that is very rare to be able to do. Currently, it is sustainable for me to do three days a week and I’m very much a realist and know that it’ll be difficult,” she says.

Not only have small businesses in the creative industry emerged during the pandemic, with people having much more time on their hands, but there has also been a surge in the number of people shopping at local, independent shops.

“I’m so against Amazon, I always think support the ‘little man’,

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m now doing this, but I feel like this year people have really focused more on shopping local and have really pushed for it,” says Bridie.

Bridie was overwhelmed by the amount of support she has recieved, despite only officially launching her shop during the second lockdown.

All of us in 2020 saw the importance of social media for everyone, with staying connected, but also for the many people who started their own small businesses during the pandemic, social media has become essential for promoting their products.

“Without social media this wouldn’t be able to happen at all. Instagram is my holy grail for this sort of thing,

“People have just received the first batch of earrings and seeing that is so rewarding, it is my driving force to continue,” says Bridie.

Sophie Nancy, 21, Leeds

The one thing that had always stopped Sophie Nancy? People’s opinions. But that was longer a problem when lockdown hit. Yes, she had the heartbreak of no last day of university, no graduation, no just ‘being a student’ for one last time. But that was no excuse for Sophie, who chose to make the most of lockdown by starting her own business.

She was already able to sew and would often sew for her friends and housemates, but then they began asking her if they could buy her clothes. This gave her the inspiration to start selling her clothes on her Depop, @sophienancy.

“I felt I had been given a huge gift of time, and it was something I had always wanted to start,

“I knew there was interest through my friends,” she says. “Even now it is something I do for the pure enjoyment; I’m not making loads of money from it.”

Sophie’s love for fashion was enhanced during her second year at university when she interned at London Fashion Week and did a short course in fashion at Central Saint Martins, London. It was during this time which inspired her style both for the clothes she wears herself and also the clothes she makes for her shop.

“I saw whacky, sustainable fashion, ripping up the rule book which I like to do but also I think what would I want to wear, what do I think is cool, it’s an intuition thing almost, doing what I want,” she says.

Since the first lockdown, Sophie has continued making clothes for her shop, participating in a pop-up shop on Brick Lane and joining ASOS marketplace, while also starting her Masters in September. “I’ve been running the shop alongside my Masters,” she says. “I took it all in my stride until I stopped for the holidays and now, I just sleep.”

Once Sophie graduates from her Masters, she wants to focus more on further developing and growing her business. “I’m going to apply for jobs but also work on my business full time. I want more regular releases and more structure, as well as a more long-term plan,” she says.

Sophie has also benefitted from the increased numbers of people shopping small this year, and the increased importance which has been put on reducing fast fashion. As with many other small business owners this is something which she feels is essential, particularly since starting her own.

“People need to support the next generation, it’s more sustainable and we’re more aware of the problems in the industry because we’ve been outside it before,” says Sophie. “Also, our things are completely original.”

Sophie even believes lockdown has benefitted her in terms of the clothes she has created because of the greater freedom for designing what she likes, rather than having to take on board other people’s opinions. “It’s been good not being influenced by people’s opinions because everyone has been stuck at home,” she says.

Jess Fisher, 20, Portsmouth

At home, recovering from an operation which left Jess Fisher pretty much bedbound in 2019, was the start of her creative passion. She was suffering from the isolation many of us would experience in 2020 and realised the benefits of getting creative. It was because of this that she set up her business ‘threadbabe’, creating embroidery wall hangings.

So, when lockdown arrived it was the perfect opportunity for Jess to spread her passion to many other people who were feeling lonely and miserable.

“I worked in a call centre and the girl sat next to me said she had been doing embroidery, she was always telling me about it, so I started following a few embroidery accounts on Instagram,” says Jess. “Then when I had my operation and had eight weeks off work, I started, just to prove to myself that I could make these things, but I didn’t realise then that I could sell them.”

As often happens, Jess’ friends started asking if they could buy her things, which was what inspired her to start her own Etsy shop and an Instagram page to promote her business. As with many other small businesses, social media and the virtual world is something which has really benefitted Jess.

Then during lockdown, her boyfriend’s mum asked Jess to provide her with a pattern and all the different things she would need to create her own wall hanging – this was where the idea for the subscription boxes was created.

“With the pandemic and people losing their jobs or being on furlough it meant they have more time, so it was good for me getting my work out there and that meant I was helping many other people,” she says.

With the subscription boxes, everything needed to create the wall hanging is sent out, enabling people to physically get creative. This is something Jess has often used as a coping mechanism when life gets tough, and the pandemic has definitely been that for many people.

“Before I started embroidery, I would just sit scrolling through my phone and I know that’s not good but now I do embroidery and just have that time for myself,” she says. “I think that is something really important, even in the pandemic life is so busy.”

After the pandemic, Jess has aspirations of continuing to expand her business – her aims being to move from working full time to working part time in a job and part time on her business.

For Jess, the increase in people shopping independent is something she is thrilled about. Having a small business within the industry means it is something she sees the benefits of. “By shopping small, you are directly supporting someone’s passion, that is their dream you are supporting,” she says. “If you can afford it, why put your money into something big when they don’t need your custom the same.”

Saffron Spence, 22, Sheffield

The bond identical twins have tends to be like unlike any other relationship. They were in the womb together and they go through life together. For Saffron and Amber they also got coronavirus together.

It was while they were isolating separately but at the same time, they decided to start their own business, Skiin Cosmetics. “Amber facetimed me and said she had this idea, and with both of us being at home for two weeks it seemed to make sense,” says Saffron.

Amber is very keen on makeup, even working as a makeup artist alongside her degree, and as black women, making inclusive makeup was something they both felt very passionate about.

“Amber has always wanted her own makeup brand, so she designs all the products and I do all the other things like the website and marketing,” says Saffron.  “We didn’t really know where to start and obviously in lockdown, it was a bit of a nightmare, but we had those two weeks and the idea so we felt we just had to run with it.”

Unlike the other small businesses, for Saffron and Amber, they were starting a business in an industry where demand was decreasing. With lockdown, people were no longer leaving the house meaning for many women, makeup use also decreased.

As we come out of lockdown, Saffron believes this will help to further boost their business. “We are still selling products but it would be better if we weren’t in lockdown, but you’ve just got to take it,” she says.

Saffron is hoping that when the pandemic starts improving and because of the inclusive nature of their business, that 2021 can be a big year of growth for their company. “One of our goals is to get on ‘Beauty Bay’ or another more well-known site, as well as bringing out a line of blushers and highlighters and a range of foundation by the end of 2021 too.”

Meet the hijabi makeup artists taking over social media

Beauty is inspired by all walks of life, writes Isatou Ndure. Beauty is diversity. These hijabi makeup artists – some professional and some just incredibly talented makeup lovers – are going to have you tapping away on Instagram and TikTok. They all post tutorials with stunning results, product reviews and tips whilst expressing themselves creatively through makeup while wearing a hijab. 

Rafiqah Abdullah Akhdar, 20-year-old from Connecticut

What would you say is your beauty signature? 

“My signature would probably be my base. I’ve spent so much time trying to learn how to successfully achieve a good base routine and now I feel like I’ve successfully mastered my routine. I was always so afraid of foundation and nervous about the finish but now that I can successfully do my base I get so happy just to see my growth.”

How important has makeup been to you?

“Makeup has been my lifeline, especially during this pandemic. Makeup was always a way to express myself and my creativity but with the pandemic makeup became a whole new art form for me.”

Besides being a makeup artist, what other things do you do?

“I have a YouTube channel that I honestly haven’t been very active on recently but I’m trying to work on it more since it’s my true passion. I’m currently in my Junior year at UCONN Stamford. I’m getting my Bachelors of Arts in Communications. I also work as a fragrance advisor at Nordstrom.” 

You represent a side of beauty we don’t get to see much, do you think hijabi makeup artists are important in our society and why? 

“Hijabi makeup artists are important because everyone wants/needs representation, we all want to see someone who looks like us in positive positions especially when we’d like to be in the same one. When I was younger I always wanted to go on America’s Next Top Model and when I always talked about this dream as a child I would say I wanted to be the first hijabi to do so to show people were here and we can thrive in the industry. I wanted to be able to show other girls who looked like me that they could complete their dreams while still maintaining their faith. Obviously, that’s not the route I’d be talking about now. Hijabis are widely misjudged in the western world so seeing so many hijabis happily being themselves online is just so amazing.”

What is your favourite makeup trend/ look right now?

“I’ve been loving all of the new trends that have been coming out this past year but my top favourite is definitely the effect of Euphoria. Looks with graphic liner and rhinestones have been the funniest and best looks I’ve done. Euphoria really made a wave within the beauty community and I love every effect that it has.”

What are your holy grail makeup products that you’d recommend to all makeup starters? 

“My top three referrals are Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer, NARS Natural Radiant Foundation and the Lancôme Long time no shine translucent powder. Hydro Grip is the best primer I’ve ever tried. It feels tacky when you rub it in but that makes your foundation latch on even better. The NARS foundation has been my holy grail for about three years and I will always love it. It gives the perfect skin-like finish and you can build the coverage to full. The final holy grail product is definitely the most unexpected. I have never tried a powder like the Lancome Long time no shine powder. It sets the foundation amazingly but it never dries out my skin and it works well with every foundation I’ve tried it with so far. These items are a little pricey but trust me when I say they are WELL worth it!”

Shamsi, 21-year-old freelance makeup artist from Toronto

What would you say is your beauty signature? 

“I would say my signature would have to be my eyeshadow looks. I’m only saying that because that’s what a lot of people recognized me for recently. If it were up to me the sole focus would be my base; meaning my foundation routine. I think people would say my signature is eyeshadow mainly because I showcase colours and techniques for an application that many haven’t learned yet and that is what creates the interest. They’re able to see colour and wearable looks all paired together with the idea that even if you are a beginner, it is possible to achieve.”

How important has makeup been to you?

“Makeup has always been a large part of my life since I was about 12 years old. I remember wanting to start a YouTube page about makeup with one of my friends at the time because I was so in love with the versatility of it and all the possibilities it had to offer. When I learned I was capable of covering up my acne scars using makeup, it became an even bigger part of my life. I’ve always found the process of application therapeutic as well as the self-care aspect of removing the makeup afterwards and following it up with skincare. I may not have realised it at the time, but growing up makeup has played a huge role in nurturing my creative side.”

Besides being a makeup artist, what other things do you do?

“Freelance work isn’t my main career path. I am a Registered Social Service Worker (RSSW) and focus the majority of my time on that part of my life. I know I would love the idea of focusing on social media very soon, however, if we’re talking long term? My life’s work needs to be in the service of others. I’ve always found comfort in advocating for social issues and challenging societal norms in creating anti-oppressive spaces and in a way,  I channel that with my makeup and my TikTok personality.”

You represent a side of beauty we don’t get to see much, do you think hijabi makeup artists are important in our society and why?

“I think hijabi makeup artists, BLACK hijabi makeup artists, have completely challenged the beauty and fashion industry. Speaking specifically about black hijabi women in the field of influencers, seeing as how that’s the intersectionality we’re discussing. Women like Aysha Harun, Shahd Batal, Chinutay, Enimsay, and so many more have challenged the standard of beauty in recent years and have made it feel possible for others like me, to imagine a society where someone who looks like me can be accepted. And if they don’t accept it? Too bad because we’re not going anywhere.”

What is your favourite makeup trend/ look right now?

“My favourite beauty trend right now has to be the minimal, soft, natural look. The blush replacing bronzer, as well as for opting for a dark brown liner over black has created such a soft and subtle look that is achievable by all skin types and skin tones.”

What are your holy grail makeup products that you’d recommend to all makeup starters? 

“My holy grail products would have to include; 

  • The Neutrogena Hydro Boost sunscreen (because sun protection is vital to a smooth base)
  • Benefit 24-hour brow setter
  • NYX butter glosses
  • Real Techniques face sponge

These products can be used by anyone and everyone and are great for getting into makeup and are more affordable than other products.”

Sumaya Yusuf, 21-year-old from Minnesota

What would you say is your beauty signature?

“I would say my beauty signature look would definitely be the base. So primer, foundation, concealer, powder, and contour, a corny phrase I like to say is, “if your base don’t look right, your face don’t look right.”

How important has makeup been to you?

“Makeup has been important in my life because it allows me to express myself. I like to look at it like art, you’re constantly creating masterpieces and other times failing and learning new things. It’s something fun to do.”

Besides being a makeup artist, what other things do you do?

“Besides doing makeup I’m a full-time college student and I also work part-time. Makeup is just a stress reliever I like to do when I’m not too busy.”

You represent a side of beauty we don’t get to see much, do you think hijabi makeup artists are important in our society and why?

“I think it’s important because I’m representing a side of beauty that only focuses on the face. By that, I mean lots of hijabis can’t express themselves with their hair publicly so if they see another girl who loves to create art on their face it shines a light on that. It definitely did for me because I grew up watching some of my favourite YouTubers, like Aysha Harun.”

What is your favourite makeup trend/ look right now?

My favourite trend on TikTok would definitely be recreating looks from Pinterest. I’ve done a couple on my page and it’s exciting because you get to take a shot at something simply by looking at it. You don’t know what the products were used you’re just starting with a blank canvas.”

What are your holy grail makeup products that you’d recommend to all makeup starters?

“My holy grail makeup product would be the jet-black liquid eyeliner from e.l.f. I’m not joking when I say I’ve been using it for five years on every single look I’ve done. It’s something that I struggled with at first but then kept practising and now I can finally say I’ve mastered the art of eyeliner.”

Black to the future: the fresh face of alt-culture

Alternative black girls have been around for a long time but have faced ridicule and alienation within their community. But with the likes of Rico Nasty and Mimi The Nerd embracing their alternative identities, changes are coming, writes Isatou Ndure.  

A pale, skinny white girl, that’s the ideal aesthetic for an alt, punk or e-girl: the signature deathly pale look, complete with dramatic eye make-up and a bold black lip.

Caprece Harvey

But scroll through TikTok and Instagram and you’ll see the faces of alternative girls are no longer white. Black alternative girls have blown over social media as more people begin to appreciate their uniqueness. 

What most people do not understand is that it was never a prerequisite to be pale or specifically white to be in the scene. It was all about the state of mind, the beauty, and the music. It’s never about the skin tone. The concept itself is absurd.

Growing up any black girl who dressed as a goth or punk would be labelled as an Oreo, “black on the outside and white on the inside.”   

If you were black and dressed differently you were not accepted by either race. You were somehow too white for the black kids and too black for the white kids and were deemed as outcasts. 

But these days, black alternative girls no longer rouse such negative reactions anymore from their peers, not to say they don’t receive negative reactions at all, but it is more likely from those in the older generation.  Trends that were once specific to particular groups, have to some degree submerged into the mainstream standard. In earlier times, a septum piercing was a stature of subverting the status quo. Now? Not so much. 

In high school, I had some guy scream ‘vampire’ as I walked into class. I took it as a compliment

Connie Williams

Eighteen-year-old Sumaya Botan, or Maya, from Birmingham classes herself as an alternative black girl and pinpoints her style as cottage core, scene and baby-doll like.  

Maya Botan

“I’ve always leaned towards being alt mostly because it’s such a welcoming open community and I love that anything is acceptable as long as you’re a nice person.

“I’ve always had a fascination in alt culture but would say I had the confidence to dress the way I do now around 2018.”

Even though alternative styles are now celebrated, girls like Maya still feel like outcasts to those that do not appreciate alternative culture and there are still occasions where girls are judged for the way they dress.  

“I have received quite a lot of hate for the way I dress and present myself mostly when I’m in public, I get a lot of stares or get called out in public quite often, but I mostly just take that as a compliment at this point!” 

“People are scared of what they don’t understand or know and it’s fine I know it mostly comes from a place of self-consciousness of not being able to fully be themselves.”

It seems to be a normal thing for alternative girls to take the negative reactions they receive and view them as compliments. Across the pond, 24-year-old Connie Williams and Caprece Harvey, 23, have had similar experiences. 

New Yorker Connie says: “In freshman year of high school, I had some guy scream “vampire” as soon as I walked into class. Everyone laughed whilst I was unfazed. I actually took it as a compliment.” 

Model Caprece, from Pennsylvania, chooses to not give her energy to those that do not match her own and spoke of her own negative reactions to the public. 

“If by negative you mean soccer moms scoffing at me in the grocery store, yes, but I view it as a compliment. Someone took the time out of their day to acknowledge me. Like what? Thank you boo it’s always a pleasure, mwah.”

Many of the foremost unconventional, exciting and edgy individuals within the world are black and they’re not any less because of it.  

I would try to hide the bright clothes my mother bought me. It just feel normal to shop for dark colours

Connie Williams

Connie grew up loving alternative styles. “I was a quiet kid and felt insecure around a lot of other girls who developed more than me. At the time, I would put more of an effort into my fashion in order to feel attractive and less like a wallflower.”

Connie Williams

Connie describes her style as e-girl, kawaii and preppy goth. She loved alternative clothing before it was labelled “cool” by the rest of the world.  

“I’ve been doing this since middle school, so it’s now natural to me. I hated pink, yellow and green on me. I would try to hide the bright clothes my mother brought me in the back of my closet. Now it just feels normal to shop for dark colours.

“Dressing in pink and wearing “girly” clothes made me feel ugly. Once I was able to shop for myself, I bought more black clothing and felt more like a pretty kickass wallflower.”

Many alternative girls are now aware of how mainstream their style has become over the years. Now it’s a trend to be an alternative.  

The rise of unconventional rappers like Rico Nasty, Willow and Mimi The Nerd who portray self-expressions that have been made invisible within the black community and as a rule are seen as the sole realm of white social pariahs, have displayed a new dawn for alternative black girls. 

Down in Pennsylvania, Caprece describes her style as “daring, unique and ethereal.”

“I have always had a fun style since I was a little girl. I used to reconstruct my clothes all the time, the older I got the more diverse and unique it became.

“I will always take my style further, evolution is inevitable. I don’t even stick to one style, so I can’t imagine staying on one wave, yikes.”

It’s fair to point out that goth and alternative cultures are connected to whiteness within the well-known imagination, but many characteristics related to these subcultures, such as tattoos, piercings and rock have roots in the black community.  

The deletion of black people’s commitments to such subcultures is overwhelming, if you look hard enough, it’s not difficult to spot how blackness and alternative styles converge. 

Sumaya, Connie and Caprece are keeping alternative styles alive in the black community.  Many don’t believe that the black alternative community is bigger than they think. Whilst some are open-minded, a certain stigma remains within the minds of others that alternative equals white.  

Connie Williams

As the new era of black alternative girls begins to take over the world, those that have come before offer some advice. 

Sumaya says: “Be the most you possibly can be because nothing anyone says or thinks really matters. They are too caught up in their own issues to worry about that outfit you’re too scared to wear.”

Caprece says: “Keep doing you babe, you’re going to change the world.” 

Connie says: “Buy wigs, not cheap hair clips from Hot Topic, they do not match your hair texture!”