Miriam King on using youth innovation to solve social problems
After a career working in fashion tech, in 2020 Miriam King swivelled to become a fellow at Year Here, a course focused on entrepreneurship and social innovation. It was during her time at Year Here that she met her co-founders for LIVING PROOF, a company dedicated to giving young people an innovation skill-set and connecting brands with valuable youth insight. Inspired by the exponential potential of young people, LIVING PROOF has got off to a roaring start. From working alongside UN Women UK to possible plans to roll out LIVING PROOF across multiple countries, Miriam King tells us all about the company's successes so far.
Tell me how you started LIVING PROOF?
At the beginning of 2020, I quit my job in fashion tech to become a Fellow at Year Here, a post-grad course in social innovation and entrepreneurship. This is where I met my incredible co-founders Winnie and Rosie and also where our passion for working with young people came from. As part of the course, all Fellows undertake a five-month placement to understand social issues from the frontline. I ended up working at a youth centre in Northwest London and absolutely loved it. For me, the initial concept for LIVING PROOF was born from the idea of creating space for young people’s talents to be seen and heard, stemming directly from working with young people and seeing what they could achieve if given the space and tools to create. Throughout our time at Year Here we were trained in innovation skills and how to use these to solve problems. Rosie also came from an innovation consulting background and understood firsthand how valuable having this toolkit is for any career. We quickly discovered that most young people have never heard of innovation and we wanted to change that. The three of us came together with the belief that by giving this toolkit directly to young people, it would unlock so many opportunities, build confidence and apply to any career they choose whether that’s building their own business or building their experience in a particular industry. We’re not interested in telling them what to think, but showing them how they can think through challenges and create solutions. Empowering all young people by democratising the skills that we know employers want.
What is your career background like?
I grew up in Dublin, studied business and sociology at uni and started out my career within apparel and fashion there. Since then, my career has taken me from Dublin to New York and now London and I have worked in different roles within fashion retail from PR, visual merchandising marketing and sales from a tech perspective but also for a number of youth-focused brands including Adidas and American Apparel. I always enjoyed what I was doing but had a nagging feeling that I wanted to do something with a bit more purpose. I also knew for a long time that I wanted to work for myself and build my own thing.
What is your goal for the future of the company?
At LIVING PROOF, our mission is to develop an army of young innovators to create the future they want to see, so everything we do must focus on this goal. We have so many ideas that we’re excited to develop as we build out the company. Alongside our core offering of research, insight and innovation projects that we deliver hand-in-hand with our clients and young people, we’re building and piloting our innovation academy that will train early-career talent at big businesses in innovation skills. Another big goal of ours is to have a physical presence in the community so that young people have a shared space to come and work with us or work on their own projects. We want it to be a creative co-working space/youth centre where young people can get all the support they need to reach their full potential whether that’s access to equipment, a desk, mentors or other young people in our community. Continuing to grow, nurture and connect our community of young people is a huge goal for us. In the longer term, we want to expand internationally as we grow. Our model is replicable pretty much anywhere where there are young people and organisations that should be working together to shape a better future. Apparently, Mexico City is set to have one of the highest numbers of young people globally so maybe we’ll add that to the list…watch this space!
What does your day to day look like?
I lead on sales, brand and marketing for the company so my days are often a mix of client meetings, outreach, and relationship building alongside working on our brand and marketing strategies and developing and creating content and leading on design for our client projects.
What would be a personal career highlight?
The biggest highlight for me was actually launching LIVING PROOF and registering the business back in December last year. It was such an incredible achievement for us to be an all female-founded team, launching a business with a social mission during the pandemic.
Another highlight for me was quitting my job in Dublin which I loved and had a lot of space for progression to move to New York. After weeks and weeks of job hunting, I landed a dream gig working as a Visual Manager for American Apparel for a number of stores in Manhattan.
Why do you think it's important for companies and brands to see the value of youth voices?
Too often we hear stories about businesses launching youth-focused products and services that were designed and built by a room full of middle-aged, middle-class white men (and some middle-aged, middle-class, white women...if you’re lucky!). How can these businesses really understand what young people want and need if they don’t engage with them and build the products and services with them, hand in hand?
The future will be built by the creators, innovators and problem solvers who can adapt to our rapidly changing world. We’re on a mission to democratise innovation because we believe all young people deserve the chance to shape the world they live in, and for us, this is working directly with companies and brands to shape their future products and services. It’s time for companies to see the value of youth voices and really take on board what they hear.
Can you tell us about your reinventing public spaces campaign?
In January 2021, we ran a 12-week project with UN Women UK to gather stories and co-create ideas to answer the question ‘how can we reimagine public spaces to make women and girls safe and free after lockdown?’ with results presented to Parliament and feeding directly into the Home Office’s Call for Evidence into Violence Against Women and Girls.
We employed a Youth Board of six young people from diverse backgrounds to work alongside our core project team. This ensured every insight, idea and decision represented the young people's voices throughout every stage of our work.
We worked directly with 600 young women and girls through online workshops and we also surveyed 2,000 girls aged 18-30 to understand the frequency of feelings and behaviours and the most desirable ideas to take to Parliament.
We commissioned 10 artists and crowdsourced many more from the UN Women UK community to visualise the ideas from the workshops and bring them to life, culminating in a virtual exhibition A SAFE SPACE. At the final showcase, we presented our findings to over 45 leaders from public activism.