Ekaterina Leonova’s first experience as a translator was with the navy at a local shipbuilding yard, but she quickly realised that her heart was in fashion. Following a MA Documentary Photography in London, Ekaterina had to return to Russia when her student visa expired and has been focusing on fashion translation ever since!
Hi Ekaterina! Where in the world are you based?
I’m based in the far eastern region of Russia, in a city called Khabarovsk – very close to China, South Korea and Japan but a long way from Europe!
Did you always want to be a freelance translator?
While I love freelancing now, I didn’t plan to become a freelance translator at all. I had my first experience in translation for the navy at the local shipbuilding yard more than 10 years ago. Although it was interesting and challenging, I moved on from there after a few years of climbing the ships – my heart was in fashion. So, I started working as a fashion and beauty editor/photoshoot producer at a local magazine in my hometown. I know it sounds like quite a change, but it was actually a gradual progression and I was following my passion.
During this time, I dreamed of living in London. A friend brought me a copy of British Vogue on one of her trips and I loved it so much that I purchased an annual subscription. It was about 2005-2006. You could say that I fell in love with London by reading Vogue.
"I had my first experience in translation for the navy at the local shipbuilding yard more than 10 years ago. Although it was interesting and challenging, I moved on from there after a few years of climbing the ships – my heart was in fashion."
I visited London for the first time in 2010, then a few more times. I became completely smitten with everything it has to offer. I moved to London for my MA degree in Documentary Photography in 2014, hoping to begin a new life there, but returned home 18 months later when my student visa expired. It is difficult to return when you don’t want to – at first, I had no idea what I would do and so I started freelancing: writing and translating for a friend’s fashion project. That gave me the idea that translation was something I could return to professionally. I realised that I enjoy translating fashion-related texts, but I had no idea about the translation world, how agencies like Quill operate, etc. Despite my prior BA degree in translation (God knows how many years ago), I didn’t know how it all works in the world today. I started to gain knowledge slowly, filled in my LinkedIn account and was so happy when Quill contacted me for the Tommy Hilfiger project. It was almost two years ago. Now I can proudly say that I specialise in fashion translation.
Interestingly, my university major photography project was about language. I explored the idea of foreign language speaking anxiety by photographing and interviewing different people in London whose first language wasn’t English. It all was then put into a printed book.
What gives you the most satisfaction when translating?
Ahh! Nothing is better than translating sharp and snappy fashion description in English into Russian and nailing it. For someone who doesn’t know, Russian words are quite long, and they connect in a difficult way so we can’t play with them like our English colleagues. I love the state of flow when you are feeling how words connect and reconnect in your brain, forming perfect sentences.
It can be tricky to stay focused when working on multiple projects at once. How do you overcome this?
It may sound counterproductive, but I try not to work on multiple projects at one time. I try to divide them at least by a day because each project has its own differences and it is better to finish one while still ‘living and breathing’ in the project’s space. I feel like my brain starts working on a given project slowly but after a few hours it gets faster, and it seems better to use that state rather than switching to a different project.
What are the benefits of working as a freelancer in Russia?
The main benefit for me is that I can work with London-based companies like Quill and stay connected to my favourite city. Another benefit is economic, the rouble is not a very stable currency at the moment so getting paid in pounds really helps. The freelancer market in my part of Russia is still quite young and remote jobs are not that popular. I hope to see more of it in the future.
How do you think freelance content creation will change over the next five years?
To tell the truth, I don’t know. I still feel quite new to the scene. Strange thing to say, because I’ve been creating content for over a decade now, but my freelance experience is not that long. I think it is in a constant state of flow and change. But I’m sure the quality of content online will improve as more companies realise the benefits of strong content and begin to invest in it.
What do you like to get up to in your spare time?
I love working on my personal documentary photography projects. My MA degree and experience of living in London gave me a new appreciation for my hometown and I have been photographing it for three years. I also had a photography exhibition earlier this year which (surprise, surprise!) was about London. It felt fantastic – to see so many people attending the exhibition and forming their own view of the city they’ve never visited in real life. Another passion of mine is indie magazines. I usually order them from the UK and read from cover to cover. I also post regularly on Instagram – it is normally documentary images and videos I take in and of the city.
If you could go back to when you started as a translator, what advice would you give yourself?
Gosh, the path was so choppy! It all started with my BA degree and I had no idea that so many things would become possible – internet was in its infancy in Russia. I’d tell myself to trust my gut and generally be more relaxed.