Droga5 London’s new executive creative director Shelley Smoler has a track record of tapping into culture and society. It’s an attribute perhaps best exemplified by her work for the Zimbabwean, a newspaper based in her homeland of South Africa, while at TBWAHuntLacaris Johannesburg. Launched in 2009, the Wallpaper Money campaign used real banknotes as the background across posters in a bid to highlight the damaged economy under Robert Mugabe’s presidency. The work went on to win a coveted D&AD Black Pencil, and still feels pertinent given the political instability and economic crisis facing Zimbabwe at the moment.

Smoler’s work has channeled culture in other ways, too. In 2015, she relocated from South Africa to London to work at BBH on clients such as the Guardian, Audi and Google, before joining Droga5 two years later as creative director. One of her most widely revered projects since joining Droga5 came in 2018, when she helped to orchestrate a performance piece for Uniqlo in collaboration with Solange, titled Metatronia. A blend of dance, sculpture and film, the project was lauded by fashion and culture magazines and went on display in an LA museum, serving as a masterclass in merging the worlds of advertising and culture.

On the awards circuit, too, Smoler’s work is being recognised beyond the confines of the advertising world. Shortly before her promotion to ECD was announced, her team at Droga5 received an Emmy nomination for Amazon’s comical 2020 Super Bowl spot, Before Alexa.

Below, she talks to us about uprooting her life to move to the UK, how her experience of growing up in South Africa shapes her work today, and the hurdles she has overcome to get to where she is.