Tomorrow, Gurls Talk, the feminist platform founded by Adwoa Aboah two years ago, will host its first ever event in London, a day-long festival of female empowerment offering young women a welcoming environment, free of stigma and judgement, where they can be heard and meet like-minded people.
Free and open to everyone (all you have to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org), the day begins with a talk by Adwoa, followed by poetry, dance, arts and crafts workshops, and talks by relationship expert Karley Sciortino, activist, intersex advocate and model Hanne Gaby Odiele, feminist columnist and author Laurie Penny, filming by StyleLikeU, a photo studio and much more.
Over the past few months, Adwoa has fronted campaigns for Miu Miu, Versus, Dior and GAP, and covered magazines from LOVE and i-D to American Vogue, all while working committedly on Gurls Talk and speaking frankly about addiction, depression and all manner of things affecting young women around the world today.
I sat down with Adwoa in the run-up to the event, held in partnership with Coach, to discuss finally bringing it to fruition, the women who inspire her, how it actually feels being described as "the face of feminism" and how the 25-year-old model would like Gurls Talk to grow.
I’ve known you for a few years and I'm so amazed by all you've achieved but at the same time recognise that being referred to as "the new face of feminism" or "the voice of a generation" is a big weight on your shoulders. Do you feel that pressure?
Yeah, I already had a panic attack as you said that [laughs]!
You're just a young woman like the rest of us, doing your thing. It must be full-on, being asked for your opinion on so many different issues?
I don’t want to give my opinion on everything because I'm still learning. It was actually really nice to meet this woman at Glastonbury. She was a psychiatrist and she said how much she loved Gurls Talk with what she’s been through. She said "I love the way you’ve gone into it and you’re learning on the go". And that’s literally what I’m doing. I told my story, I didn’t know what would happen by doing that and I am just learning. I am learning from everyone I talk to, I’m learning from the mistakes I’ve been making, even in the process of this event. I’m very appreciative of the label and grateful for it – you know, 'model/activist' – but for me I’m just like Adwoa, founder of Gurls Talk and I’m just going to roll with it and learn. I’m my biggest critic so I feel like I’ve got far more things to achieve and change.
This is your first major Gurls Talk event in London. How did you take it from an idea and make it into a reality?
Just perseverance and Holly Gore, in my team, who's the other side of Gurls Talk. If she wasn’t around this wouldn't have been possible. This has been something that we’ve been planning for a year and a half. It's changed from being only about photography and only about sexuality, then we decided to just do a small dinner because we didn’t have the funds and our sponsor had dropped out and then it changed city... but it's been a year and a half that we’ve been working on this.
Now you've partnered with Coach and Dazed, and it's grown into something huge. Was it important to you that it was free and accessible to a wide audience?
From the beginning, we always wanted it to be free. Before, it was going to be an all-female art show and we contacted hundreds of artists, from the biggest in the world to ones that we found through deep, deep Instagram binges. That one was going to be specifically based in LA. But this was always gonna be accessible to everyone and the main thing that Holly and I always wanted was for it to be free. With that it’s hard to know who's going to be able to come to it – is there going to be enough space? And it’s become something way bigger than we even imagined.
Obviously Gurls Talk is known and we've had a lot of press, but we really have been concentrating on making sure we don’t oversaturate ourselves but also making sure we’re creating our own content, and creating our own events, not just a part of something. Everything has been thought about to the max, from who we want to do the set, who we want to do flowers, who we want on the panel discussion, how can we make this well rounded and educational, artistic and kinda girly. The dinner we did in LA was really great, that was kinda the start of it. We invited lots of people we didn’t know and we had this amazing dinner for 40 women, we all sat and we chatted. That, in the smallest sense, is what we wanted to recreate for the event on Saturday. We've always wanted it to be a place where you want to stay all day, where you can chat, watch things and meet other women.
The line-up for Saturday's event is really impressive and pretty diverse, from choreographer Wayne McGregor to supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele. How did you make the selection of people you wanted involved?
Both Holly and myself have really been in charge of that. Looking at what we'd want to go and see and how we can make Gurls Talk so that there are many different components. On the website we do a lot of poetry and writing. A lot of the girls who get in contact do all sorts of things, from theatre, to dance, to yoga, and they’re all advocating and shouting the same sort of message so we wanted to make sure it was well rounded. I might not want to go do a breathing exercise, but there are plenty other girls that want to.
Since you launched Gurls Talk a couple of years ago, you've now become a massive role model for lots of young women around the world. Who are your personal heroes and mentors?
It’s not really one particular name. I am blown away by the girls who work alongside me for Gurls Talk, by the girls that write in every day, by [psychologist] Lauren Hazzouri, who is going to be doing something on Saturday – she writes back to every single girl who sends their stories and questions. My mum, my sister, all my girlfriends are inspirational women. For me, every woman that kind of stands out in my mind, from my best friend, my mum, my grandmother to a girl that I met at Glastonbury last week, it's their honesty, their openness; how raw and unapologetically vulnerable they all are. They’ve all been through some sort of thing which may be smaller than the next girl's or bigger than the next, but they’ve all managed to climb over that mountain and get through it. To me that is just amazing.
You were pretty young when you started modelling. Do you think having a network of girlfriends such as designers Molly Goddard and Ashley Williams or casting director Madde Ostlie, who are all carving out their own careers in the same industry, has been a strong support?
Completely. Those three women have all stood by me, they’re massive supporters of Gurls Talk and everything that I’ve achieved in modelling. It's also lovely to have women within this industry that you feel like you’re on the same wavelength with. And all of those three have paved the way for me, in a sense, in sticking to who they are and creating something beautiful.
How would you like Gurls Talk and your career to grow?
After this event I just want to keep the momentum up. I’ve always said when people have asked "What can we do in our small town" or "What can we do in our school to help feminism, support activism, and help everything that we want to do for women?" It can all be very small things. I want to make sure I keep up the momentum, do other things for other communities, whether it’s more photography and art. Just make sure that Gurls Talk is going everywhere. But the bigger plan is for Gurls Talk to have its own space, its own centre, where anyone can come whenever they want and you’ll have the sex expert, the eating disorders expert, the best psychiatrist, you’ll have everything. You’ll be able to go there and you’ll be able to do dance, you’ll be able to talk and you’ll be able to cry. It will just be a safe place.
I used to work with model Leomie Anderson in a shop when I was at university and I’ve known you for a few years. To see you both now using your public voice to campaign for change for women in the fashion industry and beyond, is brilliant.
Oh, she’s amazing.
But do you think we still have a way to go?
We are making breakthroughs in everything but we’ve definitely got a long way to go. One of the things I want to concentrate on more with Gurls Talk (and everything that I preach and talk about) is making sure that I’m doing that same work within the fashion industry. I really want to do more work within that sphere. People need to get up off their arses and make a difference. Start being conscious of the bigger picture. It’s not just a magazine cover, tens of thousands if not millions of girls read that magazine and they look through that magazine and they see one type of girl and they don’t see themselves. It’s a long ladder of shit.
For me as a black woman, more specifically a Ghanaian woman, seeing your face fronting the biggest campaigns (and with your sister in the latest Miu Miu campaign), walking for brands like Dior, on the cover of so many magazines and then with Edward Enninful, also Ghanaian, being given one of the biggest jobs in the fashion industry, that feels monumental for me and I'm sure for so many other people.
Totally. I never looked through a magazine [when I was younger] and saw anyone who looked like me. So I thought I wasn’t attractive, I thought men wouldn’t fancy me, I wanted blonde hair, blue eyes. It was that simple. Maybe that’s not a big deal to everyone but it’s definitely been a very detrimental part in the way I’ve looked at myself and my self-love and my self-care, which I’ve now managed to get back up.
Speaking of self-care, you’re constantly travelling, shooting campaigns and editorials, at events, on panel talks all around the world. How do you keep grounded and focused and most importantly, look after yourself?
I’ve got an amazing therapist. Also meetings, which I should do more of. Boxing. Boxing is a big one, that really levels me out. And making sure I don’t isolate. I’m a big isolator and I feel that when I’ve been on a shoot I can’t be near any more people but actually people on a shoot and my friends are completely different. It’s all balance and I can be pretty shit at balance sometimes, but I’m getting much better!