We are on a photographic set in Los Angeles. The joyous energy emanating from model and activist Adwoa Aboah however, has nothing to do with the sunny climes. Rather, it is everything to do with, well, her. And right now, her joy is reverberating around the studio. Smiling, she acknowledges this as a regular observation and says, in her trademark gravelly voice, ‘I have never known myself better than I do right now. Everyone around me keeps saying, “You seem so grounded and present and happy”. And they are right. I feel that I’ve come a long way. Pieces of the puzzle are finally being pieced together. And it’s really, really nice.’
'The brand has championed mental health causes for many years – long before anyone was talking about it – and I want people to know that'
There is a lot making Adwoa ecstatic right now; she has just been announced as the new Global Ambassador for Jo Malone London. ‘I am so excited,’ she says. ‘I’ve always loved Jo Malone London – my dear friend [photographer] Tim Walker shoots a lot of its fantastic campaigns – and I’ve bought it for friends for years. When I got to know the brand on a deeper level – its ethos and the long-standing work it has been doing behind the scenes on mental health – it just felt so cohesive with all the work I have been doing outside of fashion and modelling. I thought, “This is a brand that I could align myself with”.’
That Adwoa should feel ‘seriously aligned’ with the brand should come as no surprise; Jo Malone London has been championing and building awareness around mental health issues for many years, long before it became topical and Adwoa, following her own struggles with her mental health, is the founder of Gurls Talk, which she describes as ‘a community-led organisation dedicated to the mental health and well-being of women and young girls globally’. There is also the London connection, and yet global outlook, shared by both Jo Malone London and Adwoa. Speaking about her dual heritage (Adwoa’s mother is English while her father is Ghanaian) she says, ‘I feel proud and celebrate the fact that I had family
from different places. I grew up in west London in an amazing multicultural setting. We had aunties and uncles we would spend time with, we’d get our hair braided, we had Notting Hill Carnival. I mean, it was beyond exciting. I’d go to see my English family up north in the countryside but I’d also go to Ghana and stay at my Grandma’s house where you boiled the kettle to fill the bath, ate Ghanaian food and went to church. It was a different “language” than with my English family, but I celebrated that and thought it was amazing.’ That said, she is quick to admit that straddling these identities and embracing ‘difference’ didn’t always feel like a plus. Certainly not when she started modelling, which wasn’t known for its diversity. Describing her experience as ‘hard’ she says, ‘I watched as my [white] contemporaries started doing really well. I was confused as to why I wasn’t getting my break. It was a massive moment when I got my Vogue cover [Edward Enninful’s debut cover as British Vogue Editor In Chief] four years ago and I felt beyond proud to be there at the beginning of such a change in the fashion industry, but I had been around for a long time. I think the resurgence of Black Lives Matter gave me and other people the language and the confidence to be able to share what it has felt like for so long.’
The issues Adwoa faced were all the more challenging due to the struggles with her mental health which she reveals started at school. ‘I remember clearly thinking no one is listening. I felt so unsupported. Back then no one ever spoke about mental health.’ She is now in a much better place and attributes a part of her recovery to kindness to herself and others. ‘I realised that so much of me being kind to myself is attached to how I show up in relationships. It is why my friendships and my relationships with my parents have never been better and never been more nourished. It is why I’m able to do the work I do with Gurls Talk.’ This not only enables her to ‘give space to women and girls from an early age’ but also allows the exploration of topics society would rather keep silent about. ‘We are not deterred by taboo subjects,’ says Adwoa emphatically.
‘We walk into them with confidence in order to destigmatise them.’ This passion to overhaul stigmas around issues such as mental health is one she also recognises in Jo Malone London, hence her enthusiasm for the brand. We asked her what she is most looking forward to in her role as Global Ambassador. Smiling, she doesn’t miss a beat, ‘I’m really excited to keep and connect with the amazing community that already loves Jo Malone London, and I’m also so excited to introduce the brand to new people who will feel attached to it because of its messaging. The brand has championed mental health causes for many years – long before anyone was talking about it – and I want people to know that. I just feel very proud to be the face of a brand that really cares.’