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 Aboah 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 their fantastic campaigns - and I’ve bought it for friends for years. When I got to know the brand on a deeper level; their ethos and the long-standing work they have 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 Aboah 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 Aboah, following her own struggles with her mental health, is the founder of Gurls Talk, which she describes as ‘a community -led organization 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 Aboah. Speaking about her dual heritage (Aboah 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 go and 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 Ghanian 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 really confused as to why I wasn't getting my break. It was a massive moment when I got my Vogue cover (Edward Enniful’s debut 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 Aboah faced were all the more challenging due to the struggles with her mental health which she reveals started at school ‘I remember very 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 Aboah emphatically.
‘We walk into them with confidence in order to destigmatize them’. This passion to overhaul stigmas around issues like 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 love Jo Malone London, but I'm also so excited to introduce the brand to new people who will feel attached to the brand 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.’