We’ve teamed up with Women for Women International to create a charity knit for International Women’s Day. Made from 80% recycled fibres, all profits will go to the charity, raising money and awareness for women survivors of war. We caught up with the women from our campaign.
In celebration of the great things women supporting each other can achieve, our #shareyouheart campaign features the charity’s Executive Director, Brita Fernandez Schmidt and ambassador Niomi Smart – wellness blogger and content creator – as well as some of our favourite bloggers: Katie Maguire, Debbie Le & Kerri Northcott.
Women for Women International is all about women supporting each other to achieve greater things. Which women have been pivotal in giving you the support needed to get where you are today?
Brita: Definitely my first boss, Barbara, when I worked in Brussels for the European Women’s Lobby. It was my very first job at 24, but she really believed in me and gave me these enormous opportunities that have shaped the rest of my life. I spoke in front of European parliament about violence against women when I was so young, and it really showed me I had a passion for public speaking. My daughters support me enormously all the time and really believe in me, and of course female friends. I also have a mentor, her name is Moira, although really she is far more than a mentor now, as she’s been accompanying me for over five years. She always creates a space for me to reflect and remember why I do what I do.
Katie: My mum. She’s the backbone of our family and she’s also a working mum. She’s shown me that you can be an amazing mother and wife as well as having a career. She’d drop anything for me and my girls, whatever commitments she has.
Debbie: My mum and also my mother in law – they’re the two rocks in my life at the moment. My mother-in-law lives next door to us, so her being there has given me the support and care I need when I’m working. She often takes her grandchildren so last-minute so I am able to attend events and do all the things I have done today – I know that I am very lucky and I wouldn’t be able to have this career and do what I love without all her help. My own mum has been such an incredible role model for me because we had it quite tough growing up. We were evicted from Vietnam after the war and, in 1981, when I was five, she brought my family over to the UK as refugees from Hong Kong. My brother, sister and I were all still so little and my Mum couldn’t speak any English. I admire her resilience and strength. The way she just rolled her sleeves up, forged a career and found a way to give us a better life still amazes me. She inspired my love of fashion because she was a seamstress, so she’s definitely impacted my career in a big way.
Kerri: Debbie and Katie have had such a huge impact on my life. We met via Instagram when my daughter, Ivy, was still quite young and kept seeing each other at events. It’s so nice to find mums with a common interest, who are likeminded and enjoy a vino! You lose yourself so much when you become a mum, so Instagram has massively given me back a side of myself I lost at the beginning of motherhood.
Niomi: I’m so lucky to have grown up with very strong female figures. It’s had such a positive impact on my life – I wouldn’t have had the same view of myself and followed my career in the same way without them. My grandma has always been incredibly ambitious and has had so many different careers – I always learn something new whenever I ask about her life! She was a university lecturer, then a life coach, has been a fashion stylist and also set up and founded a theatrical rest home – basically a rest home but for people from the theatre world! So she was an amazing character and force of nature to grow up around. My mum has always been a journalist, she worked her way up to becoming a magazine editor and founded her own lifestyle magazine – now she’s in the restaurant industry. So they’ve showed me you can do so many different things if you put your mind to it.
We’re encouraging everyone to spread support and love with our #shareyourheart campaign. What do you think is the greatest way women can support each other in 2019?
Niomi: 2018 was a massive year for women to feel empowered, and laid so many foundations for this year ahead. I think 2019 is all about putting that into practice, and that starts with supporting the women around you in your life. The best thing you can do is just be there to listen: be a person that your friends and family can talk to and truly listen to what they have to say.
Brita: At Women for Women International we do a lot of things, but fundamentally we take the hand of another woman. We acknowledge her, we look her in the eyes and say: we believe in you, you exist and we trust you. When you sponsor another woman for £22 a month, it’s not just giving money, it’s letting that woman know we are in this together. But, the crucial thing is, we as women can do that wherever we are: in the street we can just say, I see you, with a simple compliment that brings us together. The power of that moment of solidarity is amazing.
Katie: Kindness. It’s really empowering. Just paying somebody a compliment can give someone so much confidence and encourage them to put a smile on their face. There’s not enough kindness in the world.
Debbie: Most definitely kindness. We all need to keep championing our friends’ strengths and being a cheerleader for them. I like to think I am a glass-half-full person so it rubs off on those around me – no matter what the situation.
Kerri: Since having my daughter, Ivy (now five), it’s changed my way of thinking about my support networks. It made me realise that, in the past, I’ve had bad friendships. I wish I’d had someone there for me when I first had Ivy – I desperately needed a support network and it just wasn’t there. It’s so important to check in with each other. Just a message to see if you’re OK means the world. Sometimes you just need someone to listen to you – not even to give advice – just to be there so you know that people care about you.
How will you be wearing your charity knit?
Kerri: I’d wear it with a white shirt underneath it as a preppy style. It would go with pretty much anything: jeans in the day time, in the summer a skirt or shorts.
Niomi: It’s so versatile so you can wear it however you like. I love wearing knits tucked into skirts, so go-to will with a midi, or tucked into jeans with a nice pair of boots. It’s lovely and lightweight so it’s perfect for tucking in.
Debbie: It’s such a nice summer knit. You could wear it over a pair of denim cut offs, with jeans, or even a nice satin skirt. I’ll rotate it through most of my wardrobe. I don’t particularly like showing off my upper arms, so I love the three-quarter length sleeves – it’s really flattering.
Brita: Definitely with a really cool pair of jeans and trainers, just as I have in the shoot. I like a statement A-line midi skirt, so will also style mine like that, slightly tucked in. I want both colours!
Katie: With a pair of high-waisted jeans, tucked in at the waist with a French tuck.
Can you share a specific story that stands out to you as part of your work for Women for Women International?
Brita: I immediately think of Gertrude from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She has a particularly harsh story, but thankfully with a happy ending. She was captured by the militia and then held as a sex slave for a year and a half, during the worst conflict in the DRC, where over 1000 women were raped every day. When she finally escaped, she went to the hospital for help and heard about Women for Women International there. She came to our year-long programme, and the first crucial step was when she realised she wasn’t the only one. Like so many others who come to us, she had been so isolated in her trauma that understanding she was not alone was a turning point. She learnt new skills, about her rights and got the hope she needed to rebuild herself. Now she is an advocate in the community; I met her for the first time at an event in New York, where she was talking in front of 500 Americans about her story. The programme motivated her, and gave her the opportunity to speak out in the hope that she could change the destiny of so many other women. That’s what’s so great about the programme: it has a ripple effect, all the women who take part in it want to use their skills to help someone else as soon as they are done.
Women for Women International holds UK Charity Registration Number: 1115109.