Adwoa Aboah on Self-Confidence, Sobriety, and Her Favorite Scents

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Adwoa Aboah jo malone
Photo: Courtesy of Jo Malone London

Jo Malone London is known across the globe for its iconic British fragrances, luxurious scented candles, and its chic black-and-cream boxes. But did you know that it’s also a brand committed to championing mental health and supporting various charities and initiatives providing support, awareness, and treatment? Well, now you do. So, when the brand announced last week that its first-ever Global Ambassador is British model and actress Adowa Aboah, it made perfect sense.

As a mental health activist and one of the most courageous and unapologetic voices of her generation, Aboah continuously uses her platform to raise awareness, break boundaries, and shatter taboos. All alongside running her own mental health organization and modeling for the likes of Burberry, Dior, and Calvin Klein, of course.

In this exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, we found out what this new partnership means to Aboah, as well as how she’s overcome hardships and mental health problems to become the strong, fearless woman she is today.

Adwoa Aboah jo malone ambassador
Photo: Courtesy of Jo Malone London

Congratulations on your role as Jo Malone London’s Global Ambassador!
I am so excited. I’ve always loved Jo Malone London — my dear friend [photographer] Tim Walker shoots 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, 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 modeling. I thought, ‘This is a brand that I could seriously align myself with’.

Like the brand, you were born in London, but your outlook is very global. Additionally, you straddle a dual heritage. How do you connect your Britishness with your Ghanaian heritage?
I feel proud and celebrate the fact that I had family from different places. I grew up in London in an amazing multicultural setting. I went 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.

You first came to prominence as a model at a time when the industry had little diversity. As a woman of color, what made you feel you could have a space here? And how did it affect your sense of self?
I went into it excited for independence. I don’t know if I really felt like there was a space for me; I just had the confidence to go into it. Sadly, that confidence was battered down over the years. By the time I got sober, I was on my knees. There was just so much rejection. I’ve built 10 different skins now and handle it very well. But at the time it was really hard, because I watched my [white] contemporaries doing well, and I was confused as to why I wasn’t getting my break.

The resurgence of Black Lives Matter has given me and so many other people the confidence to be open and say, “You have no idea how we’ve felt for so long”. Prior to this, there was an embarrassment, a lack of language, a lack of space for us to really share what it has felt like. We didn’t want to rock the boat; our position was fragile as it was, so you didn’t want to deter your chances even more.

Adwoa Aboah jo malone interview
Photo: Courtesy of Jo Malone London

You have been very open about your own struggle with mental health, which began in your early teens while at boarding school. What was happening around this time?
I became aware, in a predominantly white space, that I was different. Which was difficult because I was already trying to figure out my identity. It was really detrimental to my sense of self and my confidence was broken down through those years. My parents now know that it wasn’t the right space for me, but at that time they probably just thought I was having a hard time like lots of teenagers do. I remember very clearly thinking no one is listening. I felt so unsupported. Back then, no one ever spoke about mental health.

How did you overcome those struggles, and how are you feeling now?
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. Also, my identity had been attached to my career for so long and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter gave me that space and language I needed to look at my identity again. I celebrated seven years of sobriety this year, so I definitely feel that I’ve come a long way. Pieces of the puzzle are finally being pieced together. And it’s really, really nice.

In 2015, your own mental health experience prompted you to launch ‘Gurls Talk’. Tell us more about what it is.
Gurls Talk
is a community-led organization dedicated to mental health and the well-being of women and young girls globally. It’s a safe space where we bridge the gap between education and storytelling, because both are very important for one’s mental health and the journey of navigating that. We are not deterred by taboo subjects. We walk into them with confidence in order to destigmatize them.

Adwoa Aboah jo malone perfume
Photo: Courtesy of Jo Malone London

Experts suggest that a key part of dealing with mental health (our own and others) is through kindness. It is also one of Jo Malone London’s brand values. How do you show kindness to yourself?
So much of me being kind to myself is attached to the way that I show up in relationships. It is why I’m able to do the work I do with Gurls Talk and why my friendships and relationship with my parents have never been better or more nourished. After getting out of treatment, I realized that a lot of my work had to be outside of myself. I had to be doing something for someone else.

JML’s other brand values are Optimism, Courage, Humility, and Transparency. What do they mean to you?
I remember something my dad said when I had started to come out the other end of a very dark period. “I was just waiting for you to realize the person I’d already seen you to be”. Optimism is figuring out that I am more than capable of great things. This optimism fuels the work I do with Gurls Talk and my activism and advocacy around mental health. Courage is about speaking out about the things that are important to you. Courage is to be honest, vulnerable, and authentic. Courage is to figure out who you are and tell your story when you’re ready, because it’s so important for other people to hear.

We’re very quick to point the finger at everyone else. But I love the lessons that we learn when we start looking at ourselves.

I’ve learnt to be able to look at yourself, to check your ego. We’re very quick to point the finger at everyone else. But I love the lessons that we learn when we start looking at ourselves. Not to necessarily berate ourselves, but to figure out how I could have done things a bit different. This is what humility means to me. Transparency is a large part of the work that we do around mental health. It’s about honesty. It’s not glamorized, it has no fluff. It’s the real thing.

As an ambassador of a fragrance brand that uses scent to tell stories and create memories, what are some of your treasured scent memories?
My scent memories go back to my parents. Cocoa butter reminds me of my childhood because my dad especially used to slather it on. My mom has always covered herself in perfume and smells delicious. Her smell makes me feel so warm and safe. She’s also always loved flowers. My favorite fragrance is ‘English Pear & Freesia’ for its freshness and light floral touch. At home, we would light candles, have a wood fire burning. The ‘Glowing Embers Townhouse Candle’ reminds me of that.

What are you most looking forward to as Jo Malone London’s Global Ambassador?
I’m really excited to 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 feel very proud to be the face of a brand that really cares.

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