The Journey So Far...
This post was originally published in the Journal of my mother's website: Grace Ekall. As some of you may know I am a writer, model and photographer based in Bristol. I am so excited to be able to share our story with you here, as we've had such a wonderful response from the original post.
It Started in West Africa...
At the invitation of the Arts Council of England, my mother moved to Bristol from Douala, Cameroon, via Paris with me in tow. Thus I began working in the creative industries from an early age, adapting to new surroundings as I traveled with my mother’s dance company. I remember her making each dancer's costumes, down to the last bead. Looking back, we should have known it would come to this. Creativity was my mother's joy. From ballet lessons in Paris, to modeling campaigns across West Africa and Europe, to enjoying a short career as a pop star(!) in Cameroon - creativity was a daily occurrence in my mother's life.
Working through The Big C
I was just nine years old when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, in 2005. Just like her, I threw myself into creative projects, allowing my imagination to take over where the real world had slipped up. Then, as an alumna of one of Bristol’s most competitive schools, I graduated with top grades and was set for a Russell Group education – the expected result among my peers... I chose a different path, postponing higher education to pursue work in the creative industries. (After years of hustling, the hard work paid off: I was recently named one of the most Influential Bristololians under 24. If you say so.) Almost as soon as my mother was diagnosed, she'd enrolled in a fashion course with a local college in 2006 - while still receiving chemotherapy. She left college with a triple distinction and sailed through university, where she was able to fine-tune her craft as a fashion and textiles designer. It all sounds so breezy in retrospect, but it wasn't.
Strength and Courage
My mother proved that nothing could burst a dream, halt ambition. She had gone about her life as though cancer was a mere inconvenience. I took note and followed suit. This method didn't always work for me, as I would sometimes bubble over and spill my emotional turmoil - preferably not in front of company. Definitely not in front of my mother. In hindsight, this was probably not the healthiest way to deal with the trauma, but I wanted to be brave, just as she was.
It should go without saying that our adversity was a catalyst for our creativity, especially in my mother's case. But there are even more practical goals that form the foundation - the raison d'être - of our company:
- To equip all women with truly comfortable and elegant garments, perfect for the moments worth celebrating. The 'all' before 'women' is indicative of our championing of diverse and natural beauty. Any woman should feel at ease in the fabrics and seams enveloping her skin - especially those who've undergone a mastectomy.
- To support local artisans here in the UK, as well as back home in Cameroon. This gives us all the opportunity to appreciate an overlooked form of art: the craft that goes into making quality garments.
It wasn't until recently that things started to look up, professionally speaking. In January 2016, we joined Norwegian company, TheMOON, as one of the many brands stationed in the virtual shopping mall. We are honoured to count Giorgio Armani, Givenchy and Munthe as our 'neighbours!' Yet the good came with the bad. The day before our meeting with TheMOON, mother had been diagnosed again - ten years since the first. Of course, it was devastating, but we had things to do. So here we are.
Throughout this whole process (Life), I have always felt blessed to be able to do the work I do with my darling mother. Through her, I've seen how talent, when paired with unrelenting enthusiasm and grit, always wins out over hardship. I am not just a business partner, but a fan. I feel privileged to not only be a part of this journey, but to pave it with her.