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PEOPLE

Illuminating women

To mark International Women’s Day, we speak to three incredible women, who are lighting up the world around them with the things they believe in. Meet Lavinya Stennett, Alexandra Elle and MilaNonna…

internation womens day
From challenging the way vital chapters of history are taught to future generations to rewriting the rules of what it means to be a woman, wife and mother, we speak to three inspirational women about what womanhood looks like in 2021. Each of these women have brought light to a year when many of us have needed it most. Meet Lavinya – Founder of The Black Curriculum, MilaNonna – fashion pioneer and professor, and Alexandra – an author and life coach teaching self–care at a time when our wellbeing feels more precious than ever.
ALEXANDRA ELLE

 

Alexandra wears knitwear by COS. (Image: Farrah Skeiky).

ALEXANDRA ELLE, WRITER AND WELLNESS CONSULTANT

Raising three daughters at her home in Washington DC, every day is International Women’s Day for Alexandra Elle. She turned to writing when she was young, expressing emotion and experience on the page as a form of therapy, and has since gone on to inspire with her storytelling, teachings and poetry. Alexandra has also created a series of workshops to help others find their voices through the written word. The goal? To bring people closer to themselves.

Why do you think it's important to celebrate International Women's Day?
‘When women come together, magic happens. I'm a true believer in that and I think now more than ever we are linking arms, we are lifting each other up, we are coming together. Sisterhood is so important to me, and I think being a woman is just amazing. I love it and I wouldn't have it any other way.’

What does it mean to be a woman today?
‘I think it means showing up authentically and shamelessly. I want to be able to show my daughters that they are all individuals, and that they can not only stand in their power but speak for themselves. They can do whatever they want in life, as long as they work hard and are kind.’

What advice would you give to anyone struggling right now?
‘Allow ease to find you. Especially when we're really struggling and maybe having a hard time facing what’s in front of us. I encourage people to lean in and take a breath, to get back in their body and to not always worry about having to heal. It will get better, but you also deserve some emotional rest.’

What does the bright future look like to you?
‘For me, three words are coming to mind: justice, equality and love for all. As my children grow up and go out into the world, that's what I hope for especially.’

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

What is your style signifier?
‘All black in winter. Black bottoms, black turtleneck, black boots.'

What's the last thing you Googled?
‘A recipe for the peanut butter cookies I'm making with my little one after this interview!’

Speaking of cookies, what's your favorite snack?
‘Almond M&Ms. And you have to eat them with pretzels – a little salty, a little sweet.’

How do you find peace?
‘My coffee ritual gives me peace – just the process of making that delicious cup and frothing the milk. I know that's probably unconventional, but it really makes me focus.’

If you could share a message with your younger self, what would you say?
‘So many things. I have a book in the works for her! I would say, “you do not have to abandon yourself to be loved.”’
LAVINYA STENNETT

 

Lavinya wears knitwear by COS. (Image: Jeff Boudreau).

LAVINYA STENNETT, FOUNDER OF THE BLACK CURRICULUM

Born and raised in South London, Lavinya Stennett is leading the mission to teach Black history to the United Kingdom and beyond. The 23–year–old founded The Black Curriculum to reimagine the future of education through Black British history and overturn the erasure of Black people from school textbooks. Her work spans visiting classrooms, conducting workshops, raising awareness, empowering teachers – and more.

Why do you think it's important to celebrate International Women's Day?
‘I think it's important to celebrate women every day, but particularly on International Women's Day. There are narratives of women who do incredible things and because we're doing them all the time, it doesn’t always get recognized.’

What does it mean to be a woman today?
‘To be confident. To be unapologetic in your strength. I feel like there's no fixed concept of womanhood, and that's an advantage because you can morph, redefine and recreate. The ability to shift and change things is powerful.’

What inspired you to start the Black Curriculum?
‘I'd say two things – one was my experience. I took a degree in African Studies which gave me an insight into African history, the beauty and the complexity of it, and that wasn't something I was taught in school. And secondly, going to New Zealand gave me an entirely new perspective on empires and the connection between Britain’s history and the rest of the world.’

The last year has been difficult in so many ways, how do you stay positive and focused?
‘Right now, I just take it day by day. I’m driven by the ultimate vision of the Black Curriculum and I don't ever see myself not believing that change will happen. I believe that all young people across the UK will learn Black British history and that’s what really drives me.’

What does the bright future look like to you?
‘One where young people feel that they can be accepted and have the ability to self–express, not just individually but as part of a community. I'd like to see a future that enables young people to come into their full self.’

QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS

What is the last book you read?
‘George Orwell's Why I Write.’

What's your style signifier?
‘Prints.’

Last thing you googled?
‘A YouTube video about 7 types of men to avoid!’

Your proudest achievement?
‘My first solo trip to a new country, and everything about the Black Curriculum.’

If you could share a message with your younger self, what would you say?
‘Stop being so shy and don't feel like you have to hold yourself back. Just go for it.’
MILANONNA

 

MilaNonna wears shirt by COS. (Image: Kwon Sook Yeon).

MILANONNA, LIFESTYLE MENTOR AND FASHION ADVISOR

Myungsuk Jang, AKA MilaNonna, was the first Korean student to study fashion at Instituto Marangoni in Milan. Culturally, it was rare for a woman of her age to work and raise a family, let alone study abroad, making her a modern mentor for working mothers. After 40 years in the fashion industry, today MilaNonna remains an ambassador for Korean culture – she even has a knighthood to show for it. And as if that wasn’t enough, she’s recently delved into the wonderful world of YouTube to share her wisdom, too.

Why do you think it's important to celebrate International Women's Day?
‘I believe that our history of fighting oppression has shaped what we have now. Women today have a better reality, however there are still those experiencing inequality. International Women’s Day is not a complete celebration yet and there’s still work to do. I hope the day when we can truly celebrate will come soon.’

What does it mean to be a woman today?
‘There are no words to say how hard it is for women who are combining their work with the responsibility of being a mother. It’s time for society to seriously think over difference and discrimination, and to recognize the strengths that come with our gender.’

Is sustainability a key consideration when choosing what clothes to buy (or not buy)?
‘Of course! I always consider whether I can wear clothes for a long time. I even mend my underwear and loungewear. It’s not because I think it’s a waste of money, it’s because our frequent consumption is a threat to the earth. This is something I have agonized over for a long time, but I know that many companies are looking for solutions. I’m glad that COS is playing an important role in this.’

The last year has been difficult in so many ways, how do you stay positive and focused?
‘There is a passage in a prayer that I always reiterate to myself:
“Please give me the strength to change what I can change,
The mildness to accept those that I cannot change
And the wisdom to realize those differences.”’

QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS

What’s your style signifier?
‘Simple, easy: my only style.’

What do you collect?
‘I collect experience – any experience is interesting.’

Your proudest achievement?
‘I’m proud to have lived one day after another. I can’t find a proudest achievement, but I’m thankful to have found my purpose in life.’

What inspires you?
‘I find inspiration in my ideals – the world I want to live in.’

Who would play you in the movie of your life?
‘Myself, of course! The protagonist of my life is me, so the actor in the movie of my life should be me, don’t you think?’


On behalf of Lavinya Stennett, Alexandra Elle and MilaNonna, this International Women’s Day COS will be donating to The Black Curriculum – a social enterprise that aims to teach Black British history across the UK, The Loveland Foundation – an organisation which helps to provide therapy support for Black women and girls nationwide, and My House – a shelter offering safety and care to single mothers in Korea. If you would like to donate to My House, please select “Others”, and write "My House" as your donation purpose.


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