Meet models and friends Clémentine Desseaux, left, and Mari Agory. The latter hails from Sudan; the former, from France. Both are blazing an entrepreneurial path with companies that empower women from within: Desseaux is the brains behind All Womxn Project, a non-profit dedicated to promoting the beauty of diversity, especially in the fashion industry, while Agory co-founded Mama Talks NYC—think of it as TED Talks for motherhood. They recently got together to chat about challenging the status quo. Here, your front-row seat...
Clémentine Desseaux: I remember the first time we met. It was two years ago and I was casting all different types of women for the second All Womxn Project campaign. You walked on set with this beautiful belly—you were pregnant—and were so open and comfortable. Women, especially when their body changes, aren't always like that.
Mari Agory: I loved being pregnant, so it wasn't an awkward thing. And as a model, you're so used to being comfortable in your skin—although it took me a long time to get to that point.
CD: What do you mean?
MA: I struggled with my complexion all my life. It took me a long time to get to this stage of embracing my skin color. I realized I'll never be able to change it and it's my God-given gift, really. A lot of people compliment me on it now whereas, when I was younger, I was made fun of because of it. That's what made your campaign so transformative—it allowed women to see themselves in it. For a young girl who's being bullied at school for being dark skinned, she can see that it's OK to be that dark, that it's beautiful. You did that for plus-size girls, too.
CD: All Womxn Project was really a passion project. I had just started my creative agency, Les Mijotés, and AWP was the first thing I did, from A to Z. I wanted to show that this is what fashion could look like if we all try a little bit harder. Diversity is beautiful; it's high end. Often people say that, yeah, diversity is cool but it's not high-end. Yes, it is.
Dessaux, left, in the Salome dress and Jaqlyn mules, and Agory, in the Broome sweater, Mac skirt and Alessia sandals
MA: How do you juggle doing Les Mijotés and AWP at the same time? Because you were also traveling and working as a model too.
CD: It's tough. At first, you don't know how to handle it. Then... it's still tough, but you learn how to handle it better.
MA: It's the same with motherhood. When I became a first-time mom, there were so many struggles in the beginning. That's what inspired Mama Talks NYC. I wanted to empower, inspire and create a platform for moms to have thought-stimulating conversations and exchange ideas. Because motherhood can be very lonely and, if you find another woman who is going through the same thing, you feel uplifted.
CD: I think that's what we have in common. We created our businesses because of our own experience and needs—and we both created communities around that.
MA: It's authentic. We have to support each other. It takes a village to thrive.
CD: What's interesting about having a new business, like ours, is the speed at which you can see changes. I always used to think it would take years.
MA: Isn't that what the entrepreneurs always say? That it takes years?
“ I wanted to show that this is what fashion could look like if we all try a little bit harder,” says Clémentine Desseaux. “Diversity is beautiful; it's high end. ”
CD: It takes years to build something really strong and lasting, but it takes much less time to make changes around you. For AWP, the changes were instant. When we released the first campaign, we had a huge wave of press and a lot of girls wrote in, telling us how much change we made in their lives. The world is so fast today with technology. It used to be hard to make an impact across the world and now you can do it in a day.
MA: The power of the click...
CD: Someone asked us how she could make a change at her level—she thought because she didn't have enough followers that her voice didn't matter. But that's not true. Anyone can make a change. With social media, you can easily speak your mind and share your message. That's made a real impact when it comes to inclusivity.
MA: Social media zooms in on companies and makes sure they're keeping up with the times. Eventually, everyone has to get the memo to include people from all walks of life. What's your ideal point for the industry?
CD: When representation is something we don't need to push. It should be a normal part of the conversation. When we first started AWP, I remember thinking, Why isn't this something everyone already does naturally?
MA: Why did you switched the name from All Woman Project to All Womxn Project?
CD: Diversity is really wide and, as our society evolves, it becomes wider and wider. After our first campaign, which really focused on different shapes and ethnicities, we had a lot of comments from our followers that we weren't displaying gender diversity. So we broadened our representation for the next one and made the change in the name to show there are many different dimensions to diversity—age, ability, gender, size, background... I'm glad we did because we're really connecting to more people now.
MA: We can challenge the narrative and write our own. I always tell the moms who come to our talks that they can be anything and to challenge the narrative of motherhood that's been placed on us. For me, I always knew I wanted to be a mom and I knew I didn't want to be just a mom.
CD: It's all about inspiration. We're giving our followers and community something close enough that they can relate to, but far enough to be inspiring and get them to where they want to go.