Seven weeks ago, I decided to take on a new project.
I had found myself stuck in a rut – seeing the same bloggers at every event, interacting only with people within my industry, and not really growing my circle outside of who and what I already knew. It was all fine and dandy, but I was uninspired. Nothing was setting my soul on fire. So I started something called #52WOMEN.
The concept was simple – each week over the course of a year, I would meet up with a woman I knew little to nothing about, and just have a conversation. That’s it. I would engage in something I hadn’t done in awhile: the art of active listening. Blocking out the distractions and just connecting to someone without feeling the need to check my phone or snap a photo of my food for Instagram. I started the project in the hope that I would find that inspiration again and expand my network of badass women.
Never did I imagine that something so simple could have such a positive impact on my life (and inspire all of you, too!). When I announced I was doing this project, you guys went CRAZY sending me DMs and emails of women I just had to feature. You told me about your sisters, your friends, your nail artists and mentors, and my list just kept growing. What started as something I was doing mostly for myself has become something much bigger – a platform for women to support other women, hear their stories and make connections.
Week 1 | Autumn Hachey
My first meet-up had to be with the woman who inspired me to take on this project. When I first stumbled upon Autumn Hachey’s Instagram page, I noticed her using the hashtag #52coffeedates – essentially going for coffee with a different person each week (an old friend, a colleague, a friend of a friend, whomever) as a way to explore the city and meet new people. I loved the simplicity of the idea and the format of doing something for 52 weeks, and the inspiration came at just the right time as I was frustrated with complacency. We sat down for coffee at ODIN and I basically learned that Autumn is a straight-up BOSS. She was bubbly and sweet, but super switched-on and overflowing with creativity. Not only does she have an awesome lifestyle + design blog, but she’s also a content marketing strategist for Leon’s AND is the editor in chief of their decor magazine. Oh, and she’s only in her early twenties, so like…. she’s killing it.
Week 2 | Megan Wappel
The first time I met Megan, she dropped off a giant box (I mean giant) at my condo. We chatted briefly and I opened the box to find her media kit – a ‘post-event survival kit’, filled with a branded cereal box and a coffee cup, custom designed cookies, and a throw cushion for an afternoon nap. Woah, this chick is HUSTLA. When we met for #52WOMEN (because obviously I needed to know more about this superwoman), I knew it was the beginning of an actual friendship. Megan is smart and observant, and at the same time incredibly funny and outspoken. I learned how she began by working in editorial before starting Megan Wappel Designs, now planning and styling epic parties for brands like Google and Coach. And when she’s not being a total boss, she’s in the gym lifting weights – she even had a stint doing fitness competitions before realizing the life of sequined bikinis and orange skin weren’t for her. Plus, she looks like freakin’ Grace Kelly (with a little added sass).
Week 3 | Rosa Halpern
Stepping into Rosa Halpern’s live/work studio was like stepping into my dream space – huge industrial loft windows, eclectic decor, high ceilings, leather details throughout, and the aroma of banana bread fresh from the oven. DROOL. While the latter was a testament to Rosa’s generous personality, the rest of the space is an ode to her rock’n’roll sensibility and style. She’s the designer behind the brand Namesake, creating badass custom leather jackets that have everyone from myself to Sarah Jessica Parker saying “gimme gimme gimme”. After talking about her start in the industry and how she became such a girlboss, what stood out was how much Rosa knows and respects her own brand – and I LOVE that. She doesn’t let anyone else dictate what she does or how she operates, and although she’s had offers from big stores to carry her goods, she prefers to create custom pieces with her own two hands to ensure quality and fit (and avoid contributing to the waste that comes with mass production).
Fun fact: Rosa is also an original member of the Bad Girls Collective, but like, duh, should’ve known she’d be part of something so cool.
Week 4 | Simran Duggal
My meet-up with Simran has been the most eye-opening experience yet. She had reached out to me via e-mail earlier on in the year hoping to meet and connect since she was new to the city, and I thought the #52WOMEN project would be the perfect opportunity. We met at Boxcar Social on her lunch break, and, as a software sales executive, she basically gave me the beginner’s guide on what it’s like to work as a female in the tech industry (disclaimer: it ain’t easy).
I came from an editorial and PR background, mostly working alongside other women, so hearing about how she’s often the only woman in the boardroom and how much harder she has to work to be taken seriously (or even just heard) was actually shocking. Simran admitted that sometimes she wonders if the struggle is worth it, but she also wants to be an example and mentor for other young women looking to join the tech world. And like all true renegades, she also has entrepreneurial plans – to consult small businesses on their strategy and plans for growth (and trust – this smart cookie knows her shit).
Week 5 | Nohemie Mawaka
Nohemie has probably been the woman I’ve learned the most from so far in this series. One of the reasons why I started #52WOMEN in the first place was to meet females from different backgrounds (whether that be educational, career, cultural, lifestyle), and learn something from them that I otherwise might never have known about. Nohemie and I met at Bobbette & Belle in Leslieville and I was immediately drawn to her warm personality and big, hearty laugh. But it was her passion for global health and promoting change that kept us talking for hours – a topic I literally knew NOTHING about. As a creative global health strategist, Nohemie travels frequently to underserved communities in Africa to conduct health research studies for agencies like the UN, focusing mainly on Congo where she and her family emigrated from when she was a girl. She also hopes to be a role model for other young women of colour to get involved in academic fields and to show that they’re capable of anything when given the tools they need to succeed (check out the amazing TEDx Talk she did at SFU). All of this, and she’s only 25. Get it, girl.
Week 6 | Lisa Ho
I’d been following Lisa online for awhile, but when she launched her new lifestyle brand ALWAYSxALWAYS, I was floored by her attention to detail and innate sense of style and just had to meet her. Small in stature but big in ideas, she’s passionate and humble and kind, not to mention incredibly talented. An interior designer by trade, Lisa runs her own firm, Lisa Ho Studio, and has worked on some pretty impressive projects (The Addisons and EFS to name a couple) before launching her own personal project, ALWAYSxALWAYS. It’s a lifestyle brand featuring a signature palm leaf print on everyday favourites like yoga mats, notebooks, throw pillow and phone cases. And while we discussed the brand and her design work, we mostly spoke about the journey it took Lisa to get there, the ups and downs and how working with a life coach has helped her discover who she was outside of her career. And that’s been one of the best things about this project and connecting one-on-one – I end up learning so much more about these women than I ever could by reading a bio on a website.
Week 7 | Zehra Allibhai
There are some women you meet and just immediately connect with, and that’s how it was with Zehra. A quick and easy lunch meet-up over Indian food at Lahore turned into three hours of sharing stories, laughs and real talk. Zehra’s good energy and positive outlook on life is what’s gained her loyal following on Instagram – as a healthy lifestyle blogger and mum of two, Zehra shares her workouts online, all of which can be done at home… and all of which she does wearing her hijab. She hopes to be a positive influence for other young Muslim women, and show that wearing a hijab shouldn’t be a barrier to an active lifestyle. I also found out that she’s a certified trainer and after having her kids, converted her basement to a studio so that she could train women in her community in a comfortable environment. Zehra is the true definition of authentic – everything you see online is exactly who she is in person. Warm, inspiring and a total trailblazer.
Know an amazing woman with an interesting life?
No media profile needed – just needs to be badass in their own right. That means everyone from doctors to baristas to stay-at-home moms or your activist grandma.
Let me know in the comments below!