Latest addition to The Bold Women’s Club, Joy Adesanya CEO of Ssshh Boutique, philanthropist and community-focused contributor is building a legacy of giving. Joy is hoping to redefine the meaning of sensuality in Nigeria by lifting the stigma around women’s issues and undergarments and uses her profits to donate to charities like PadUp Africa who help girls and women deal with sensitive body issues in their day-to-day lives.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF SENSUALITY? HOW IS SSSHH BOUTIQUE REDEFINING SENSUALITY AND SELF-ASSURANCE FOR WOMEN?
I first became aware of sensuality when my mother took me to buy a bra. I tried it on, and I immediately felt like a new woman! I had this thing that was shaping me, perfectly fitted and accentuating my femininity, and it was then that I realised that lingerie is a poignant element in the process of a woman getting ready in the morning. It really does lift and shift the mood of a woman in terms of how she wants her outer appearance to look, and sensuality is the essence of that. It creates that sense of awareness, that sense of femininity, of boldness and confidence from within, or in this case, from beneath. I wanted to be able to give that awakening experience that I had to other women, that moment of falling in love with my body. Whether lingerie, negligee or even a pyjama set, these garments give you a feeling of intimacy, something private that’s yours and that you can really connect with. And that’s how I would define sensuality.
The reason I’m using lingerie to redefine sensuality is because it makes so much sense! It’s the first thing you put on in the morning, and the last thing you take off at night. It gives you confidence knowing that no matter what happens, you are sexy and beautiful and in control of that. Then, when you come home from a hectic day, when you take it all off again and it’s just you in your oneness, you get to see yourself anew and feel beautiful and proud of your body. It’s uplifting.
IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA, THERE ARE A LOT OF YOUNG WOMEN POSTING IMAGES OF THEMSELVES IN LINGERIE, BIKINIS AND REVEALING OUTFITS WHO RECEIVE A VERY DIVIDED OPINION ABOUT WHETHER THAT’S EMPOWERING OR SELF-EXPLOITATION. WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THIS?
Women should definitely celebrate their body and right now I’m impressed about what I’m seeing in advertising, namely different body shapes and sizes, skin tones, colours and textures – it’s different from the norm of what we were seeing maybe 5-10 years ago. We used to see only models that not everyone could identify with, so I think now there is some sort of a feminine revolution occurring in that women are more bold in showing off their bodies and being proud of their curves, and we celebrate it.
On the other hand, when you post a provocative body image in a distasteful way, it undermines the message and the narrative that we’re trying to put across that should be empowering women. It invites a negative response when you are clearly posting so sexually excite an audience but you’re saying you’re not. This then raises certain questions: is it sexuality or is it pornography? Is it sensuality or is attention seeking? There’s a fine line between self-respect and self-exploitation, and if you cross that line you end up portraying pornography, even if you don’t mean to.
In this way I think it’s very important for us as women to make sure that when a young girl or another woman looks at those images, that they can feel confident in themselves, that they can relate to that and be proud of that. That’s the narrative we should be driving.
TELL US ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF SSSHH BOUTIQUE, OF YOUR CHARITY WORK WITH PADUP AFRICA AND WHY THAT CHARITY IN PARTICULAR IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
We’ve been in operation for about 4 years now and what made me open up Ssshh in the first place was a lack of lingerie stores and lack of sexuality and sensuality discourse in Nigeria. It wasn’t something that people were talking about, rather people shied away from it for fear of seeming promiscuous. We came to market to help women feel more comfortable in their bodies and be able to identify with their sensuality. We planted ourselves in Lagos and Abuja, which are the two major destinations in Nigeria, and we started stocking different brands from the UK and the USA that were in line with the vision of what we were trying to portray. We’ve been known as pioneers for changing the narrative there and it’s amazing.
Another thing that we wanted to do was to give back. I’m a philanthropist at heart and I believe in always trying to serve the community that you operate in. Your legacy is what you’ve done, not what you’ve acquired. So, a year ago after someone had referred them to me, I came across PadUp Africa and donated like £30 out of goodwill. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything back, I was just giving from my heart, but the lady who owned the organisation messaged me saying thanks and telling me that the £30 I sent was able to help 1000 young girls! I was totally shocked.
These are things that we take for granted growing up in the Western world where women’s sanitary items are accessible, we are taught how to use them in school and also how to be confident about women’s issues. But we forget that there’s another part of the world in which women and girls are body-shamed, they don’t talk about the things that affect them and they hide because of it.
I went and met up with the owner and it was heart wrenching to hear what some girls go through during their period. Some of them use leaves as sanitary napkins, some of them use plastic bags, some of them will stand up during school for days on end because they don’t want to stain the seat and they layer clothing under them to stop from leaking. I just couldn’t believe the luxury of what a menstrual pad was!
Lingerie ties in with feminine hygiene so we also decided to donate underwear and bras along with money, and she said that the amount we pledged would keep 50 girls in school every month and would give them the opportunity to go out there into the community to educate and desensitise people on these issues. The year we partnered with them we were able to affect the lives of over 11,000 girls. That was really amazing!
Every year we partner with different organisations because there’s a lot that needs to be done and Ssshh isn’t just about selling sensuality, it’s about educating, empowering and lifting women up who are disadvantaged. We’re here to be effective in the community.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY MENTORS WHO YOU’VE LEARNED FROM AND WHO HAVE EMPOWERED YOU THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH THE READERS?
Someone who’s empowered me is my mum – corny as that sounds, she really is my biggest idol. From a young age of looking up to her I realised how resilient and brilliant she was. She was a businesswoman, she was a philanthropist, a Christian, a wife, mother, daughter; she did all these things and still looked flawless. I wanted to be just like her!
I knew that if I could be like her then there’d be other people who’d want to be like me, so she has been an amazing role model and support system in my life, and she has helped me realise that it is possible for a woman to have it all.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
MOST SENSUAL THING ABOUT A WOMAN?
MOST SENSUAL THING ABOUT A MAN?
His ego! Ego intact, attitude right.
FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE UK?
Hmm. The shopping.
FAVOURITE THING ABOUT NIGERIA?
The sun – definitely. Actually, the sun and the people – no matter what they’re going through, they still smile.
A PLACE WHERE YOU FEEL AT HOME AWAY FROM HOME?
The Four Seasons Hotels!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LINGERIE BRAND OF ALL TIME?
Right now, I’m in love with Bluebella; a UK brand that we stock at Ssshh Boutique. I love their pieces, their diversity, I love what they’re doing; they’re taking lingerie to an unconventional place combining outerwear and innerwear.
It’s by Shonda Rhimes and it’s called Year of Yes: How to dance it out, stand in the sun and be your own person. Amazing book. It teaches you how to say yes, but at the same time, how to make your no sound eloquent and fair.
“Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
FINISH THIS SENTENCE: THE FUTURE IS…?
Female! Slowly but surely our voices are being heard and we’re breaking the glass ceiling, so the future is most definitely female.