From model to mother to mogul, meet Vanessa Ford. To describe Vanessa as inspiring, would be a total understatement. This incredible, natural beauty is the mother to three of the most beautiful curly haired bubs we have ever seen - her two sons Rio and Eaton, and daughter Monroe. Born in Canada to Jamaican parents, Vanessa is extremely proud of her roots, it is something that has driven her career to where it is today and shaped the mother she is always striving to be.
Vanessa is the executive producer of the children's series, Super Sema and COO of the company that created the series, Kukua. Super Sema is the first African animated superhero series, empowering and inspiring the next generation of children to change the world through curiosity and creativity. Recently Oscar-winning actor Lupita Nyong'o not only joined the voice cast of the series, but she also became a partner in the female-led, Nairobi-based production company Kukua.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, Vanessa is the founder of children's label Mini Monroe, and Virago Films, an independent, bespoke studio encompassing the development, production, financing and distribution of female-centric content.
At Auguste, we are so passionate about highlighting incredible working mothers and all mothers that make it work, with many of the women in our team being working mothers themselves. How do you make it work and continue your career as a model, producer, business founder…?
My trick to managing it all is embracing the chaos, finding the courage to ask for what I need and being present. I've realised that I don't need to divide my life between family and work, but rather allow myself to be everything all at once, 100% of the time. That could mean bringing my kids into Super Sema meetings and making them a part of our think tank, or being flexible with my work so I can pick up my kids from school. We are living role models to our children, not just in what we say but what we do. And if I'm not making space and showing balance in my own life, my kids are watching. My female-led team is also watching and I want them to know that not just our work has value, but that our lives have value too. I’m trusting myself and I’m glad my kids get to see me working hard and going after my dreams, so they know what it takes to go after theirs.
‘A mother’s work is never done’… So the saying goes, what are some of the life lessons you hope to instil in your children that they may then instil in their children one day?
• Never forget where you came from. I am a proud Jamaican and family is everything. I’ve always been intrigued by family history, trees and heirlooms, and spent much of my childhood experiencing customs, recipes and music passed down from generation to generation. I believe in telling stories that unlock ancestral wisdom, flooding the house with music once sung by slaves on a Caribbean island. These experiences water my children's roots.
• When the world tells you to shrink, expand. This is a quote from one of my fave gurus, Elaine Welteroth and I live by this. So often, as black women, we find ourselves being told to hide, tone down or be less of who we are. Why can't we be full, why can't we shine in every place that wants our light to be dim? I want my children to be so full, they are overflowing. I want them to own their fullness, without ego, but with an amazing sense of gratitude and empathy that they’ve been born at a time where no matter the shade of their skin, they have the freedom to fill themselves up.
• Keep reinventing yourself. With every experience, you alone are shaping your own world…. thought by thought, choice by choice, intention by intention.
Talk us through your journey to creating Super Sema? It has such a powerful message, not only having a female protagonist but an African female protagonist. When did the concept come to you, what was the inspiration behind it?
I grew up reading books, turning on the TV, or walking into a classroom and hardly seeing anyone who looked like me. Studying tropical medicine at Oxford and working behind the scenes in Hollywood, I was often the only Black woman in the room and I recognised that as a producer, I had the power to help change the narrative through storytelling. I wanted to be a part of creating a character that I wish I had growing up, with values I want my own daughter to embody. Sema (which in Swahili means to "speak up") is African, she's smart, she's confident, and she taps into the power of science and technology. And it’s invaluable for black children everywhere to be reminded that they have the ability to soar and take action like Sema or MB, to be strong black representations of empathy and justice. Super Sema serves as a timely (and timeless) reminder to today's generation of children that I belong here, I got this, this is well within my reach, and the world is waiting for me!
You are originally from Jamaica, what was it like to grow up there? Are there parts of the culture that you make sure to teach your own children?
My parents are from a fisherman's village called Treasure Beach and although I was raised in Canada, I grew up spending many summers “back home” with my grandparents catching lizards, dancing to reggae music, picking fruit, playing dominos, swimming in the sea, going to church and riding to town in the back of a pickup. I've always wanted my kids to have those same experiences, so I put my son in a local school in Jamaica for nearly six months so he can make friends, play Jamaican games, learn Jamaican music and speak Patois, our native tongue. I’ve travelled across South Africa making a documentary with Bob Marley’s children and felt at home in the deep cultural and spiritual connection between Africa and Jamaica. For me, Jamaica is the birthplace of culture...it's my island full of folklore, magic, spirituality and authenticity and I want my children to know the kingdom they belong to.
We loved seeing both you & Monroe in Auguste, you both looked incredibly beautiful. What do you look for when buying clothes for yourself and for your children?
I believe fashion is not being afraid to show your true self - so, I like bold, thoughtfully made pieces that say something about who I am. For my children, I let them choose their own clothing and I teach them about the impact of fashion on the environment which means their closet has a lot of preloved, repurposed items. Rather than buying something new, I ask them how can they use what they already have? So there's always a lot of reusing, sewing, accessorising and repurposing going on in my house!