Girl Talk: The Digest | Featuring Ascia AFK
In our very first episode of Girl Talk, we spoke with Ascia AFK —Kuwait-based fashion blogger, designer and all-around boss—about tattoos, taboos and who inspires her the most. In case you missed it, here’s a run-down of the conversation.
Emaan: You have co-founded your own business, Seoul Kool. What inspired you to co-found this business and what were some of the highs and lows?
Ascia: I started the business purely because I always have had really bad skin. Well, bad skin is relative. I always had difficult skin. It’s always super sensitive, I never got to play with makeup, I never got to try new products, I never got to use cool stuff on my face, because my skin was just constantly breaking out. And a friend of mine, who is now my business partner, introduced me to Korean skincare. It really changed the game for me. It really made it so that I felt like I was in control, and I wanted to give other people—specifically other women—the feeling that they were in control and that they didn’t always have to buy something that was insanely expensive for it to work. So that’s why we started.
Emaan: What have been some of the most difficult situations or learnings that you’ve been through?
Ascia: I think managing everyone’s expectations is really hard. Especially coming from an influencer background and coming into something that was more like a service. Managing people’s expectations on what delivery times are, it falls back on me and you don’t want to let people down. Managing people’s ideas on what the business is meant to look like, when you’ve already been the person that’s been forward-facing for a long time. That was a bit of a hard one.
Emaan: It must be nice to have a co-founder, someone that you trust, another woman that is passionate about skincare. How does that work and what is something you love about having a fellow female co-founder?
Ascia: This sounds like a layered thing, but I love women. I LOOOVE women. Women are, ugh. I feel like not enough women understand their superpowers, or really truly have harnessed them and have a healthy respect for how absolutely freaking amazing we actually are. The way we process information, and the way we communicate… it’s beautiful. There’s nothing like it.
And so I think founding a business with another woman was natural. It’s like the easiest and best decision that I could have made, and I think the more women I can keep around me and on my team, and the more female energy we continue to have around us, that’s just a continuation of success. You create such lifelong bonds. Woman are just such beautiful creatures. I love us.
What about you? You started this, and now you’re working with women, as well. What is that like?
Emaan: Honestly, it’s been a whirlwind. I was lucky enough to start my journey alongside women that believed in this first vision of KETISH and kinda saw all that it could be, and really pushed and encouraged me and made me feel fearless. I think the reason why is because they knew what a brand like this could bring to other women. That’s incredible.
Now, having a team full of young, bright, passionate women, they take this brand like it's their own baby. They live it, breathe it, and with every single person [KETISH] has transformed so much. More than I ever imagined. I never thought it could become all of this. A lot of it is because of my team, and it’s been incredible. I’m so, so lucky.
Ascia: I think finding fellow women that believe in you and are going to be your support system and your backbone, and then in turn doing that for them, it may not be in the same capacity but it’s that kind of community that I wish on every woman that I ever even walk past on the street. It’s honestly a life-changing energy and I love to hear that you found that.
Emaan: It’s been incredible.
I wanted to ask you, when we first started working on the brand and thinking about this community we wanted to create, we were thinking about women we admired and who embodied the spirit of KETISH, we talked about you A LOT. You came up in every conversation. KETISH is quite taboo, it pushes the envelope a bit. When we thought of you and women like you, it’s women that are unafraid, unapologetically themselves. You are not afraid to talk about things that you care about, and things that matter to you. Have you always been this way or is it something that you grew into?
Ascia: I think that I’ve always been this way, and I guess I’ve always been this way with a lot of things. I’ve always had a really intense idea of what the world is meant to look like and how harmonious it could be. I feel like whenever we’ve deviated from that I really felt so frustrated by it that I wanted to be involved in the conversation. I’ve always done that.
It’s something I did lose in the first 4-5 years of being online, because when you’re online in this kind of capacity it’s really daunting. To be so scared that you’re going to make a mistake. And you don’t want to get on the side of a topic that is not correct or you’re not well-versed on. And I felt like I held off for a long time for fear of making a mistake and making a misstep, and I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I just need to be unapologetic about the fact that I’m human, and I’m going to make missteps, and I'm constantly in the process of learning. So if I say something that didn’t come across in the way that I truly wanted to, I love to be corrected for that.
Emaan: What do you think created that shift? What kind of pushed you into that space, where you decided to disarm yourself?
Ascia: I think turning 30 was a really big thing. Definitely that. There is something magical about leaving your 20s behind as a woman, like REALLY leaving your 20s behind, like "peace that was great, wonderful. I learned a lot but I’m done. Thank you so much for your service." There was something about where you’ve passed the whole ridiculous fad diet, and crazy ideas about what your body is supposed to look like and this is what you got. You need to just continue working on this instead of trying to change it constantly.
Emaan: I feel like with launching this brand I knew that I was going to have to be vulnerable and rip myself open. I don’t know if I was mentally prepared for how open you have to be and how honest you have to be, and then in doing that you open the door for criticism and opinions.
And with my story, I’m talking about sex and intimate health and body and those are quite taboo. I know with your experiences you’ve been quite bold in terms of your personal choices, like removing your hijab and your beautiful tattoos. How do you handle the criticism… because it’s a lot!
Ascia: I have to say, not very well in the beginning. And I think it ate away at me for a long time until I developed really intense depression. I’m now thankfully medicated and working on it. But I think for a long time I internalized that and would feel like a failure across the board. But I think it was important for me to not deviate from my message. And my message was, you can find a space for you even in spaces that don’t feel welcoming.
It’s about making this one chance that you have to live this life really worth it, and really good. And putting something good out there.
I was touching on taboo subjects before I even realized I was. When I first had my child 7 years ago, the subject of breastfeeding and breasts in general was not something we were discussing. And I didn’t realize it at the time because I was so fervent and set in my belief system that anyone’s responses to it never bothered me. When it came to things about my appearance that were controllable, that’s where it really hurt.
But those taboo talks have to happen. We have to start talking about them. I don’t think I can handle watching another generation not receive the sexual education that they need or the feminine education that they need or understanding their bodies in a way that they really need to because that discovery later on in life will really do you in.
Emaan: I think for myself, with my own journey I wonder if I would have had the adequate education, or if I would have felt safe enough talking to my family about it or my elders, what my journey could have been like. And that’s definitely the message we’re trying to send across with KETISH. We need to normalize the conversations, open up the door for women to feel comfortable and confident and empowered in the knowledge she has about her body so she can understand and take care of her body. We only have one, and it’s a shame that in our culture there is often a sense of shame in seeking the understanding of it, let alone in doing something about it.
Aside from your experience with motherhood, what has your journey been like with learning about your feminine and sexual health?
Ascia: I wish I had been able to discuss it more freely. I do have an American mother so these subjects were not necessarily taboo with my mom, but it was still taboo on a whole. Maybe in private with my mom I could ask her questions here and there, but it wasn’t like I could sit in my house and say "I’m about to have my period."
I would love to see these conversations happen so you don’t have to do it later in life. When you’re doing it later in life, you’re unpacking more trauma that will surround that thing and it will just continue building and building, so I have a lot of respect for what you are doing and opening this kind of conversation. Especially a conversation that is centered around intimacy. That’s a subject we really need to have better discussions on, because there’s a way to have these discussion that is not painful or grotesque or dirty. There is a way to make it very point blank. That’s what we need.
Emaan: What we really want to start with is educating women on their bodies, their health. We don’t even go into the intimacy part. We will get there because that’s a part of it, intimacy and sex… it’s part of your health. But if we start with the body and start educating on how to take care of it, or what information to seek, what your anatomy looks like, what the different parts are, then we can start to inch our way into the intimacy part. It’s just so important!
Ascia: I think just normal female anatomy, it’s really not something you get educated on here. In a way that is understandable from what it means for your day to day. What about all the minute things? How to use the restroom in a way that is still clean for you. How you do it on an airplane. These are things that don’t sound like the biggest conversation but can lead to really big problems. Having these kind of steps for young girls, then later in their teenage years, then as a woman, it all unfolds. Where was KETISH when I was seventeen?
View the full episode video here.