Briony Douglas on Female Empowerment and Why Girls Are Awesome

The Toronto-based visual artist and photographer rocks adidas' new Girls Are Awesome collection in our latest lookbook and shares tips for female entrepreneurs.

Briony wears the new adidas Girls Are Awesome collection
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Briony wears the new adidas Girls Are Awesome collection

The sneakerhead community has a long been a stiflingly male-dominated space—look no further than the many drops only available in men’s sizes, or the sea of dudes you’re guaranteed to find in any given lineup for a women’s-only release. But like a rose sprouting from the bro-heavy concrete, Briony Douglas—the star of our lookbook for adidas’ new Girls Are Awesome collection—stands out in Canada’s sneaker scene. Boasting an enviable collection, the Toronto-based visual artist, director, and photographer has emerged as a sneaker influencer in her own right. She’s worked with major brands, features creps frequently in her art, and has shaken up the boys club in the process, repping for lady sneaker fans everywhere by bringing some much-needed chicness to the kick game.

Briony’s also just a vocal advocate for gender equity in general. There’s a major throughline of women’s empowerment in her work, her shoots often celebrating the female body in all its shapes and forms. She also isn’t shy about tweeting advice for other young female creatives. So it’s really a no-brainer that adidas wanted her to rock their new collab with Girls Are Awesome. The Three Stripes have teamed with the media outlet, which aims to bolster the voices of women and girls, for a collection that’s all about female representation. The centerpiece of the line is the oft-overlooked Forum ’84 silhouette, available in three styles: High, Low, and Triple Platform. 

Here, Briony shares her insights on succeeding as a female entrepreneur—especially in a male-centric space—and how women can empower one another.

Briony Girls Are Awesome

You’ve become a pretty prominent sneakerhead in Canada. What’s that been like, considering the sneaker scene’s historically been such a male-dominated space? 
Well, it’s awesome. I love it. But there definitely are some downfalls. Like, I don’t understand why the sneaker size can’t just go down a little bit more so us ladies can fit into it too. That’s a little frustrating. And you’re seeing it change now, but for the longest time, the women’s sneakers were all like sparkly and pink. I’m not against pink and sparkle, but I also want all the options. Like, the guys get to buy the women’s shoes. We should be able to buy the guys’ too. And that just comes with inclusivity of both sexes, I think. In Canada in general, it’s already tough as it is a sneaker person because it’s hard to get the shoes.

What other obstacles do female sneakersheads face?
Well, that. But also not being taken seriously because you’re a female. Like, people will just be like, “Oh she just gets that [shoe] because she’s a girl.” And it’s like, no, I get that because I like sneakers and I talk about them and I post about them. [Laughs.] The sneaker world can be pretty cliquey and not nice at times. So, yeah, people will be mad that I got a pair of sneakers and they didn’t. And when people are upset, they’ll say what they think are the reasons.

“There’s the thought that females are catty and jealous, and I really don’t think that’s true. I think if we all just empower each other, who knows what we can do?”

That’s so mean! Well, how do you feel about spaces like Makeway—the first female-centered sneaker boutique in Canada—beginning to crop up?
I’m definitely biased because Makeway is my best friend’s business. So I love it! It’s the first of its kind in Toronto and just awesome to see. I’m very big about empowering females and Abby [Albino] and Shelby [Weaver] are just good people. Like, there’s not really a different way to say it—they’re just genuine. They want to see other women succeed and they’re trying to create that space. It sucks that they opened and literally a day later everything was shut down, but I’m glad to see that their online stuff has started to take off.  I love any area or place that makes people feel welcome where others may not, because you walk into a lot of sneaker stores and people are like, “What are you doing here?”

Like there’s a record scratch and everyone goes silent!  
[Laughs.] Yeah, and it makes you feel so uncomfortable. You’re like, “Do you guys want me to leave or…?”

Briony poses with new adidas Girls Are Awesome collection

You’ve earned yourself a seat at the table as a female entrepreneur as well. Let’s talk about that. You’ve tweeted before that being a female, you’ve sometimes struggled giving companies a price you think is worthy of your time and effort.
Well, I think we’ve been conditioned so much to think that even asking a question or inquiring more can make us seem difficult because we are female. That’s been a struggle of mine for so long. And I know a lot of females, they won’t even talk about money because we’re taught that you shouldn’t talk about it, but we need to be talking about it because otherwise, we’re not going to get paid what we’re worth. I really believe the more you show someone you respect yourself, the more they’re going to respect you. I found a lot in the beginning, I was like, Oh, my God, if I go back and say a price that’s too big, they’re going to think I’m difficult. They’re not going to want to work with me. But really what ended up happening is when I settled for those lower prices, I was getting resentful and not enjoying doing what I love as much, which was the goal.

I had a call a couple of days ago where I gave a general price and for half an hour the person kept trying to say, “Well, like, isn’t there more wiggle room? Like, can’t you do it for less?” I told her that I think it would be best for her to work with someone else because it doesn’t feel nice to feel used or manipulated like that. Like, I wouldn’t go into her store and be like, “Can you just sell me the shirt for less?” It’s just not respectful. There’s a lot of people who try to take advantage of artists out there. I think it’s good to talk about it within our community so we can make sure we’re getting what we deserve.

“I hope to come across as I’m sharing the female body because I think it is beautiful and I think that it is our choice to share.”

I really liked your tweet where you said, “Start with a number that makes you laugh and work back from there.” 
That was literally the best advice I ever got. I remember the job I was quoting on that I got that advice for and I said a price that I thought was just laughable. And the company came back and was like, “OK,” and then just kept talking. Like, it was nothing for them to do it! So you never know unless you ask. And I’m not saying charge people ridiculous amounts of money, but I’m saying charge a price that you think is actually worthy of your time. 

Would you say female empowerment is a throughline that we see in all your work? 
Yeah, I would definitely say that. And behind the scenes, I’m by no means not choosing men, but I just typically have all-female teams. I’m very big on wanting to empower [women], from hiring someone just for the styling, even if it’s just for an influencer shoot for me. I never want to discriminate against someone else; I strongly believe the best person for the job, regardless of their gender, should be chosen. But I do think that females have had it not easy for a long time and I think providing opportunities that they may not have had before is very important. And honestly, I just love the vibe on set when it’s like an all-female team. Like, shit just gets done. [Laughs.] 

Briony poses with camera rocking adidas Girls Are Awesome collection

This may be a weird parallel to draw, but people often say there’s not enough cooperation in the Toronto rap scene. Like, there’s a lot of conflict and jealousy. I feel like it hinders them as a whole because if more local rappers worked together they could really make some international noise and get ahead as a whole. Do you think the same could be said for female creatives in the city—that they should be supporting one another?
Something I’ve taught myself over the years is that when you see someone else who is celebrating success—like another female, for example—instead of feeling jealousy or asking why that opportunity was not given to you, you should be celebrating with them as if it was your success as well. Be genuinely happy for them, because then you’re showing the universe that you’re worthy of that success too. And a win for someone is a win for all of us. So, if a female is doing well in that area, that just means there’s more opportunities for females to step up and do well in that area and other similar areas. There’s the thought that females are catty and jealous, and I really don’t think that’s true. I think if we all just empower each other, who knows what we can do?

I’ve noticed that your art often features the female form. Is there any reason for that?
I think there’s sometimes a negative stigma about a woman sharing her body. But I think that if you are coming from a place of empowerment and you are happy and proud of yourself, that is a beautiful thing and you should be able to do that. If you are sharing yourself because you don’t feel good and you want those likes from sharing it, that’s where it can become unhealthy. So, I hope to come across as I’m sharing the female body because I think it is beautiful and I think that it is our choice to share. It’s really not up to anybody else to say if that is right or wrong. 

Adidas Girls Are Awesome Forum 84

Speaking of which, wasn’t your Instagram account shut down a while back because it showcased the female body too much?
Yeah! Well, they’ll flag you when you post a post and they’ll just take it down. So I decided to just make my Instagram profile picture [laughs] a photo that is of a woman tastefully done, and so they just shut the whole thing down. But it’s just crazy. I mean, I do understand where people are coming from with the free the nipple movement. I’m not quite sure why men can show their nipples…

This all goes back to what I was saying about a woman’s choice. Again, it’s our choice to do whatever we want with our body. Like, the time that you spend putting someone down or saying it’s wrong, is time that could be spent working on yourself and doing something proactive for you. You’re seeing this influx, with the pandemic, of people just essentially bullying online because they don’t have much else to do…. I think someone once said that if you have a negative thought about someone, you should take a step back and think about it, because there is some truth in that about yourself.

Facts. All this being said, what are some ways we, as a society, can help more women succeed?
I don’t even want to say that it’s about giving us more opportunities. At the end of the day, it’s just about having an equal chance to be able to do the same job that men get to do. I think that a lot of people confuse feminism with being about thinking that women are better than men—that we should get more rights. But really, it all is just about equal opportunity and the choice to be able to do what we want to do. 

Photographer: Katherine Holland
Creative Director: Alex Narvaez
Producer: Mollie Rolfe
Stylist: Shirin Nadjafi
Makeup & Hair: Sherlyn Torres

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