It started one evening last summer, with a front-room full of mates, surrounded by boxes of unworn clothes. Radio and TV presenter Maya Jama and Julie Adenuga, host on Apple Music’s Beats 1, were two of those mates; Maya’s still-bearing-tags clothes the garments in question (Adenuga: “Maya’s house is like a shop. I was like, ‘This is outrageous’.”). Within weeks, the two had launched COLLECTIONS: an online shop selling their clothes, with all proceeds going to charity.
A pop-up shop quickly followed and now a second, featuring donations by the likes of Stormzy and Jourdan Dunn, has just taken place to raise money for The Big Issue Foundation.
The Big Issue meets them in the event space about-to-be fundraising store on London’s Carnaby Street just 11 days ahead of the pop-up. There’s not a nerve on display as Jama, 24, and Adenuga, 30, trip over each other to answer our questions. They’re nothing short of a bloody delight: bright, articulate, full of positivity and energy; two women determined simply to be the change they want to see.
The Big Issue: So how long have you two been mates?
Maya: We met when I joined Rinse [community radio station]. How old was I, 18? She did the show after me and I would come in every day and be like, “So, this is what’s happening in my life” and tell her about dramas and she would be like my wise owl.
Julie: Whilst I was on radio, by the way. I’m on air. And when the music would be playing and the mics off, we’d talk, talk, talk, and I’d be like, “One minute,” in the middle of her story and then, “So, that was… Route 94,”…
Maya: And then one day, you were like, “Do you want to take this friendship outside of work? Do you want to go on a ‘friend date?'” And I was like, “Oh, shit.” Are we ready for this?
— Julie Adenuga (@JulieAdenuga) June 25, 2019
What’s the common ground that brought you together?
Julie: I’m so grateful to Maya because she’s one of the few people that understands my lifestyle.
Maya: Remember that time when we went to watch football and someone was like…
Julie: Oh my God. That’s another thing! So, Maya and I, we are both victims of being related to, or having some kind of relation with someone who’s famous. One time we went to, where was it?
Maya: It was football. We went to watch a football game.
Julie: And one of the guys that was working there, was like, “Oh my God, there’s Skepta’s sister [Julie] and Stormzy’s girlfriend! [Maya]” We were like, “We’re our own people!” We work so hard and people just call us, “girlfriend” and “sister”. That was really sad.
Maya: That’s another thing as well, being that person where we’re grafting ourselves but we’ve also got these people that –
Julie: [Are] overshadowing us sometimes.
Maya: Yeah, and we have the same struggle in that sense of proving ourselves despite our connections or relationship.
Do people ever still do that?
Julie: Every day. Every single day.
Does it drive you nuts?
Julie: Oh yeah, every single day. Someone would be like, “Oh, where’s Skepta?,” and I’m like, “Where’s your brother?!” How are you going to ask me where someone is? I don’t have his coordinates on me all the time. But it’s something I’ve gotten used to. It’s cool. We’re proud of him.
Maya: Yeah, proud of you. But fuck off a little bit. It has got better though.
Well, let’s go back to your thing. After the idea, what were the next steps with COLLECTIONS?
Maya: Julie takes most credit for the things that happen because I am very scattered and all over the place. So, she’s the business and the brains and the organiser –
Julie: And you’re the brains and…
Maya: I’m the banter!
Julie: You’re the energy.
Which charity did you work with, initially?
Julie: The first time, ACLT. The African-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust.
So why The Big Issue Foundation?
Julie: Whenever I’m in central London, I see sellers, selling their magazine, and I thought it would be sick for us. We talked about homelessness in the UK and it just made sense for us to donate to people that are close to this space [on Carnaby Street].
The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.
Is homelessness something you personally feel strongly about?
Julie: We were actually homeless at one point, we genuinely were. But Skepta did something for Shelter before and there are so many charities… I think that’s what I love about COLLECTIONS, that we don’t stick to donating to just one.
Maya: Next time, if we do it again, it will be another charity, and another charity, because they all need help.
Julie, did you just say you were homeless?
Julie: Yeah, it’s such a long story. But in 2004, my family were homeless, we didn’t have anywhere to stay. My mum, me and my brothers stayed at my friend’s house. She had a two-bedroom house and four people lived there – her mum, dad and brother. For like, four months we just had nowhere to stay. I’m not into comparing trauma and sadness but, just to experience that, I guess, shows how important charities are. Again, it goes around to why we thought of this idea in the first place. For us to be able to do something, we’re not like God –
Julie: Maya’s been in hellish situations as well, growing up, and has fought her way from Bristol to London, at 16 years old. We’ve been in situations where we needed help…
Maya: To be able to help back.
Julie: That’s the icing on the cake.
And Maya, you made a documentary about your dad [who spent much of her childhood in prison]. How has it driven the woman you are?
Maya: I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t experienced half the stuff that I’ve been through and so, in a small way, you’re thankful for all these experiences. Just because it grows you as a person. Also, you can connect to more people… because you’re like,
I know how hard it is to be in that position. So now, if I can show people that you can literally turn everything around and be OK, that’s the goal: inspire.
Do you think having this platform comes with responsibility?
Julie: Yes, definitely.
Maya: Definitely, everyone puts that pressure on you, but then you only take as much as you want. “Oh, are you a role-model?” And I’m like, “No.” If somebody sees me and thinks what I’ve done is good and are inspired by my journey, sick. But I don’t walk around like, “Hi, I’m a role model,” because I’m not perfect in the slightest. It’s just about being real and honest. Because I didn’t have anyone when I was younger that I’d look at on TV or on radio and be like, Oh, wow, they came from where I came from or they’ve been through what I’ve been through. Just to be a face and to be somebody that’s come through shit is, I think, role-model-y enough.
So is it about a community of women rather than being role models?
Julie: That was probably why I was so serious about our friendship date. When I joined Rinse I was one of… I can’t remember how many women were in the station. [But] then Maya, Yinka [Bokinni], Tenia [Taylor], Emerald [Rose Lewis], all started in, and I remember thinking, finally, there’s some young girls. We can have some kind of connection. So, in terms of community now, I’m happy that we went on our friendship date because we could’ve just been those girls that don’t talk to each other. But it was actually the community that has got us to sit here with you, today. To find our commonalities and build a friendship, and create –
Maya: Do something together.
Image: Matthew Parri Thomas