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Girlfriendism: One Woman's Mission to Empower Women Worldwide

Stumbling upon Khnuma Simmonds boutique, My Girlfriend's Closet, in St. Croix was purely coincidental. We were on a search for accessories for our St. Croix photoshoot - but what we discovered at her shop was so much more and something that spoke to the core of what we believe at Drinking Dresses. 

Her beautiful clothing and accessory shop was the birthplace of the term she coined "Girlfriendism" - a mission to unite strong, like minded business women worldwide through fashion, fitness, travel and entrepreneurial events.

Her concept was inspired by her family and her grandmother she often credits for her success - an inspiration that we hold near and dear to our hearts.  

When we interviewed Khnuma we fell in love with her passion for raising women up and her message of trusting your intuition. As she states, "We are all that we need". 

 

Drinking Dresses: We LOVE the Girlfriendism concept! Tell us a little bit about your mission? 


Khnuma: Me too!  I love that women have embraced the  Girlfriendism concept because it is inspired by women, created by women and ALIVE because of women. Our mission began in part when we opened My Girlfriend's Closet in 2011. Now...while, I am the sole owner of My Girlfriend's Closet, I always say 'we' because the mission was never about me - it was always about honoring the women who came before me, celebrating the women who are with me and envisioning a 'living energy of empowerment' that would continue to grow in the women after me through the movement....but I digress!


My Girlfriend's Closet was inspired by the core women in my family - namely my mom, sister, niece and I. Though we've spent most of our years either living together or next to each other (there's no getting away!), our styles were so different and we'd celebrate those differences as well as describe our style as it correlated to our personalities and our perspectives in life. For example, my sister was the 'Classy Professional' which we've always associated with her conservative nature and elegant demeanor whereas I was the 'Chic Trendsetter' which they've always associated with my daring yet feminine style and joyful demeanor. My mom was the 'Comfy Athlete' and my niece, the 'Bohemian'. So, when we opened the boutique our slogan was 'Empowering Women through Fashion, Faith and Friendship' but fast forward...we realized that our boutique evolved to more than a place to shop.


In 2020, there were many changes that occurred due to the pandemic including my decision to resign from my full-time job as the Executive Director for the Territorial domestic violence and sexual assault prevention agency to focus on the business. To say the least, I am offering an expedited version of this transitional process but as we say in the Caribbean, 'to make a long story short', I essentially had the opportunity to reflect deeply on what my business meant to me and WHY I was called to intentionally immerse myself in it. Ultimately, I realized that it was this 'thing' called  Girlfriendism - a term that the girlfriends who have supported us over our nine years in business at that point had created to describe the 'feeling' that they experienced every time they shopped with us or supported our girlfriend events. It is through this reflective process that I realized that  Girlfriendism is more than a 'thing' - it is a legacy of what is created when women can be their authentic selves and genuinely support, celebrate and embody women's empowerment.


From that, our mission has evolved to a seven layered business that provides services through Girlfriendism Fashion (My Girlfrend's Closet), Girlfriendism Fitness (SoKh Caribbean Dance Fitness), Girlfriendism Wellness (The Annual Girlfriendism Retreat), Girlfrienidsm Business (Training in collaboration with The Xausky Group), Girlfriendism H.O.P.E. (The Non-Profit, Philanthropic Arm of Girlfriendism that is a Project of the St. Croix Foundation) and Girlfriendism Travel (International Girlfriendism Retreats & Group Travel For Women's Businesses). Now, Girlfriendism has been trademarked and our tagline is 'Girlfriendism: Inspired by the women of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands...Created for women all over the world!'

 

Drinking Dresses: What is your work background? 


Khnuma: My professional background has always consisted of multiple avenues of work in the areas of ending violence against women, non profit leadership and management and women's mental health and fitness (and even today, I continue to wear many hats as a mental health counselor for a non-profit organization where I refer girlfriends through my  Girlfriendism Wellness arm and also teach Caribbean dance fitness classes with numerous organizations including AARP and CIGNA Health Insurance).  Girlfriendism was first inspired by the girlfriends of My Girlfriend's Closet but its structure - the seven branches of business - were developed to encompass all of my passion areas and connect the work that I do with other organizations (mostly women lead as well) to the  Girlfriendism movement. Personally, I felt 'scattered' and  'stretched' for about nine years as I tried to balance all of these hats but somehow, when Girlfriendism was officiated and I was able to streamline how I worked under one umbrella (and define why I did so many things which was always aimed towards women's empowerment) I felt that I found my niche and it all made sense and flowed with ease.


Drinking Dresses: What's next for  Girlfriendism in 2022 and beyond? 


Khnuma: Anything that the universe has to offer - we're open! As of now, we are extremely grateful that our first international  Girlfriendism Retreat will be embarked upon with 35 women from the U.S. Virgin Islands (some residing in the territory and others stateside) who have trusted us to create a collective experience in Greece! (Holy $hit! I don't know if I can say that but that simply expresses both the level of excitement AND anxiety that this brings me but all for the greater good of Girlfriendism!)


We will connect with women in business during our stay and literally begin building relationships with girlfriends around the globe while simultaneously, putting the wheels in motion for our 2023 Girlfriendism Retreat on St. Croix which we aim to have 50% of girlfriends from the Territory and 50% from abroad. Beyond that, we have already begun expanding our Girlfriendism Travel team so we can host retreats for couples, families and spiritual growth as of 2023 and we are also exploring options to open the boutique in a second location. To say the least...we're up to good mischief!

 

Drinking Dresses: What piece of advice would you give to a woman who wanted to start her own business? 


Khnuma: Trust your intuition. As women (and this includes anyone who identifies as such too!), our femininity is led by our intuition and in turn, our intuition is guided by our soul. Because our souls are unique and cannot be replicated, that means that when we tap into our soul...our authentic selves...anything that we create will be fueled by our energy - because it is why we were created! So for women who want to start their business, I want them to know that their desire is their intuition speaking and their soul is searching for an outlet for their life's purpose to grow.


Likewise, it is that same intuition that will inform them of what opportunities to take, which opportunities to be still and think upon and which opportunities are intended for another chapter of their life. We are all that we need. We were born equipped and now we just have to tap into our intuition, embrace what makes us different and celebrate others who are doing the same (and/or are on the journey to do the same). This formula has worked for me and as long as each woman inserts her own essence into the formula, it will work for them too!

 

Drinking Dresses: What women owned brands are you currently crushing on at My Girlfriend's Closet


Khnuma: OMG! Which ones am I not crushing?! LOL There are so many that I wouldn't want to miss anyone but I'll start with the women whose brands are in our boutique and/or have partnered with us in the last six months (to be on the safe side!): Drinking Dresses of course! Black Pine Boutique, Flawfully Unapologetic, Zen Croix Wellness, Designs by Regal, Loving All My Body, Curly Girl Paradise, Fit 4 Life Services, Bougainvillea Perfumeria, Urbander, The XauSky Group, Itiba, Cultured Naturals & JuJu Cece's Lemonades, A Better Day Cafe, AtlasJLuxe Travel, After the Storm Travel, Velle's Poccasions, Women In Business V.I. & Caribbean Chapter, St. Croix Magazine, Trefle Designs, Anonymous West Gyul, Raw Joy South Africa, Renasi South Africa, African Women's Organization of Greece, Hey Girl Haven, Creative Resource Group, The Walker Legal Group, Island Moms Rock, Sea-Renity, Yaadie In St. Croix, Eliana B Artistry, In The Mix Cafe, Youthful Bodies, VI Health and Wellness Coaching, JTC Boutique, The Karima Gordon Foundation, Kasavah Boutique, Sonya's LTD...shall I go on?


The list truly continues but if there is one that we must highlight, I'd choose The XauSky Group. This is my sister's and niece's business and without their professional and personal support, I could not expand at the rate or with the quality that I am expanding - especially in regards to our Girlfriendism Retreats which they basically coordinate from beginning to end. Not to mention, my sister and I are going through the PhD process together and on the days that we both feel like giving up, we lean on each other and keep powering through - that's Girlfriendism for the win again!


Drinking Dresses: Drinking Dresses was inspired so much by the time our Grandmother spent living in St. Croix - what are some of your favorite local spots? 


Khnuma: Wow, this made me sentimental because I often reference my grandmother as a major contributor to my success and legacy building. What makes my relationship with her unique though, is that I never met her as she passed away six years before I was born. Despite that though, her audacity to live in her purpose while she was alive has directly impacted my ability to live in my purpose now. Because of her, I do have privileges that others don't have and because I have experienced that, there is a weight to ensure that Girlfriendism does the same for others including my grand babies whom I may or may not meet.


My grandmother, Hilda B. England, built the home that I live in and three generations have grown up in this house. Likewise, my Master's education - paid in full by a scholarship named after my grandmother for her work in the field of education guidance and counseling. The boutique space that we are in now was once managed by my grandmother and now a family possession. I can't  put a price on that and can't deny that she is with me every step of the way! One of the things that I had to remind myself when I had to choose between a traditional 9 to 5 and the risk (and joys!) of entrepreneurship is 'Khnuma...your grandmother worked so you could live freely. Take the risk. You will never be homeless or hungry. If all else fails, you have family and your basic needs are met.' This was HUGE for me because it gave me a sense of security that I would not have if my grandmother wasn't the bad ass kind of woman that she was especially for her time!


I know I digress again but now that I have spent so much time sharing that, I have to say that my happy places for eating, shopping, etc. is at home and in the boutique - not because its familiar but because of what it represents: Legacy! (And of course, beyond that I enjoy shopping locally owned, women owned businesses so I own several pieces from Kasavah, Wildflower Boutique, Trendz Boutique, St. Croix Oil Bar, Cultured Naturals, Territory Six, Bougainvillea Perfumeria and others and gladly tap into my audience by posting/tagging their products on my business page. I also support most restaurants and don't think there is one that I haven't been to with the girlfriends but I have to be honest...as we say in the Caribbean 'I like my belly' so it doesn't matter to me if its woman owned, locally owned or otherwise - I just like to eat and socialize so I'm a bit less intentional about that as long as the food is good! 

 

Drinking Dresses: Three women (living or from the past) that you would love to have cocktails with and why?


Khnuma: (1) My grandmother, Hilda B. England because she has done so much for me without ever having met her. (2) My mother,  Carmen Simmonds, because every day is daughter's day with her - I could never do what I do without her unconditional love and support. She is God's gift to me! (3) Oprah Winfrey - I know its taboo but I can see myself on a Super Soul Sunday series with her one day. I would always dress as her for career days at school  (this was when my dream was to become a television broadcaster which I studied in undergrad) and admired how she always kept growing, creating pathways for others to succeed and never retired from her purpose. And if I could have the audacity to add a fourth, I'll add myself (and we all ought to) because as women in a patriarchal society (that's another story!) we often question ourselves and/or immerse ourselves in the lives of other women whom we admire forgetting that first, we should admire ourselves - that's where our power is!

Drinking Dresses: What’s your go-to cocktail? 


Khnuma: Sparkling Moscato because I'm a lightweight and would be dancing in a Drinking Dress on someone's table if I have anything stronger! But perhaps, now that you've asked the question...I may just have to create a Girlfriendism cocktail...hmmm. Cheers girlfriend!

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