What Led a Couple of Guys to Start “Girls Are Awesome”​, an Impact Agency Increasing Women’s Representation

Co-founder Nick Bridge shares the behind-the-scenes journey from skating in New Zealand to working to increase women’s representation

Behind The Scenes | Girls Are Awesome | nick bridge

I’m told I talk a lot so I’ll try to keep this brief, but I want to try to create a little context for how the hell a couple of guys ended up starting a women’s representation brand and impact agency. 

You know how it’s impossible to know what your life will look like in 10 or 20 years… but when you look in the rearview mirror at the major events and decisions in your life, it somehow makes perfect sense how you ended up where you are? That’s exactly how I feel with my involvement in Girls Are Awesome. Here are the broad strokes… 

I grew up in New Zealand, where most of my free time was spent skateboarding and snowboarding with my friends; among them, my friend-since-kindergarten, Danny. We all loved the skate/snow brands and the whole visual world of that culture, with all its tentacles dipping into their own worlds of bottomless creativity.

That love of culture that builds community has never left me, and the search for it is probably why my CV involves trying on a bunch of different professional hats. Short version: After a start in hospitality and retail, I made my way through community marketing, PR and marketing for a global menswear brand, managing a medium-volume e-com site, producing events and experiences, and eventually even a stint with Vice’s advertising mammoth, Virtue, as some kind of creative producer. So, I’ve sort of been all over the map, career-wise. Oh, and the literal map, having made my way from New Zealand to Denmark.

Behind The Scenes | Girls Are Awesome | nick bridge

And around 2003, Danny and I decided to create a little street zine in Copenhagen (remember paper zines?) which we ran as a hobby project for over 15 years. It’s called Bitchslap – the title intending to serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to readers that there are, in fact, tons of vibrant, cultural activities happening in Copenhagen. At a time where, as foreigners, people would constantly ask us, “What are you doing here?”, the zine tried to shine a light on the people and stuff we thought were cool.

In the first issue, we had a small page called Girls Are Awesome – a well-meaning but male gaze-y spot for props, mostly aimed at our girlfriends or flirts and the women in our crew. The list was popular and continued to run in most issues. By 2015, Bitchslap was distributed freely around Europe and had become a bit of a cultural thing. We produced video, skateboard events, BIG parties, and agency work for brands. I’d had the privilege of meeting a handful of my personal role models (still geeked).

Behind The Scenes | Girls Are Awesome | nick bridge

This was all happening during my brief stint in ‘real’ advertising, where I was coming to realize I didn’t actually share values with many of the brands I was working with; something that felt important to me. At the same time, Danny and I had gotten to thinking that our magazine & agency model might just be something we could actually make a living from. 

By chance or miracle, I met a mad Icelandic dude with a world-class design studio called THANK YOU®. The deal was simple: I would create a company alongside them, we would share the ownership, and they would use their superpowers to help with all the stuff we were really bad at. It was the perfect partnership, and I quit my “grown-up” job immediately. I already had a son, and Danny and I had just become fathers to our (amazing) daughters, Coco and Tiki.

Becoming parents kickstarted a lot of introspection for both of us. And becoming fathers to girls, which neither of us had ever tried, was the catalyst for a million thoughts and conversations – not least the question of what does fatherhood to a girl really look like? One of the first instincts is to be protective and, upon interrogating that instinct, going down a rabbit hole of realisations about what it might mean to grow up as a girl in today’s world – and actually, what it’s always meant. 

Danny and I knew there’d always been a problem, and we knew that we’d never fully examined what that looked like or how we’d contributed to it. We’d been surrounded by kickass girls and women our entire lives, from our childhood skate/snow pals in New Zealand and into adulthood in professional and creative spaces, and maybe that’s part of the reason why the gender equality lightbulb hadn’t quite switched on yet. But becoming dads to girls made us realize the other part was the fact that gender equality hadn’t impacted us the way it impacted the women around us – including them. That’s the thing about privilege: it’s often invisible to those who have it. Until it’s not.

Behind The Scenes | Girls Are Awesome | nick bridge

So Danny and I wondered if it could be worth a shot — with our experience in media, brands, retail, events and advertising — to build the silly Girls Are Awesome page from our street zine into a platform that showcased and elevated role models, to celebrate women and female energy, and to build a community where girls, women and allies support and raise each other up. And if, by starting there, we could try to become part of the solution.

So, with the help of THANK YOU®, we set about putting it together, officially launching Girls Are Awesome as a platform in 2016 at Europe’s second-largest music gathering, Roskilde Festival.

It was a HUGE moment for us to have that opportunity and really quite overwhelming. We had booked incredible female artists from all over the world who killed it from the large stage; and when everyone started putting our stickers on their tee shirts, we realised that people not only loved the concept and name, but wanted to pass our message on to others. This was an a-ha moment, understanding that we had, in a small logo with a catchy name, tapped into a movement that had the power to open conversations, create community and perhaps even facilitate progress around this topic!

Admittedly, when we started, our intentions were ‘just’ to create a platform and brand that could inspire and empower girls and women. Over time, as we’ve learned and grown our team, it’s developed into more than that. In the course of maturing as people and as an organisation, it became clear that, while our original mission was resonating, our methodology might have been a bit too superficial. So, our methodology got a kick in the ass.

After a couple of bends in the road, Girls Are Awesome got real fast, and we implemented a series of governance principles to help guide us and our partners. We realised that we could be a driving force in catalysing change within companies by setting up structures and guard rails within which we operate, and expect them to operate – not only with us and in our work together, but moving forward as organisations in their own work cultures after we’re gone. 

Danny and I understood quite early on that our role in all of this was to relinquish or share the power we held as founders, to empower the women in our company into decision-making positions, and to collaboratively set the course and drive this weird and wonderful organisation we’d created. After a hot minute (which start-ups usually need), we managed to partner with our amazing Brand Director, Søs Bondo, and our incredible Financial Director Pia Hagen. Both are equity partners whose roles are to drive our shared vision forward, but also to pivot into whatever interesting and impactful areas we can as we continue to add to our killer team. 

Behind The Scenes | Girls Are Awesome | nick bridge

Girls Are Awesome is a work in progress and I’m so proud of our growing team, who are dedicated to a journey of constant learning, breaking barriers and working against the grain to achieve small daily victories (some days) on what can at times seem like an insurmountable task. 

To round things up, here’s a list of (some of the) things I believe: 

  • I believe that my daughter’s life should be as easy as my son’s.
  • I believe the same work deserves the same pay.
  • I believe men should play a bigger role in combatting gender inequality.
  • I believe that facilitating positive cultural experiences has an impact on people’s lives.
  • I believe that by nudging the narrative of what a role model is that girls and women will push back against the artificial constraints society has created. 
  • I believe that brands and companies can catalyse monumental shifts in the way we think, feel and act. 
  • I believe consumers are screaming for brands to facilitate a better world. 
  • I believe that diversity of perspectives and experiences leads to great innovation and problem-solving.
  • I believe gender equality benefits us all, men included – that’s individuals, communities, societies, countries and businesses.
  • I believe in the simplicity of kindness and positivity.

Girls Are Awesome is a movement for everyone, and a movement that can benefit everyone. My ambition is to blow it up to be a real global force for good, but we can’t do it alone. Join us, tell your homie, slap a sticker on your laptop. Have conversations with friends and help us spread the word. The journey of working in this space unexpectedly has had a profound impact on me as a person. Once you put your gender glasses on, you can’t take them off – and it’s a true pleasure to have this opportunity. 

Can’t wait to see you out there, 

Nick

Behind The Scenes | Girls Are Awesome | nick bridge

Nick is both 50% of the founding duo, and 50% of the Kiwi representation in the Girls Are Awesome office. As a partner, Nick is also the Olympic Plate-Juggler of the team, and always has a million tasks up in the air. He calls this his “invisible admin work” – the stuff that keeps the lights on, the orders going out on time, and the contracts signed – in addition to a ton of other essential things that might never make the front page, but there wouldn’t be a front page without them. Fun fact: You’d never know it these days, but Nick is actually a late person in recovery. Everyone in the office is proud to report that he’s been on time or early for the last few years!

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