According to the Other Festival, pink is powerful. As the first all-female festival to take place in New York City, this day-long event on Saturday brought together influencers from industries like music, tech, fashion and food. Founded by social entrepreneur Dee Poku-Spalding, the festival aimed to create a space that showcases women who are re-writing the game in their respective fields.
One such woman is actor and activist Rosario Dawson. Dawson, known for her roles in Kids and Rent, served as the festival’s closing speaker alongside Abrima Erwiah, with whom she co-founded the ethical fashion collective Studio One Eighty Nine.
“This festival represents a culmination,” Dawson said to Billboard after the event. “It is a new consciousness coming in; we’re going to the matriarchy. This isn’t about wearing shoulder pads like it’s the ‘90s. We’re really being in our femaleness and our woman-ness — in all the different iterations of that, whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or a working mom.”
Dawson’s business partner Erwiah points out that founder Poku-Spalding has organized other events that are more political in nature, like a 2013 symposium in South Africa that brought together “first ladies and other powerful women in the continent.” But, she notes, the Other Festival in New York brought together influential women of a different kind. “This is a little bit more accessible. Whether they’re in food or music or fashion or whatever, they’re still the next generation of changemakers.”
One such “changemaker” is Melissa Batafarano, design director of Rihanna’s Fenty Corp. Batafarano insists that events like the Other Festival are important even for women in seemingly female-dominated industries like fashion.
“When you really look at the heads of all the design houses, nine out of 10 of them are men,” she tells Billboard. “So as many women as are in this industry, I still think it’s really important to support young women coming in and try to be there for each other.”
Many of the event’s speakers made clear that they aren’t just interested in seeing women succeed in their fields — they want to see them contribute in more deeply meaningful ways than have been typical in the past. British DJ Chelsea Leyland is one such panelist.
“I think one of the best parts of the festival is being given the opportunity to have a voice,” she says during a break in the talks. “One of the main things I’m talking about today are my philanthropic endeavors, which are about raising awareness for epilepsy. To be involved in this festival is amazing because it allows me to share that side of my life, so that people know I’m doing more than just deejaying.”
Rosario Dawson asserts that this is just what makes a female-centric viewpoint so necessary. “This isn’t about being anti-men, which I think so many iterations of this kind of thing has been in the past. It’s about saying, ‘I want options that I’m just not seeing in the way that the system has created things so far.’”
In Dawson’s mind, events like the Other Conference make room for alternative paths forward as a society that she’s excited to be a part of.
“This really shows another way of doing things,” she said. “I got something out of it I couldn’t have gotten at many of the other festivals, and I’ve been to a lot. But this was special — purposeful, creative, unapologetic and beautiful. I celebrate that, and I’d come back again.”