Meet Ferly's Co-Founders
Founding a company is a labour of love. It is - it has to be - built on passion and a devotion to the mission and ethos. This feels essential in our space of sexual wellbeing, a topic so personal and vulnerable, that it can only come from experience and a desire to empower. For our co-founders, Billie and Anna, Ferly emerged from their own stories of sexual assault. Realising that they are not alone in this, they have discovered that speaking up about their experiences and it being the foundations on which Ferly was built, has created a powerful connection with our community. Here, Billie and Anna share their own stories, with full vulnerability.
Billie Quinlan - Co-Founder + CEO
“8:30 pm, Thursday April 2016, Cornhill Street, London - the incident that took place at this time on this date in this location changed me, and the course of my life, significantly.
Fast forward 6 months later to the end of October. I'm sat in a coffee shop by St Pauls with my Head of HR. She bought me a slice of carrot cake - she knows I have a sweet tooth. It looks so delicious but my stomach is in knots, I feel like I'm going to be sick. I can hardly speak. We sit down opposite each other and she asks me what's wrong. I can't bare to look at her as I try to summon the words so instead I turn sideways on my chair, put my head against the glass window and stare into the distance. Tears are streaming down my cheeks and all I feel is shame. I've come to know it well. It's familiar hold engulfing me once more as it has over the last few months. Minutes of silence go by. She waits. Finally, I pull the words to my lips and whisper "6 months ago I was sexually assaulted by X (a senior man in the business)."
Held hostage by this shame, I'd spent the last 6 months blaming myself, confident that what had happened was my fault even though rationally I knew it wasn't. I told myself that it wasn't 'that bad' and that I was being 'over-emotional'. Womxn everywhere experience worse. I stopped wearing make up at work and started to dress in black to try and make myself invisible. I would meet dad for lunch a few times a month and not make it through the door without crying but unable to communicate why. I lost all sense of myself and my worth. I could feel myself falling deeper and deeper into a black hole. I didn't know who I was anymore. My identity had been taken from me.
6 months after the Cornhill Street incident, I found out that the same man was 'grooming' other women in the business to join a team he was pulling together. I also kept hearing stories that his behaviour hadn't changed. In that moment I knew I couldn't keep my experience to myself because the guilt - and the implications of not doing anything - became a greater weight than the shame.
In October 2016, I made a decision to no longer be a victim and to instead recognize that I was a survivor. This decision was the catalyst for everything that followed and it's what led me to Zinc, drawn in by their mission to 'transform the mental and emotional health of women and girls'. It's what immediately connected Anna and I, and it's what enabled us to see so clearly the unmet need around womxn's sexual wellbeing.
It's my personal mission to always work on projects that will empower womxn and girls, to use my voice in pursuit of gender equality and to challenge the status quo even if it's an unpopular - if not seemingly impossible - opinion. No person should ever be a survivor of sexual assault, but that's not the world we live in. Globally, 1 in 3 womxn will be. Ferly is our first contribution to changing this, it is my battle cry to smashing the taboos, ridding the shame, and taking my identity back. I know who I am.”
Anna Hushlak, Co-Founder + CSO
“He was ~20, I was 15. We lay in the long grass under the stars. We were tucked into a sleeping bag, his arms wrapped around me, my head snug under his chin. As I drifted between wakefulness and sleep, he began to kiss me. His kisses led to wandering hands. I remember not quite knowing if I was dreaming. Wandering hands led to him being inside of me. Suddenly, I was very much awake. I wasn't having sex but sex was being done to me.
My rape didn't happen in the way I'd been taught it happens. He wasn't a stranger and he wasn't violent. If anything, it was all quite boring, average really. When he finished, we lay there. Him, fast asleep, his arms still around me. Me, staring absently up at the night sky. I suppose that meant I wasn't a virgin anymore.
I remember speaking to my friends about it. Feigning that typical teenager indifference, even faking excitement at the fact that I'd had sex. Years later, I'd look back at that moment and I'd finally see it for what it was. If I'm being really honest, I think part of me always knew. I just wasn't comfortable acknowledging it because acknowledging it meant eventually having to accept it. I also had - and to some extent still have - a feeling of dismissiveness, a sort of 'shrug it off' mentality. Sort of like, because my experience wasn't with a stranger and wasn't violent, it's somehow less. Like I don't have the right to call myself a survivor.
I love sex but I haven't always. For most of my early 20s, when it came to having it, I was 'there' but I was never really there. I didn't masturbate until I was 21. I didn't orgasm until my mid-20s. I was f*cking great at 'faking it' though. I let the hands of others explore my body before I'd even explored my own. As I grew into who I am, my love for sex developed alongside the love I have for myself. And my enjoyment of it, came from learning that for me, sex is not about doing, but about being.
I see Ferly as a tool to help me understand who I am and who I'm not. A tool empowering me to reclaim what 'sex' means. More than that, it's about defining it on my terms and restating those terms any time I damn well please. Why? Because in defining those terms, I'm also defining myself.”