The Elbas: On Culture, Coupledom and Connectivity
Words by Amanny Mohamed
Images courtesy of The Elbas
The art of giving is an act of kindness – a gift, regardless of how simple or grand the gesture. It initiates a shared experience – a feeling of togetherness.
Humans are “social” beings by nature - we need each other emotionally, mentally and physically. In my experience, there’s nothing more enriching than the energy that togetherness brings. Partnerships – romantic or otherwise, rely on co-operation and finding common ground - thriving, not thwarting ‘individuality’.
Founders of GOODEE - designers Dexter and Byron Peart are twins, and had no choice in the matter of childhood partnership. But, as adult brothers and business partners they’ve grown to appreciate the power of two, to create impact for greater good – choosing partnership, over party of one. The belief that nobody gets to their goals alone got them thinking about other partnerships. How do they operate? What motivates them? And what makes other pairs prosper?
Successful couple Canadian model/activist Sabrina and British actor/DJ Idris Elba are an inspiration, not only in terms of their global humanitarian work as UN Goodwill Ambassadors with IFAD* (International Fund for Agricultural Development), but also as professional partners with start-up venture S’able Labs: a space for a community of like-minded couples (not necessarily romantic), who see the strength in partnerships. They’ve coined the concept - ‘coupledom’.
GOODEE’s own dynamic duo – Byron and Dexter discuss culture, coupledom, connectivity and Coronavirus with the Elbas.
Byron: Did sharing your news publicly about contracting Covid-19 have a positive impact?
Idris: We felt really compelled to speak up and people thought we were crying out for attention - we got a little backlash for that. But when you have this soapbox to stand on, you can say ‘this is real.’ It was important for us to have an open forum and offer a place of reasoning around it, because that was lacking. Hopefully people are connecting more because of it.
Sabrina: One of the things I learned is to be mindful of other people's mental spaces and to check in on people – call my mum every day! I think that idea of ‘togetherness’ is what really fuelled S’able for us at that time - to learn from others, and feel connected.
Dexter: Where did the idea for S’able Labs come from?
Sabrina: It came to us at the beginning of our relationship. We felt like we could build and achieve things together.
Idris: When we started to articulate why we feel such a good, strong, powerful couple, we found interesting traits that go beyond the romance, as you begin to become (each other’s) strength. We thought it'd be interesting to find a way to harness that energy.
Sabrina: There’s something about the collaboration between two people that isn't just romantic, like familial, [business] partnerships or twins, that we take for granted. It takes hard work to make a partnership successful, so we ran with that [idea], and it turned into ‘coupledom’.
There's so much divisiveness amplified by the news and social media. But I think that a merging of cultures is just beautiful - building of a mosaic - not a melting pot, we don't just blend all together. - Sabrina Elba
Dexter: How does your relationship emphasize ‘coupledom’, and the concept of togetherness?
Idris: I'm an only child, so you tend to have this solitary perspective. I’ve always had massive ambitions, but when we came together, our ambitions became shared ambitions. We discovered there’s real power in two - in forming a partnership.
Sabrina: ‘Coupledom’ is also about yourself, and self-love. It’s the most important relationship you can have, other than coupledom with Earth and how we treat it. We believe that learning how to better yourself, automatically improves your relationships.
Byron: What does each person uniquely bring to your combined vision of S’able Labs?
Idris: Sabrina is essentially the CEO, she does a lot of the heavy lifting, and I tend to play the role of the board member, but we make key business decisions together. We're both custodians of the idea and sometimes there can be differences but we're good at reminding ourselves that we're making a point about partnerships - we need to practice what we preach!
Sabrina: It's not about dissecting all the little things, but looking at the bigger things that draw us together. This [S’able] is our baby – it’s a partnership that sometimes leans heavier on me, and sometimes heavier on him to make the big decisions.
Byron: How do you see S’able working as a platform for sharing and making a difference?
Sabrina: One of our earliest observations was the world of marketing – it’s divisive. We wanted unification in this space to look more at how we're similar, than different.
Idris: We’re travelling quite a bit, so we're thinking about efficiency, how we treat our planet better, maybe there's a product we can share? Unisex is nothing new, but it’s about recalibrating the mind, and coupledom.
Sabrina: We have this community of like-minded people who agree that this magic happens between duos - we wanted to curate that space for people. We veer away from calling it a ‘lifestyle’ brand, because to us, it feels like a community space.
Idris: I prefer the word ‘university’, because it's a place where one can grow inside, learn, educate themselves or contribute.
I've grown up in a generation where two black owned companies meant competition. You [Goodee] talking to a young company like S’able is a form of ‘coupledom’ because we're both black-owned, have similar values, and we don't view each other as competition, but rather partners within the betterment struggle. Encouraging each other is a form of partnership - we believe there’s a strength in that. - Idris Elba
Byron: Have your African roots have played a significant role in what you both hold close?
Idris: Yeah. We knew culturally we were from very different parts of Africa, we were excited – East meets West you know? But within both of our cultures there was adversity to the mixing of our African cultural heritage, which we do not allow into the fabric of our relationship.
Sabrina: There was some cultural backlash; it comes from this protective space because of the trials and tribulations that Africans have gone through to maintain their culture. But we embraced our similarities more so than our differences, because we felt they stemmed from the same grounded ethos about community and family.
Idris: But there's still that natural competition in [our] house between East and West. Especially food – and when our mums are in town!
Dexter: How important is gifting your future children with both cultures?
Idris: It's important they understand the duality of their parents’ heritage, and understand the strength in that. They should be protective of it, but that's not to say that it cannot be fused with others.
Sabrina: Yes, that’s not to say you can't preserve the integrity of each culture, when they come together. We have conversations about our child learning Somali and Creole. That's beautiful.
Dexter: What motivates you to keep giving back, and fighting the good fight?
Idris: It’s only been crystallized for me in the last year with the word - ‘pandemic.’ Nothing is promised to us, and every day is a lucky day - a blessing. But when I think about my acting career and the generation that paved the way [for me], maybe they didn't do it consciously, but their leadership and groundbreaking movements, inspired me.
Sabrina: Positive representations also are a big part of it. As a black woman, we don't have the luxury [or privilege] to do anything halfway - Idris feels that too as a black man. And that gives you this urge and momentum to keep fighting. I've learned through our philanthropic work particularly with IFAD* that it's about leaving seeds and crumbs - not just for your family or your kin, but looking at us all like one family.