If you ask Instagram influencer Ambar Driscoll about her organization, “Bamby Collective,” she’ll make it clear that while the group does have some of the makings of a small business – they’ve launched a signature product, their brand revolves around a central tenet, and their following consists of many who love their mission – it’s really about creating a safe space for young women everywhere.
In fact, in Bamby Collective’s first ever Instagram post, the caption reads: We’re an online community & safe space for girls + young women to talk openly, seek advice, be motivated, learn self-care and be uplifted
Ambar started the Collective in 2019 not because she had a spark for an innovative product or has a ton of business savvy, but because she benefited from online spaces in the past. Specifically, Ambar had used a fitness app that, along with providing users with exercises and workouts, also included a communal aspect where girls could connect and support each other. But, to access this space, individuals had to pay a subscription fee. This got Ambar thinking of how to recreate a similar space for others.
“I just wanted to have an accessible community for any young woman from anywhere, with any background, to be able to join and have that community aspect for free,” she said.
But before the idea for the group came together, Ambar was already known by hundreds of thousands of followers. Though she initially was thrust into the public spotlight because of her relationship with YouTuber Casper Lee, Ambar quickly made her own name for herself on social media. In particular, users resonated with her openness about body positivity.
Ugne Jurgelenaite, a 24-year-old Bamby Collective member based in London, initially came across Ambar through Caspar’s content, but said she ultimately followed Ambar because of her body positivity posts. Ugne was able to relate to Amber’s content as it was one of the first times she saw this particular message being spread by someone who wasn’t necessarily plus sized. One post in particular, where Ambar exposed how her stomach looks naturally without flexing, caught Ugne’s eye.
“Instagram was – and still is – such a place where you think all of these people have these amazing bodies,” she said. “But it’s like wow, [Ambar’s] not afraid to show that.”
Talking openly about her body wasn’t always easy for Ambar. For years, she had struggled with disordered eating and even had an eating disorder. But eventually, she found comfort in other Instagrammers who were posting content revolving around body positivity which in turn helped the influencer heal and develop a more positive self esteem. She then realized she could be sharing similar content to her 269,000 followers.
“I thought, well, if this is the content I’m enjoying and if I’ve got kind of a large following, and yet, none of my content is showing my vulnerabilities then I just didn’t want to be one of those people who [their followers] compare themselves to without seeing the real vulnerable sides beyond that.”
And while Ambar was already helping girls like Ugne through her personal account, the itch to build something bigger that would go beyond herself and develop into a network of like-minded young women fueled her to launch Bamby Collective.
It started with a Facebook Group
Ugne’s first venture into Bamby Collective, like most members, was through the private Facebook group. Though she had been following several other Facebook groups – including one for girls new to London – she was surprised at how active and engaged Bamby Collective’s members were. On any given day, you could find posts asking for relationship advice, on body positivity, and moving tips. But no matter what the conversation revolves around, Ugne said members are always kind and helpful to one another.
This supportive and open environment was exactly what Ambar had envisioned early on. But even she was taken aback by how quickly members were able to connect with each other despite never having met.
“It’s quite touching seeing girls share their vulnerable sides on Bamby,” she said. “So many are quick to offer support, help, or just be someone to talk to. So it’s amazing seeing the impact Bamby has had on members’ mental health just through the support of other girls.”
Though Bamby Collective initially launched in late 2019, it closely coincided with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic — something that feels like divine timing for Ambar. At a moment when many people were dealing with lockdowns, limited social gatherings, and just feeling isolated in general, having an online space like Bamby became a great outlet for those who were stressed by the pandemic.
While a ton of Bamby Collective members happen to be based in or around London, where Ambar herself resides, this online community includes young women from all over the world, allowing participants to bond and connect with people they normally wouldn’t have a chance to meet. For Ugne, scrolling through her Facebook feed and seeing the various posts from the group has been a positive addition to her social media routine.
“Girls are not afraid to just post there and everyone is very supportive,” Ugne said. “No one’s ever gonna judge you. It is a friendly, safe space.”
Shifting from online spaces to IRL events
Asides from networking through the Facebook group, Bamby Collective members are also invited to online gatherings, including monthly Zoom book clubs and Netflix parties where the girls could watch a movie together virtually and chat through the comments.
But once Covid restrictions eased, Ambar was keen to create in person opportunities for members to meet and develop deeper relationships with one another. The group has had several meetings including an ax throwing event, puppy yoga, and a galentines art event.
Oftentimes, Bamby members arrive to events solo, with the hopes of connecting with others there. Showing up to events by themselves is just one example of the ways Bamby Members are able to express their vulnerabilities.
“The events are amazing. Most of the girls come on their own, which I think is quite a brave thing to do,” said Ambar. “I feel like in our culture, meeting up with a stranger to date is so normalized, but it’s not [normalized] to meet up to make friends.”
Initially, Ugne held herself back from going to a Bamby meet up for this very reason – she had no one to go with. But after connecting with some girls via the Facebook group, she ventured to her first in person event: puppy yoga.
She even attended Bamby Collective’s first ever overnight retreat this July. Ugne had such a great time hanging out with other Bamby members that she and a group of girls she met from the retreat are now planning to have their own personal getaway. As someone who recently moved, this community has provided Ugne with opportunities to meet new people.
“I moved to London nine months ago. So besides people at work, or my flatmates, I didn’t know many people and now I definitely have a wider network through going to these [Bamby] events. I’ve gained a few new acquaintances and friends.”
Ugne (far left) and other Bamby Collective members at the group’s first overnight retreat
And while meeting other members has been a highlight for Ugne, being able to connect with Ambar has also been a positive experience for her especially because of how relatable she says the influencer is.
“The first time [meeting Ambar] was kind of intimidating. But she’s super friendly to everyone and makes everyone feel very welcomed. She’s very down to earth and not intimidating at all.”
Bamby Collective’s positive affirmation jewelry
In line with Bamby Collective’s mission to provide an encouraging sisterhood for young women, Ambar launched a jewelry collection of positive affirmation bracelets. Customers could purchase the delicate bracelets in either style – “I am enough,” and “I am strong.” Creating these products was something Ambar had been thinking of doing even before she started the collective as these phrases were mantras for her growing up.
“My mom is an art therapist and she’s always been really big on gratitude,” Ambar said. “And she’s always used positive affirmations. So ‘I’m strong’ and ‘I’m enough’ literally come from her and the impact that had on me, and seeing the power that words can have.”
Implementing these affirmations into her daily routine has allowed Ambar to reverse negative thought patterns and helped her live a more balanced, healthy life. While she was excited to release these products so her followers could benefit from these affirmations, she was also cautious. The influencer said she never wants to make Bamby Collective members feel like she is trying to profit off of them.
This is why it was also important for Bamby Collective to donate 5 percent of proceeds from the jewelry collection to Imkaan – a UK organization with the mission of addressing violence against Black and minority ethnic girls and women.
In this way, Ambar is thoughtful and deliberate in everything she shares with her fans – including her love for exercise. Recently, the influencer has participated in multiple marathons and has incorporated long-distance running into her daily routine. Still, she is careful to not send the wrong message about working out and has made it clear that she exercises for her mental health and not to obtain a slimmer body.
“I think [exercise] is such a life hack,” she said. “If I’m feeling like sh*t, and then I go for a run – I feel 10 times better afterwards.”
The Future of Bamby Collective
Currently, most Bamby Collective events are centralized to London, but Ambar was able to host one event in Cape Town, South Africa as she has a ton of fans there because of her boyfriend Caspar’s South African heritage.
Hosting more gatherings outside of London is a goal for Amber as she would love for Bamby Collective to grow. She envisions that one day the organization could even have multiple locations throughout the world – Bamby Collective hubs in big cities. And while Ambar plans to be closely involved in these potential locations, she is also comfortable with, eventually, allowing them to be run by local Bamby leaders.
In this way, Ambar wants the focus to be on the individuals who make up the collective, and not on her. A sentiment that Ugne can already relate to.
“It’s nice to meet Ambar but the community isn’t about, ‘let’s meet Ambar,’” she said. “It’s about, ‘Let’s get together as a community of strong women.”