GINA KUSHKA is a remarkably busy 21-year-old. The South African singer songwriter is currently jetting between two studios – a music studio to record her first album and an artist’s studio to complete the final year of her art degree in London. While this would challenge even the most industrious soul, Gina has also passionately thrown herself into another role very close to her heart – helping to prevent the extinction of wild elephants. The statistics are dire – up to 36,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory last year alone, equating to 1 life lost every 15 minutes through poaching. At this rate, these majestic creatures could face extinction in the wild by 2025.
“Elephant tusks are being used for incredibly naïve purposes, that are not crucial to our existence and don’t compare to what will happen if we lose elephants forever,” said Gina. “Losing an animal so vital to the environment will mean more than losing merely its existence; it will affect its entire surroundings, and that means the world that we live in. I really hope we can stop this tragedy before it is too late.”
To play her part in averting this terrible fate, Gina has become the female face of the innovative and inspiring British swimwear company, Love Brand & Co, which donates 5% of its sales to elephant-saving charities across Africa and Asia.
“Love Brand & Co is a role model concept in the fashion industry. They’re proving that fashion has a deeper purpose other than its primary function,” said Gina. “The brand is far more than just another beachwear brand; not only is the swimwear original, beautiful and luxurious, but when you wear the pieces you feel great because you know some of your personal input has gone towards helping to make a change.”
Launched in 2011, Love Brand & Co is the brainchild of fashion designer and entrepreneur Oliver Tomalin, who combined his love of luxury and lifestyle to help rescue his favourite animal from extinction. From his London apartment, Hong Kong-born Oliver started designing men’s swimwear in cool colours and bold, eye-catching prints. One Arabian-inspired pair of shorts is named ‘Emirates Palace,’ influenced by the time he spent living in the UAE. To connect the product with the cause, Oliver coined the apt tagline ‘Trunks for Trunks.’ His vision: to help create a cultural shift where consumers start to associate products with charitable giving. To further fuse this connection in the public’s minds, the brand’s male ambassador, British actor Ben Robson, modeled the men’s 2014 swimwear collection alongside the Kenyan elephants that Love Brand and its partner charities have rescued.
The brand has now become so popular that it has just launched its first women’s collection of luxurious swimwear – bold bikinis with mix and match tops and bottoms in timeless cuts. The company felt that Gina would be perfect as the brand’s female ambassador and she jumped at the chance when approached.
“Along with music, doing a project like this is something I had always dreamed of. It’s great that my career can help something I feel strongly about. I was brought up very closely with animals in South Africa and conservation has always been a part of my life,” said Gina, who was born and raised in Cape Town.
Recalling her first elephant encounter at the age of 3, when she saw a mother crying after losing her baby, Gina said:
“It was absolutely heartbreaking and I felt such a connection with her when I looked into her eyes. Elephants are incredible creatures – so human-like and such intelligent, emotional animals.”
Gina experienced the same feeling when she visited one of Love Brand & Co’s three partner charities – the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, founded by Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick in 1977 in memory of her late husband. At their Nairobi nursery, Gina was enchanted by a baby elephant called Kamok who had been separated from her herd before being taken to the nursery by neighbouring villagers.
“She was the most wonderful little creature. She wouldn’t stop wrapping her trunk around my legs and nudging me to play with her.”
Kamok is one of many orphans, often the victims of poaching or human-wildlife conflict, to be rescued by the charity. The milk-dependent babies are hand reared before being released back into the wild when fully weaned.
“The nursery is mind-blowing,” said Gina.
“The elephant keepers sleep next to the elephants that they are responsible for every night, and look after them as they would their own children. The difference the shelter has made to elephant conservation is immense and I feel so privileged to be able to be associated with such a fantastic place and promote it even further.”
The Trust also manages anti-poaching teams, mobile veterinary units and community outreach programs.
Another African charity supported by Love Brand is Tusk Trust, whose Royal patron is Prince William. Since 1990, it has worked tirelessly to identify and support sustainable community development and conservation initiatives. It also monitors and protects the endangered African elephant population.
Sadly, Asian elephants are also fighting their own battle for survival – numbers have fallen by around 90% in the last 100 years due to loss of habitat. Elephant Family, a charity founded by the late Mark Shand, brother of The Duchess of Cornwall, also receives support from Love Brand. Its mission is to save endangered elephants and other habitat-sharing animals from extinction in the wild by funding projects across Asia to protect their environment, prevent human-elephant conflict and reconnect the elephants’ forest homes.
Gina hopes that her success as a musician will help to raise Love Brand’s profile further and, by association, awareness of the elephants’ plight. As a child, Gina started singing and writing poetry to express herself, before starting to pen songs and teach herself the guitar at the age of 12.
“Music is my way of being both selfless and selfish. It’s one of the only things that can be both. I want to help the world and I want to affect people, make them happy, put them in touch with their fears, sadness, pains and pleasures all to conquer or understand these feelings.”
She then plunged into the music business aged just 14, and now hopes to spread her distinctive electro-pop sound by touring in the near future, as well as working on her first album.
Painting huge, vibrant expressionistic works is her other mode of self-expression, and after achieving an art scholarship she embarked on a BA in History of Art the Courtauld Institute in London. “My studies have really helped my songwriting because its opened my mind to thinking about the world in much more complex ways. My paintings are an entire release because words aren’t included in their production, which means that looking at them and executing them is entirely subjective and cathartic.” While she intends to continue painting daily and selling her works, she said that her main career focus and passion will always be her music.
Thankfully for someone so busy, Gina sees creating music as her down time.
“Even though it’s ‘work,’ it’s actually what I love doing most. I also love to draw when I have some time to relax and I would spend all of my time by the sea in South Africa – it’s my absolute favorite place in the world. That’s another reason I feel so privileged to be the face of the Love Brand female swimwear line.”
Gina has pledged to do everything she can to help Love Brand in their mission to save the elephants.
“There are a lot of things that we think are impossible to overthrow because the problem seems too big, but this is what allows things like poaching of elephants in Africa and Asia to continue to the point of endangerment. Initiatives like Love Brand are the key to the possibility that we can fight these harms to our planet.”