There isn't much that's more luxurious than a superfine merino wrap. Whether draped over shoulders to dress up an outfit, or tucked into a carry-on for the ultimate travel companion, it's an invaluable piece in any complete wardrobe...
Margie Moroney – the founder of HOLOS – knows this better than most. Having spent 25 years working with the very best fine-wool processors in Italy, Margie has created a collection that will not only prove to be one of the hardest working pieces in your wardrobe, but also one of the most luxurious.
Creating beautiful pieces that focus on meticulous design, modern shapes and an unwavering attention to detail, their pieces are grown in Australia and made in Italy. From wraps through to T-shirts in the most divine set of colours and also Merino and Merino Silk, HOLOS is making our wardrobes work harder, wherever it is we choose to travel.
Also don't forget to check out the divine HOLOS pouch which can now be monogrammed with your initials in three different colour combinations (blush and cherry, sage and milk and indigo and apple). In our humble opinion, they're the perfect gift for Christmas … Or for self. Have a peek below.
HOLOS are currently offering 20% off their entire range, with free worldwide shipping.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
I grew up in Melbourne, as the youngest in a fun, kind and thoughtful family so I was very lucky. They were all medical for several generations, so I was the black sheep when I studied languages and commerce and went into investment banking. No one really understood what I was doing and I was sometimes lonely around the dining room table!
I moved to Sydney in the 1990s to take up a banking job. There was a whole gang of us "Melbournites" who came up at the same time, and most of us have stayed on. We are still a pretty tight friendship group.
I married a lovely Englishman who I met here (my mother was English so it was a natural thing to do) and we had two daughters. We have had a lot of fun as a little foursome – lots of travel, sport and adventures plus plenty of shared humour fueled by viewing classic British comedies – very bonding.
The girls are now grown up and have moved back south to attend Melbourne Uni which I am so happy about. I love the university-aged kids – they are excellent company, with really interesting ideas and friends. We have great conversations, often fairly strident, and we still get together for adventures, travel, big group meals and movies.
What did your career entail prior to the launch of HOLOS?
I worked as an investment analyst for a large American investment bank and after that in the Mergers and Acquisition area for a UK investment bank. It was the heyday of investment banking in Australia with 16 new banks in the market, and the start of a long period of asset growth. There were exciting deals, good teamwork and lots of fun crunching numbers, but overall I didn't love the environment. It was very "blokey" and I also failed to find a worthwhile purpose in the work.
I was the only female in the Corporate Advisory department, and one day I overheard the Chairman of the British bank refer to me as "an experiment". I also learnt to do "all-nighters" where the overseas Head Office would request an analyst report, just as you were heading home, to be delivered the next morning. Never mind that the report often sat on their desk unopened for days or weeks!
Once you survive that kind of bias and stress you get a quiet confidence (or a protective shell) and learn to be a little brave. Discovering that stamina is all in the mind, and that you can push through big fatigue has been a handy life skill. I was happy to overhear my daughters one day, when we were faced with a horrible deadline, say, "Don't worry Dad, Mum's pretty tough, we'll get it done."
If Social Finance and Impact Investing had existed when I graduated Uni that would have totally been my path. It's a relatively new field where the discipline and financial management of the investment sector is applied in order to address social needs. But it hadn't evolved yet.
Somehow I followed my interests and headed towards Agribusiness as an area where Australia has a competitive advantage – the processing of food and fibre. And that's where the wool thing started, and my knowledge and contacts within the industry.
My big break came when I left banking to work for the largest private agribusiness investor in Australia (at that time) and I pitched him to look at investing in wool processing. He sent me all over Australia, and then around the world, to analyse the pipeline from wool growing right through to fashion labels, and to look at every wool processing asset and branded fashion business that I could. We nearly invested in 50% of Gucci which at that time was a failing business part-owned by a Bahrain-based investment house. Imagine how much fun that would have been!
During this process, I met the northern Italian fine wool processing families and developed a working relationship with the Zegna Baruffa and Botto Poala families with whom I still work to this day. Italian business relations are based on long-term loyalty and many of these families have been processing fine merino wool for 200 or more years! Their passion and expertise is world-leading and inspirational, and I am so privileged to learn from them over the last 25 years.
And that's where the idea for HOLOS eventually came from…
After such a successful career, what sparked the change for you?
When I had children I found that deal-based investment work did not blend well with little people and their needs! We had no family in Sydney and therefore no support network either. Throw in a hyperactive husband with a 24/7 job and it was all looking rather messy…
I wanted to create some of the family life that I had grown up with, and so I stepped back to piece by piece consulting work and then Zegna Baruffa asked me to become their agent in Australia, selling the world's best knitwear yarns to designers and manufacturers. This was more manageable.
Twice a year I would receive the new collections and I began to notice these spectacular superfine merino yarns that hardly anyone was choosing. It seemed that cashmere and silk had hijacked the concept of luxury and that, as soon as designers wanted to include a high-end product they would jump over these superfine merino wools and choose a cashmere blend instead. But I could see how very special and how wearable these fine wools are. Which got me thinking and day-dreaming…
For years there was this niggle in the back of my head, but I never considered actually starting a luxury brand from scratch! However, I had boxes full of magazines and tear sheets of knitwear colours and styles. In the end, an old friend sat me down and said, "You have been talking about this for 20 years, now you need to either do it or shut up!"
He mapped out a low-risk way for me to trial the concept and told me not to look too far forward and to stop over analysing the opportunity. After that, I just had to get out of my own way, turn off the doubting voices and get started…
What makes the wool you use in HOLOS products so special?
Australian superfine merino is a true gift from nature and one of the most precious materials in the world. It is wool that is as fine as cashmere but much rarer, being only grown in Australia from flocks that are descended from the Spanish merino.
So this special merino wool is very soft, fine and rare. It is incredibly comfortable to wear as the wool has natural stretch which gives the garments a huggable quality and also makes them so versatile – the wraps can double as a blanket or easily be scrunched up to wear as a scarf. Once you have worn this superfine merino it is difficult to reach for anything else!
What are some of your favourite pieces from your collection?
Well, the Travel Wrap is a complete must-have. I get twitchy if I am ever without one, on my person or in my bag. For changeable office temperatures, for the cinema, for flying or any travel, or in case you go out to dinner that night and want to add a bit of glam.
I also live in the very fine "menswear" sweaters which are technically the finest wool knitwear available, knitted on a single machine in Italy which is the only one of its kind in the world. They feel like silk, but with warmth, and once you have worn one next to your skin you won't want to wear anything else. The quality and Italian finish mean that they always look chic and well-groomed which is important to me. So many of the girls are wearing them that we will soon relaunch them in a range called "per tutti" (for everyone).
I recently travelled with two of the Luxo knit Ts – our contemporary take on traditional Italian knitwear, and they were sensational. Both comfortable and super-stylish at once, they took me everywhere – from airline lounges to long museum days, to dinner parties in London, even hiking and then sleeping on the way home. What else do you need?!
How do you like to style HOLOS pieces?
I am fairly spare in my dress range and I tend to wear layers of navy blue in various shapes and combinations. I like to be well-groomed but nimble and in this way, I can get out of the door quickly, while knowing that I look smart and am wearing the colour that suits me best.
I put HOLOS tops and wraps together with well-cut pants, or otherwise white jeans, a good shoe and a belt. For evenings out I will keep the top, change to a silk skirt and kitten heel and add the lustre and lightness of a HOLOS merino silk mix wrap in the soiree (evening) size, maybe even a highlight colour!
I travel quite a bit with my various roles so I buy multiples of the things I love, just to keep it easy. My most frequent destinations are Melbourne, Milan and Arnhem Land – it's a bit crazy – so I keep three different bags half-packed and I can leave fairly quickly, with some crossover!
For the non-HOLOS pieces I always come back to the properly made, family-owned Italian labels – Max Mara for pants and coats and Tod's for shoes, plus a bit of Uniqlo in between for the basics. I was such an Armani girl in my banking days and am still wearing some of those dark navy Italian jackets and coats, that I bought in Lire, before the Euro was even introduced!
I like my clothes to serve as background to experiences and ideas but that doesn't mean the background can't be stylish, attractive and well-made. I completely accord with Dame Vivienne Westwood's directive to "buy less, choose well and, above all, make it last" and HOLOS is based on those principles. We provide a care and repair service that should keep your HOLOS pieces looking chic and elegant for many, many years, and in this way, we stand by the quality of our pieces.
Can you tell us about The Nawarddeken Academy?
The Nawarddeken Academy is a unique little school in a remote indigenous community in western Arnhem Land, providing bilingual and bi-cultural education to the children of traditional owners. This outstation is headquarters for the Warddeken rangers, an Indigenous-owned land management company, managing 1.4 million hectares of indigenous land of global conservation and cultural significance. It has a population of about 50 people, provides meaningful employment to the community as land management rangers, and continues a strong system of passing traditional knowledge between generations.
The school was established at the request of local indigenous elders and landowners, to provide education for the children of the indigenous rangers, who were previously receiving no western education as the Government deemed the settlement too small to warrant schooling.
My family and I helped to support the establishment of the "bush school" as we call it, which has now been operating since 2015. I sit on the Board of the school which is a total privilege – it is a joint board between the indigenous owners and invited external members, I learn more than I can ever put back in.
The Nawarddeken Academy received registration as an Independent school just before Christmas in 2018, which means that it is now financially sustainable, and we can start to look at expanding the schooling into secondary level, and to other nearby outstation communities that are not receiving adequate education.
What inspired your work with the bush school?
I was invited on a visit to this special community by a philanthropist friend. My oldest daughter had gone off to a year of boarding school and my younger Year 9 daughter was ready for a broader world view…and she is a good travel buddy! We were blown away by the spirit and practicality of this little place that was demonstrating how a modern indigenous community can successfully straddle both worlds, can generate real income via the sale of carbon credits from the land management work while keeping their own culture alive and families intact…if only the supporting infrastructure is in place.
It became clear that a local school was a key missing piece to the sustainability of the community, and the best way to support the families of the indigenous rangers, and to keep these clans living "on country".
The establishment of the school has saved at least 20 ranger jobs, has kept the families in a place of a healthy lifestyle and ancient connection and has enabled the establishment of a Women's' Ranger program because the mothers can now go to work while their children are safely in school.
It is the most extraordinary thing and was one of those whispered ideas that started small and just grew and grew… And will continue to expand.
The HOLOS boutique, located in Sydney's Paddington
As a busy entrepreneur with so many balls in the air, how do you make time for you?
For many years I did not manage to make "me-time" and my stress levels grew exponentially. I now understand it to be super important, and I have learnt to take the small pleasures in daily life in order to better manage my stamina. I have always been a list writer to clear the brain but I have recently learnt to focus completely on the one task at hand without letting my mind wander to all those other things that I think I should be doing. I suppose that is called mindfulness, and in this way I get more enjoyment from everything that I do.
I now consciously under-schedule my days where possible (my diary used to be so full it looked like a Missoni towel!) so that there is room for creativity and for family spontaneity, or to walk the dogs together. I also create little patches during the day, often just 10 minutes or so, where I can do something that revives me – either a blast of a favourite song or a quick read of something interesting and inspiring. I read a lot of autobiographies, articles from journals, science writings, whatever can set me off on a new thought path and keep me motivated. Dame Vivienne Westwood recently said "Make time to read. It is the single most concentrated form of experience you can have" and that about sums it up for me. It's like a little energy shot that I can take at any time.
I also love to play tennis and I schedule games and gym sessions like firm appointments – a few mornings per week at 7am, and I can now also play at 7pm which I adore – such a treat and there is no better way to finish the day and to leave the stress of too many tasks behind. I then come home with a clear head instead of an exhausted one, and can do something interesting in the evening rather than just collapsing! So doing something I enjoy has been a time creator…
On a larger scale, my husband and I like to hike in remote places around the world, sometimes with others, and with the girls when we can talk them into joining us – the latest was with ancient sheep herding families in the high mountains of Albania. The purity of that experience, plus the beauty of the natural world, will recharge my batteries for a good few months.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in running your own business?
Undoubtedly the multi-tasking has been the hardest aspect for me – it's not good for anyone, and it certainly doesn't suit me. I like to live with background order and that is just not possible, particularly in the early days. When you start a business you have to build everything at once, the products, the market, the accounting systems, the packaging, the retail outlets, you have to find your fabulous employees and keep it all rolling at the same time. It is inevitable that there will be some chaos in there!
Accepting, and learning to live within, that chaos has been a huge personal challenge. The most useful advice came from a friend who was putting together a global business. I asked him how he managed it all and he replied with his guideline of "moving forward slowly on a broad front". If you can do a bit towards each project each day / each week, and you simply don't stop, then the day will come when things come to fruition and you make significant leaps. And that has turned out to be true. So now I just keep going, day by day…
It's still not perfect – my house is rarely as I would like it in terms of tidiness but, for me, that is the price of an interesting life and I have come to accept it… Sort of!
The concept of slow progress has also helped me to calm down and focus on one thing at a time. I used to worry about everything, all at once, which was sometimes paralysing and then I discovered my new mantra of "slow down to get more done". By focusing fully on the task in front of me I get through the endless to-do lists much more easily and quickly – how ironic! I might drop the odd ball but the upside of turning off all that background noise has been huge.
We have now systematised a lot of processes in the business and that frees up time…to hang with my family and our dogs, and to read or play tennis!
What tips do you have for women who are looking to start their own venture?
This might sound hokey but my best advice is to be yourself, and listen to your own instinct. If you are at the point of considering a start-up then you have probably been thinking about it for some time and you already know more than you realise! Instinct is not nothing, I call it "distilled experience" and it reflects all the things you have learnt to date, which you know better than most. You need to trust that bottom voice.
I somehow just "knew" that we could grow a business authentically and as we put it, by selling "one wrap at a time" and to become one of those successful small companies that is not necessarily in the headlines. But to get there I had to block out the white noise of all the business experts telling us to do artificial marketing, to set pre-determined growth rates, to expand our product range et al.
The investment banking boys that I used to hang out with would hound me … "What's your POD?, how many units will you sell by June?, when will you start shifting volume? when will you open in London..? I'd be pacing the house at 2am worrying about all these frantic growth targets until one night I thought "who makes up these rules anyway?" and decided to press on gently, treating our products as special items not as "units" and to treat each customer as you would a friend. And guess what? People love our approach because it's real and it's human… And we are making products that are both useful and desirable.
A couple of practical tips – keep your costs as low as you can and that will give you leeway and independence. Be right across your numbers – either learn about finance yourself or find a very trusted advisor – you will be vulnerable if you don't understand the numbers behind your business and how you are tracking. Many good business ideas have closed down due to the numbers not adding up.
Here's another one – prioritise time on your key success factors and don't waste time trying to meet other people's expectations of you (except for customers and your family of course). It's something we as women tend to do. Once again I was observing those banking boys and I thought "how come they get so much more value out of their day than I do?" So I studied them and I saw this ruthless prioritisation. They don't do all that peripheral stuff that we get drawn into. I haven't managed to be quite as relentless as them but I certainly tightened up my time usage and am much happier for it – learn to say "no thank you", of course in the nicest possible way…
The other helpful tip is to identify that one thing that is just pushing you over the edge in your multiple roles, and see if you can delegate it. For me, it was the weekly food function. I like to provide really healthy food for my family, but I don't enjoy being stuck in the kitchen at the end of the day (or anytime!). So I found a lovely Uni student who would do a weekly shop for me, prepare a few meals, a soup, a curry, fill the salad box and some of those dreaded school lunches and that lightened my load immeasurably!
As you go along the start-up process things will start to jell and become clearer, and more fascinating. You will become more confident in what you know and you will generate lots of new ideas. Enjoy that. A significant American philanthropist gave some advice that I really like, she said, "You had better just be yourself, speak up, and have a good time."
What has the experience been like opening a retail space in such a competitive market?
To tell the truth we have not suffered from the retail cycle as we are offering beautiful garments that did not previously exist in the market, that are extremely wearable, and that give a little daily taste of affordable luxury. There seems to have been plenty of latent desire for such products.
When we started HOLOS, the marketing gurus told me to analyse the consumer market, to identify our target customer niches and then advertise to them. We decided instead to just start selling to our natural networks and to find our customers one by one. It turns out that our ideal customer is someone who appreciates quality and they run across all market niches!
Because we really like our customers (they love the things we love!), it comes naturally to offer exceptional customer service and this is important in a competitive marketplace. Many of our customers interact with us via our website, rather than in person, so accessibility and friendliness is meaningful.
We have many repeat customers and we are frequently the Go-To place for those who need a special gift – for a big birthday, for a mother-in-law or for a colleague who has just had a baby. We have customers who write us love letters and who say "please just keep doing what you are doing."
It's back to my point that to start a business you should be creating a product or service that the world actually needs or wants, and then to trust your instinct…
What legacy are you hoping to create in your work?
With the bush school in Arnhem Land, we are looking to benefit children all across the Arnhem Plateau, the parents who will be able to keep their meaningful jobs, and to support career paths for young people living remotely. We also hope to provide inspiration for other remote Indigenous communities looking for a model to follow.
We would like to shift the dial nationally on what "success" means in indigenous education. That these kids shouldn't have to leave their family, language, land and culture behind in order to access education.
Concerning HOLOS, I believe in the integration of businesses with communal goals and business as a force for change. We can respond to the populace more quickly than politicians seem able to, and we can lead with thoughtful behavior. If you look at the current state of the world, and of the natural environment, it is the culmination of seemingly insignificant actions taken collectively that have led us to this moment. Therefore, we can all contribute daily to a global move towards a happier planet. Paulo Coelho famously said, "The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion."
Our tag line of "fewer, better things" suggests more thoughtful and slower consumption, and choosing pieces that you can wear for a long time. It also makes life easier and more fun – who does not prefer to have less stuff?!
Dame Vivienne Westwood's directive to "buy less, choose well and, above all, make it last" is aligned with HOLOS' principles. We provide a care and repair service that should keep your HOLOS pieces looking chic and elegant for many, many years, and in this way we believe in the vitality of things that are well made.
The HOLOS product is grown by nature, as it has been for at least 12,000 years (the name HOLOS derives from the Holocene anthropological era), it comes from a renewable source and is totally biodegradable. I am studying microbiology on the side and would like us to get involved in regenerative agriculture which has enormous potential to address climate imbalance. Well-managed grazing animals (sheep!) have a part to play in that system.
We have done much work on our packaging – we now send parcels in recycled cardboard sleeves, and we will soon introduce a bio-plastic version of our ziplock bag for each garment. We encourage customers to keep the ziplock bags for off-season storage, and we have reduced our packaging and printed collateral as much as possible – while still keeping the package stylish and attractive of course!
I probably drive my team crazy by insisting that we print all internal documents on reused paper (or don't print!), that no-one uses take-away food containers, and that we go without the air con or heating whenever possible – put on a wrap! I tell the team to take an extra 15 minutes out and sit down at your café to drink that coffee, get some sun on your back, and avoid another disposable cup and lid going into landfill for the next 1,000 years.
We would like the concept of "luxury" to become associated with well-made, sustainable products that last, rather than with masses of showy packaging that quickly ends up in the bin. And at the end of the day, the true luxury will be for us all to live comfortably in a sustainable world and to get on together. We feel that is a worthwhile communal goal for us to contribute to… While being safely swathed in a HOLOS wrap!
What’s next for HOLOS?
Ironically I would say more of the same – to keep doing what we do and to do it well. We don't follow the growth-for-growth's sake economic model, which in many cases just leads to overconsumption and waste.
The styles that you come to love and lean into from HOLOS will be here year after year, with slight improvements each season, some new colours, and a few additional shapes whenever we finally perfect one. At the moment we are prototyping what I call "felted capey things" for next winter, we will soon release an expanded colour range in the Luxo knit T and after that perhaps a more highly designed evening top…
I find there is very often a better way to do things once you get into it, so we will continue to make additive improvements. There are so many fabulous garments we can make with these amazing wools, that we will never run out of ideas! Starting my dream business at 52 was unusual but now we have built something good and are growing it out to a bigger audience. I am still fairly restless, so watch this space…
Celebrity Nutritional Therapist Amelia Freer on Positive Nutrition and Her Road To Motherhood - Episode 22 of The Grace Tales Podcast
Amelia Freer holding her book Simply Good For You
Amelia Freer with her daughter Willow
By the time you finish this story on Auguste founder Ebony Eagle, you'll want to move to Byron Bay, own a couple of horses and dress exclusively in Auguste. At least, I did. She's the type of woman who spreads positive energy and this energy trickles down to the clothes she designs. Ebony has created a fashion brand for women and children that's driven by sustainability and giving back.
Take us back to your childhood. What was it like and what are some of your most vivid memories?<p>There are so many magical memories, particularly of summers spent at our beach house in Rosebud, Victoria – days that seemed to go on forever in a world that felt so big spent with my brothers and sisters, aunties, grandparents. Lots of sand, sun and banana paddle pops on the beach. We still own this beach house and boat shed and I now take my children there to do the exact same thing. It's so unbelievably nostalgic for all of us. It's the most at ease any of us ever feel. My childhood also wasn't without adversity, but children are incredibly resilient and you learn to deal with the situation you are in as best you can. These things shape who you are. I'm from a big family of four children and we moved around a fair bit so, affectionately, home was always where the chaos was! </p>
What was your career path like prior to starting Auguste?<p>I've worked since the day I turned 13, starting with an after school job at the fruit shop, into weekend jobs at cafes and then when I finished school at 17 I was a nanny for a travelling family and spent two years hopping all over Europe… This was where the fire in my belly grew for travelling and I believe it's where my perspective on more of an entrepreneurial career took shape. When I landed back in Australia at 19 I waitressed for a few years until I got poached for a styling/production job at a studio in Richmond. This is where I learned all about shoot productions, etc, and it was whilst working here that I decided to take the leap and start my own fashion brand at 22. I managed to secure a small loan to start my business while I was working full-time and then resigned to waitress again by night and work on my label by day. I had that brand 'ebonyeve' for ten years before I started Auguste five years ago.<br></p>
Was it always a dream to have your own label, or did that come about organically?<p>Well, my Grandma taught me to sew when I was eight-years-old and I continued sewing my whole life. I've always been a massive vintage and op shop trawler and I'm creative, so the whole design part came quite naturally. The business part I learned on the job!</p>
Did you have your girls prior to starting Auguste, and if so, what was that transition like?<p>I had Coco when I was 28 and then Frankie when I'd just turned 30 so at that time, I was still running my previous label 'ebonyeve', so yes I had a business. I never stop working and throughout pregnancy and when the girls were young this didn't change… I was living in Bali at the time that the girls were young though so I just worked wearing a few less items of clothing! Work-life balance will be my lesson in this life – it's something I'm still trying to master.</p>
What's been the biggest challenge of motherhood? And the biggest blessing?<p>The thing I find most challenging is the work-life balance juggle and the fact that I have missed out on so many precious moments due to my work commitments. The biggest blessing is all of it! The whole apple, even the seeds. </p>
You've lived in Melbourne, Byron, Bali and Sydney. Do you feel that you're settled now that you've moved back to Byron, or do you crave change? What were some of the challenges and joys of living overseas?<p>Yes, I've moved around a lot in my life. Auguste HQ has always been based in Byron so moving home to here made sense for us and we always wanted to bring our children up here. I'm very settled now. I've travelled enough for ten lives! Honestly, we didn't find living overseas challenging, we adore different cultures and the perspective that they give you. We are so grateful that our girls started their life like that. All four of us loved living abroad right up until the very end but you just know in your core when it's time to come home.</p>
Is there something about Byron that called you back? Has moving to Byron influenced your designs or your process?<p>Auguste HQ has always been based in Byron so coming back here was the natural decision. Growing up here as a teen I was super eager to get out and experience the world but after I had my children, I definitely felt a strong pull to bring them up here, but more so to the hinterland where we now call home. I just love being in nature, surrounded by my children and as many animals as I can fit in! My designs have always naturally thrown together bohemian and vintage inspiration so I suppose, yes, growing up here could have been the beginning of that attraction.</p>
What are your time management tips?<p>Oh god, finish emails in your evening bath? Between the kids, the horses, the business and my embarrassing attempt of a social life, there is very little time to stop and try to time manage anything, so I pretty much fail constantly, no tips here!<br></p>
How would you describe the Auguste aesthetic?<p>Classic, bohemian, feminine, timeless.</p>
Who is your ultimate Auguste muse?<p>That's a tricky one. Stylistically, the ever-influential Jane Birkin has always been a huge creative inspiration and a measuring stick for my designs. Would Jane wear it? Yes? Good, let's do it. Her sense of fashion was just so easy going and feminine, it's everything we make Auguste to be. I've also always felt inspired by Brigitte Bardot and her femininity, she just made it so approachable. My main inspiration though is Jane Gooddall. Her connection to nature, work with animals and bravery in her field, particularly as a young woman, have given me so much courage to create, stay true to myself and use my platform to give back to the planet. </p>
Auguste is such an ethical label, from your fabrics and factories to your ongoing charitable initiatives. Is that something that has always been important to you?<p>Absolutely, I always wanted to get to a point in business where I was able to give back. To have a platform and a voice is a gift and one that I believe should be used wisely and for greater good.</p>
Do you think the fashion industry is becoming more conscious?<p>Absolutely and largely that's being driven by consumer demand, which is just awesome. It won't all happen at once, but the fact that more and more consumers are seeking out eco-friendly fashion alternatives means that more brands will follow suit. They're starting to realise that if you're not thinking about your impact on the planet, you're not being competitive, or responsible really, and that's the only real future for fashion. </p>
You regularly design collections in aid of a charitable cause. Tell us about your latest 'Hero' campaign...<p>As a mum and as a member of the global community, I wanted to unite people in recognising the dangers of bullying and how important it is to use your position to stand up for others. We designed a range of Hero slogan tees as a call to action and donated 100% of the sales to the National Centre Against Bullying and the Cybersmile Foundation to continue their work preventing abuse and giving support to sufferers. I'm incredibly proud that our message of solidarity was shared by thousands around the world and we raised more than $85,000 for our partner charities. </p>
Why is charity work so important to you?<p>It's just part of who I am and what I've always believed in, but when I had children it became a larger priority in my life. If we're not working to leave the planet a better place for our little ones, then what are we doing? How can you see what's happening in the world and not respond? I've worked hard and now I'm fortunate enough to have this platform, so I use it. To me that's just good sense, simple as that! </p>
Little August is your childrenswear line. Tell us about the inspiration behind it?<p>My daughters were my inspiration here. I created little Auguste when my girls were little and loved spinning around in full skirts, it was made for princesses – and even though those two princesses now will only wear ripped denim shorts and Auguste tees I'm so happy that there are so many other little angels out there still spinning in our creations.</p>
What's your parenting philosophy?<p>Shower them with so much love and kindness that they don't realise you often forget to do story time. Also I believe in teaching my girls independence – if they are able to do it themselves then they do. Also have fun with them and keep phones down.</p>
One of your most popular charity campaigns was your 'future woman' tee range. What sort of example do you want to set for your daughters?<p>The 'future women' tees were part of our charity campaign raising money for UN Women and promoting female empowerment, and as a mother of two daughters this meant so much to me. A big lesson I hope my daughters learn from me is to not be passive. Make opportunities, don't wait for them. Offer to help, don't wait for someone else to. Use what's at your fingertips, and then reach for more. </p>
How has COVID-19 changed the way you think about your business?<p>Covid brought a lot of perspective for me. It showed us all that everything can literally stop overnight, so for me it was a reminder to make sure that what I was doing was right for me personally and was to the standard that I wanted. We are doing a lot of work on our ethics and sustainability and really our whole brand identity. It's a time to contract and refocus on not necessarily being big but being great… and I am LOVING that.</p>
What changes will you be making?<p>We made the decision around the beginning of Covid to exit from wholesale entirely and focus on our own vertical channels, making Auguste exclusive to our online store <a href="http://augustethelabel.com/" target="_blank">augustethelabel.com</a> and our Brisbane and Byron Bay boutiques. The exit was a huge decision for me, however I know it was the right one. Being a purely vertical business means we can retract and refocus. There were many factors in this decision however the most important was the ability to continue on our journey to being a more ethical and sustainable business, because that is what it is, a journey – it is not about any one decision, it's every decision you make. Being a vertical business means we have the flexibility to make the decisions we feel are right.</p>
"I'd always had a strong sense of social justice and been aware of the privilege I had been born into in a middle class family in London. I knew I wanted to use the opportunities I had to do something that made some kind of difference or had an impact on other people's lives," says Joanna Maiden.
What drew you to Kenya the first time?<p>I had an amazing opportunity to visit Kenya as part of my work with the Ethical Fashion Forum. One of the senior members of the team had fallen sick and couldn't make the trip and so I was offered the spot. My husband joined me as the photographer for the trip and we both fell in love with Kenya immediately. There was so much to fall in love with… the warmth, energy and vibrancy of the people, the colours and scenery, the buzz of the cities and overall the feeling that this could be a place where I could make a difference. I had the opportunity to be a link between the wealth of the West and the dynamic can-do attitude of this amazing developing country.</p>
Did you always intend to stay? Is Kenya home permanently or are you splitting your time (aside from travel restrictions!)<p>No, initially we came for 7 months to 'try it out' and we expected to be in Kenya for a couple of years…we've been here for over 11 years now! Before my daughter started school we would divide our time 50/50 between Kenya and the UK. When she turned six we had to decide between London and the Kenyan coast. Our children had spent the majority of their lives outside and barefoot and the thought of putting them in an urban school environment while they were still so little didn't feel right of us. For now we're spending school terms in Kenya and Christmas and the summer in the UK.</p>
What ignited your interest in ethical fashion?<p>I had an 'ah ha' moment towards the end of my Fashion degree when I realised that it may be possible to connect my longing to support social justice and poverty reduction with my love of all things fashion. As part of my university dissertation, 15 years ago, I decided to research the fashion industry supply chain and I quickly learnt about the lack of transparency in the industry and the huge challenges around labour and the environment. This was the start of my path and I'm so proud to have spent the past 11 years working to now employ over 100 people through our ethical factory and providing training and washable sanitary pads to thousands of people in our community.</p>
Where does family life come into this - did you already have children prior to the move to Kenya or did you start your family once there?<p>My husband and I moved to Kenya together and 4 years later we had our first child. We now have three children, Daisy, 6, Bertie, 4 and Bonnie, who is 6 months old. For Daisy and Bertie we returned to the UK for their births but with Bonnie and the logistics of schooling and travel she was born in Nairobi. We rented a beautiful apartment on the edge of a forest. We put the children to bed and a few hours later Bonnie was born in a water pool in the bedroom with my husband and two amazing midwives.</p>
What's your mission with SOKO?<p>I believe the fashion industry can be used as a force for good. I have spent the past 11 years building a company on this foundation. I am passionate about producing high quality clothing that also improves the quality of life for my employees and the community. We pay living wages, cover medical costs and free pre-school to enable our team to provide for their families, and lift themselves out of poverty. Career progression and the belief that individuals should have the opportunity to aspire to growth in their role is really important to us. We use solar power and collected rainwater in order to reduce our impact on the environment.</p><p>Through my community trust I am passionate about providing girls with support, skills and knowledge to enable them to have a stronger foundation for a bright future. Our Stitching Academy provides a 4 month training course in sewing skills and life skills.</p><p>Our Kujuwa Initiative uses fabric waste from the factory to produce washable sanitary pads. These are donated to school girls as part of an education programme for girls, boys, teachers and parents about sexual health and menstruation.</p><p>The key to our success and the future of our work is my team. SOKO Kenya would be nothing without the dedication and commitment that my team have. It has been an amazing journey seeing people who joined me 11 years ago with very little formal education and no previous formal employment now leading teams of 30 people.</p>
For the uninitiated, what are the starting points you would recommend to make the shift to a more conscious consumption of fashion?<ul><li>Buy clothes you love, will cherish, and know you will wear season after season (consider spending a bit more money as the investment in quality may mean you're more likely to take care of them)</li><li>Swap clothes with friends to give them a second life</li><li>Consider renting clothes – this is such an exciting new avenue for the industry, it ticks the box of having something 'new' whilst not risking the garment gathering dust on your shelf</li><li>Buy vintage/secondhand – there are so many sites that make it easy – I've spent many an hour scrolling through Depop</li><li>Take care of your clothes – follow the wash care instructions #lovedclotheslast</li><li>Wash clothing at low temperatures and line dry (large amount of impact of fashion comes from heating water and tumble drying)</li><li>Do a bit of research for brands that are committed to transparency and sustainability in their supply chains – buying from them will also give you a feel good factor! One brand that I currently love is Mother of Pearl – they've just done a really affordable collaboration with John Lewis</li><li>Never throw clothes in the rubbish bin… donate them to charity. For old socks or stained clothes put them in a separate bag and these can be up-cycled.</li></ul>
What are you most proud of with your work with SOKO Kenya?<p>Michelle Obama has worn clothes made by us a number of times. This has filled the team and myself with so much pride. The first time she wore an outfit made by us my team didn't believe me and thought a 'proper' factory (to use their words) must have produced the same garment. It's been wonderful to see the connection between our small rural factory and the global fashion industry with clothes made for brands from retail with ASOS.com to luxury with Suno.</p><p>Personally, I can see the positive impact SOKO Kenya is having in people's lives through the jobs in the factory and the training through our Community Trust. Women are able to leave abusive relationships, women earn the money to give their children nutritious meals and send them to school, girls are empowered through training and receipt of washable sanitary pads to stay in school and have a brighter future. I couldn't ask for more.</p>
A glance at your Instagram shows some of the challenges you've faced - from floods to managing quality control - what's the biggest challenge you've faced with SOKO?<p>I think the biggest challenge being the founder of a business is the weight of responsibility. At the end of the day those responsibilities for my team's livelihoods sits on my shoulders. There are so many things that I love about what I do but in the dead of night when things are tough and I can't sleep this responsibility can feel like a heavy burden.</p>
What do your working days look like? Do your children attend daycare and how do you make it all work?<p>The shift from two children to a newborn has been a hectic one, and then add in a house move and global pandemic. Some days I feel like I'm nailing it and others I look at my clothes, eyebrows and childrens' matted hair and realise we are far from nailing it! A few weeks into the pandemic hitting Kenya and schools closing down, my husband was hit by malaria and spent a week in bed. Thankfully malarial medication and doctor support is easily accessible here but while he was in bed going through hell I was in another kind of hell trying to keep on top of kids, work, the house and torrential rain that involved our factory flooding. I actually laughed out loud a few times as I looked down on the chaos that was around me realising this was my life.</p><p>In normal life my 6 year old daughter is in school, my 4 year old son is in part-time nursery and my 6 month old baby spends her days between me and our nanny. Our nanny has worked for us for 6 years and when social distancing is over we'll all be welcoming her back with open arms!</p>
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected you - both your company and your family life?<p>When the pandemic first hit Kenya there were rumours that the country would quickly go into lockdown. My finance manager and I had to quickly calculate how long we could cover people's salaries if we were to be forced to close. Thankfully, to date the factory has been allowed to stay open but with very strict regulations of distancing and hygiene standards.</p><p>Our charity, SOKO Community Trust runs a number of projects. One of our projects is the Stitching Academy, a sewing training school that trains women in the skills they need to gain a job in a clothing factory. In Kenya very early on all schools were closed and so my charity's work had to close. </p><p>As an organisation we wanted to use the skills we had to support the local community through this pandemic and so with my management team we quickly came up with a plan. The factory team began making masks using dead stock fabric, and received funding to make 20,000 masks for distribution. Masks are now mandatory in public places in Kenya.</p><p>The charity team through our project the Kujuwa Initiative scaled up production of our washable sanitary pads (using waste fabric from our factory). We are now distributing thousands of hygiene packs around the country. The packs include 4 masks, a sanitary pad, liquid hand soap and visual flyers about COVID-19. The liquid hand soap is made by a community group and we have gathered, to date, over 3,000 used plastic bottles to give the bottles a second life as soap containers.</p><p>Kenyans have the most amazing ability to always look on the bright side of life. They work through so much hardship with positivity and resilience. The economy is in a difficult place the world over but in Kenya where poverty levels are so high already and there is little infrastructure to support those in need and we are all very concerned what the next few years look like.</p><p>Our personal lives have turned upside down…. Right now my husband and I are alternating work and homeschool between us. My days involve a baby on one arm, setting a Zoom school meeting on the other, while trying to think through a work challenge that needs to be resolved. </p><p>I feel very privileged to be safe and financially secure which I'm aware, especially in Kenya, is a luxury. I'm getting to spend so much more time with my older two children and our baby is spending 100% of her time surrounded by her older siblings – this all feels very precious. Of course, there are days when I could tear my hair out but I know I will look back fondly on our isolated time together.</p><p>An upside of Covid-19 is the fashion industry as a whole, and shoppers in general, seem to be more conscious of how they spend their money, the impact clothing has on the planet, and sustainability, and that's something we have been championing for the past 11 years. Seeing it enter the mainstream more and more is really encouraging!</p>
What's your favourite thing about life in Kenya?<p>The people. A year into my time in Kenya, the house we were renting burnt down due to an electrical fault. We lost lots of things that were precious to me – jewellery from my honeymoon, books, clothes with so much history etc. As someone who is very sentimental I found this really hard to get my head around. I went into work a few days later and one of my team dropped an envelope on my desk. It said 'Sorry Jo' and inside was £15. The small team of 10 people had done a collection to support me. They all knew that I was financially secure and the huge financial gap that existed between my life and theirs, but they still chose to give money to support me. There is so much for me to learn even 10 years later from the love, self-sacrifice and support they showed me on that day.</p>
What do you miss most about the UK?<p>I have always called myself a city girl (though that may not be true anymore!)…. I love the anonymity, creativity and energy of London. Whenever we are back I feel like it fills me up a bit and reenergises me.</p>
You've produced a sustainable collection for ASOS and had your clothing worn by Michelle Obama. What's been your biggest 'pinch-me' moment career wise?<p>In April 2019 we moved from a small factory we had built 6 years earlier, to a new rented space that was three times the size. We had gone through a big relocation process as it involved our team moving nearly 3 hours away from their homes. During the process we didn't know who would move with us as this was a big ask for the team. 100% of our team (bar one lady) chose to move and stay with us. This was a huge, very humbling moment for me – SOKO Kenya is built on its people and for them to show their commitment to stay with us was beyond what I could have imagined. On the day we moved, I sat in my empty office (I'd never had my own office before) of our new factory and couldn't quite believe this business was the one I'd started 11 years earlier with 4 people. I felt so excited about creating all the new jobs to fill that space. </p>
What's been the biggest challenge raising your family in Kenya?<p>It's undoubtedly been being away from close friends, family and my home roots. Babies and children change every day and photos and videos can't ever replace cuddles and time together.</p>
Do you subscribe to the 'village' philosophy when it comes to parenting?<p>I honestly believe that it takes a village to be a human! I'm so grateful for all the people that are in my life for me as a woman… some are mum friends, some are people to bounce work ideas with and some are just Jo banter friends who make me laugh. If I didn't have them I wouldn't be able to function.</p>
What's the best advice you've ever received?<p>There are two things and they're both very straightforward but when you really take them onboard they're life changing.</p><ol><li>Trust your gut – whenever I haven't done that and have doubted myself I've always regretted it.</li><li>You only regret what you don't do – if you're trusting your gut, do it!</li></ol>
What does the future hold for you?<p>A year ago we moved into a new factory space with the aim to start producing for a handful of new brands and create more jobs. Pre-pandemic we were working on a rebrand and new website to start to put ourselves out to the world. When the pandemic first hit I questioned if now was the time to really do this… I decided to trust my gut and go for it so in the next few months we will be opening our doors to hopefully start working with some new brands.</p><p>Through the Kujuwa Initiative our aim is to support girls to have the same opportunities as boys, and to feel empowered to dream big and imagine a world full of opportunity. In sub-Saharan Africa one in ten girls miss school due to their period – this is due to lack of sanitary products and stigmas around menstruation and embarrassment. We have been distributing our washable sanitary pads and providing training in the community for 3 years now. Our hope for the future is that we can massively upscale our work. We are looking to create international partnerships with brands, investors and organisations to support our work of pad distribution and education in the community. We have distributed 5,000 pads so far but this is a drop in the ocean!</p><p>When people get in touch asking how they can help my answer is: please champion us. Buy the clothes we produce, talk about what we're doing, spread our story and you never know what connections might be made through a conversation you have.</p>
What's your morning routine?<p>With a baby I dream of a reasonable morning routine! Right now it involves a wake up between 4am and 5.30am from a smiley baby, ready to play. I turn the light on, put some toys in front of her and try to sleep (which mostly involves closing my eyes and getting my hair pulled!). At 6am (on the dot) I hand her over to her dad until 7.30am when I get up, make porridge for everyone and start the day.</p>
What's on your list of loves?<ul><li>When I was pregnant I started swimming regularly and have kept it up since. The repetition and noise of the water are so meditative and really clears my head.</li><li>The Letdown on Netflix is bringing me so much joy. I would love to be her best friend!</li><li>I love Jojoba oil as a body moisturiser and eye makeup remover – I buy it from a Jojoba plantation close to us and the smell is amazing!</li><li>I love my linen bedsheets that my mum bought me for Christmas – I've now declared that I'll never sleep in anything else!</li><li>I love good quality dark chocolate – I'm saying that because we haven't had any for at least 3 months now as we normally stock up when we go back to the UK and with the pandemic we're stuck for now.</li><li>I love making Kombucha – I've been making it for a few years now and for my birthday my husband bought me a load of new kit to up production. I find the process of making it therapeutic.</li><li>@talgalasko dancing on instagram – her style and her moves!</li><li>I love an evening walk with the kids to a guava tree, to see if there are any ripe fruit to pick – the light at that time of day in Kenya is amazing.</li><li>After a tough day I love putting Shake it off by Taylor Swift (judge me if you will) on really loud and dancing around the living room with the kids.</li><li>I love playing Rummikub – it just really suits how my brain works. My whole family refuse to play it with me because I spend too much time trying complex moves.</li></ul>
The Melbourne-based founder of The Suite Set Sally Branson Dalwood has worked as a senior media advisor to a prime minister, developed and promoted strategy around entrepreneurship policy for women and worked as the director of a political party. Ask her about her career in politics, and you'll hear about the time she was catapulted off an aircraft carrier. And the time she climbed a rope ladder down the side of a US warship into a pilot boat floating aside it in the middle of the ocean. There's also time she was accompanying the Prime Minister when the Duke and Duchessof Cambridge visited Australia. Dalwood not only attended the royal's events in Sydney and Canberra, but travelled in the car behind the couple.
Tell us about your days in politics – what was your role and what did it entail?<p>Over a career in public affairs, I've played a few roles in politics. I've worked as a senior media advisor to a Prime Minister and developed and promoted strategy around entrepreneurship policy for women. My last role before I had children was as the Director of a political party - it's the true behind the scenes role of a political party. Campaigning, electioneering, making sure membership was happy, making sure each elected politician was doing what they said they'd do and working to harmonise the elected officials aims with that of the party's membership. Each role has been early mornings, long days and working on projects that were highly value-driven - so many great days of job satisfaction.<span></span><br></p>
You were once catapulted off an aircraft carrier…<p>I was working in public affairs for the US government at the time and had fallen into the role of Defence specialist. This is a role I had never thought I would have interest or aptitude in, but it turned out to be a life-changing experience for me. I learned so many lessons in crisis management, planning and about service and community. Who knew? I had to host a visiting group of VIPs on to an aircraft carrier -these things are about ten times the size of the town I grew up in. It's a true skill to be able to land an aeroplane on the deck of a ship, it take amazing technique and defiance of the laws of gravity- the plane literally has to catapult off a slingshot to get enough movement to fly. As a passenger, you have to brace to take off and land because of the velocity. Because I was managing the guests, I spent a week "commuting" to work. I kept getting in trouble from the pilot because I was becoming too relaxed and too busy asking questions and chatting. Part of the joy of this role was that sort of excitement, but also learning and appreciating the roles other people play in the world. Sometimes now, I look at my piles of washing and wonder if this really happened.</p>
You also once climbed a rope ladder down the side of a US warship into a pilot boat floating aside it about 500kms out to sea – tell us about this?<p>You also once climbed a rope ladder down the side of a US warship into a pilot boat floating aside it about 500kms out to sea – tell us about this? I had managed a visit by a large warship, it was a visit that had significant political value and interest - it was not without challenges. There was also a really large community element behind the scenes. When a warship visits a port, it's like a mini town arriving so it can be a big injection of money into a community as well as raising some eyebrows. In our planning, I always made sure there was a community volunteering element of a visit, where I would send US Navy personnel out into work with local community groups, from building, repairing, painting, landscaping. We'd lend the sailors in to do meals on wheels and provide staffing respite for community organisations. We tried to provide value for the communities we visited, these sailors come with such diverse skills, cultural background and education. At the end of the visit, the Ship's Captain asked if I would like to sail off the Port of Darwin with them. I initially declined, because it felt so out of my comfort zone. One of the NCIS (like the tv show, yes) officers explained to me that it was a rare privilege and not to turn it down. He also gave me some sage advice on what shoes and clothes NOT to wear. It honestly was an amazing experience to sail out, pods of dolphins aside and get a glimpse into this world for a short time. Growing up, landlocked in a tiny rural community, this was far away from the life I had imagined for myself. The whole climbing down a rope ladder into a boat to come back ashore was not the graceful experience of being at one with the sea as I had envisaged though. I truly learned the meaning of white-knuckling it, I was on the ladder over the side of the ship, holding on to the metal edge of the ship and I'll always wryly remember the lovely, polite sailor repeating <em>"Just let go of the side ma'am. Just let go. C;mon M'am, let it go"....</em></p>
You've spoken about not forgetting the visit of William and Catherine to Australia?<p>I've long been a fan of the Queen and the way she has served and worked in her role, and long-held a soft spot for William and Harry. I had followed their story with interest and was obsessed with Price George and his peter pan collars. I was accompanying the Prime Minister at the time of William and Catherine visiting Australia, attending their events in Sydney and Canberra, travelling in the car behind the royal couple. I remember being amazed at the people lining six deep on the streets to wave to the royal couple, and thought it was lovely - albeit extraordinary. My real shock came when I was walking with them in public spaces, I was wholly overwhelmed by the screaming from the crowds. I appreciate the adoration and the excitement but I was shocked at the primal nature of it. It was something I had never experienced before and I found it really confronting. It gave me such a small insight into the realities that come with their privilege and power, gifted through birth and marriage. It also made me think more about the concept of what it is to serve. I think to be prepared to have that privilege, you need to steel yourself for the public ownership. Although from a public affairs/past media advisor perspective, I feel like Meghan and Harry made some strategic mistakes in the way they exited the "firm", I can very much see why they did.</p>
When you fell pregnant, did it change the way you thought about your career – what were your expectations around motherhood and work?<p>I knew a federal election was looming. I honestly thought that at 39, I would have a baby, love it and still be all consumed by politics still. I scheduled in a time frame for my return, first meeting a month after I was due (to keep connected) and then all guns blazing at six months. My expectations were that I would love being a mama, but also that I would still really need the cut and thrust of work to feel fulfilled. I felt confident that I could and would manage it all. </p>
And what happened after your first baby arrived – what led to you leaving politics?<p>I soon realised that although my love for work was still there, it had been eclipsed by my love for my child and my desire to meet our family needs first. I simply could not believe that I felt this way, that my wish to be there for his early days, surpassed my ambitions for my work. I did try and juggle working, breastfeeding, running home from the train station with boobs leaking. I never stopped loving work, but I couldn't make it work. To be able to fully participate in my work at the level I needed to successfully do the role, meant that I couldn't be present for my family. I really felt I had failed. I had failed all the women that went before me, and those I was working so hard to set an example for. I also felt I was failing the progressives in my organisation who had supported me along the way and were working hard to make it work for me. And it was a big blow to my ego too. I kept thinking "but all those other mothers could do it" which is reductive and unhelpful. I had to do a lot of deep thinking about how my identity had changed as a mother and as a professional and what that looked and felt like. I had to get clear on what my priorities were at that exact moment. And after years of just making decisions based on my own values I had to factor in my family priorities too. Funnily enough, I had trouble reconciling what I knew was the right path, the path that physically felt right - which my own expectations of what I should. I still sometimes feel "less than" when people ask "but doesn't being at home with babies bore you? how do you get any mental stimulation" and my honest answer is that I was never bored, I could still self stimulate and be in wonder every day even as a stay at home mum. I've had to work to reconcile this with my value and worth.</p>
What changes would you like to see for mothers who work in politics?<p>I think recognition mothers must be supported to be active and involved in formal policy and legislation making - but after having a newborn, they should be able to take formal maternity leave, even as an elected representative. I think an open discussion about the true challenges of balance, mother and career guilt need to be discussed, that it shouldn't be an all in, or not at all equation. Mothers have to be involved in policy making or else policy isn't fit for purpose.</p>
You've said that politics that ignited your interest in small business – and the innovators – tell me about about this?<p>I was so fortunate to be able to work on "the small business budget" in 2015 focusing on energising a culture of female entrepreneurship and startups. The research and connections that went into preparing this budget meant that I was able to sit down in roundtables and policy discussion with amazing female small business bosses. These were the most invigorating and exciting meets we had. My eyes were opened to the wealth of ideas and also the challenges female startups face - do you want your venture capital with a side of commentary on your appearance or a sexual proposition? I remember one woman coming in for a one-on-one sit down meeting with the small business Minister, but her childcare fell through, so she was in the meeting plus one. I can only imagine the stress she would have felt, but she powered on. Bringing a baby didn't make her ideas any less valid or supported. It was a seminal moment for me - you can bring a baby and still impact policy. These women opened my eyes to entrepreneurship, I was unashamedly inspired by them and even though I'd started my own babysitters club and car wash at age 11, I never thought it was a path I would "need" to take - I was so committed to politics. Funny how it turns…..</p>
Take me back to your first baby – how did you pack your bag? And what exactly did you pack in your bag? <p>I often laugh that our business is based on being organised. I had a reputation for having the most chaotic desk, the most jam-packed handbag ( Once upon a time, I was out on a visit with a VIP and one of the visiting Secret Service complained he hadn't had time to eat, so I dug around my bag and found him a boiled egg). As footloose and fancy free child free couple, we used to joke that we could fling our stuff from one end of a hotel room from the next on a visit and we didn't want that chaos when we were learning about our new baby. I've always been able to pack light (but messy) for a work trip, but when it came to my hospital bag, I did all the overthinking I could. My hospital bag was all sorts of overpacked, overwhelmed chaos. The one saving grace was some cobbled together zip locked bags, so we had a semblance of organised. It sparked a kernel of an idea - if I could manufacture something, that made sure there wasn't any overwhelm or chaos when everything else was overwhelming and chaos.</p>
If you're not a naturally organised person, what's your advice on packing a hospital bag? <p>I'm not - which I feel brings a special perspective to our business! Hospital and birth is unfamiliar and often uncontrolled situation. So it's good to be able to control what you can and focus on the important things rather than what's in your bag in the hospital. So prepare well when you can, segment your bag and follow a good list. </p><p>If you've got a support person, make sure they're playing an active part in packing. They know where and what things are. You'd be surprised at how hard it is to recognise the difference between a singlet and a onesie at 2am if you don't really know what they are to begin with. Only pack what you need and what you know will bring you joy or make you feel comfortable. Oh, listen to me, Marie Kondo-ing. In every single hospital, I've been to, there has been a chemist close by which always stocks essentials so relax into knowing that if you do forget something, you can always find it close by. My other tips are just to pack for simplicity, ease and comfort. </p>
You did a load of research about new parenthood – what did you find?<p>That all mamas, young and old, felt overwhelmed by the pressure to have it all worked out and all perfect before babe was even born.<br></p> <p>That often we spend so much time getting a good looking nursery set up, we have not talked about the pressure of being prepared or our values around parenting. To be able to take small action steps about organising the detail, means it isn't overwhelming when the time comes.</p>
So many women think about launching their own business - Tell me about the early days of launching The Suite Set and have you ever looked back and wished you were still in politics?<p>Talk us through the ups and downs? Some days when I worked madly through nap times, or tried to ignore the triggering piles of washing, and worried about finance - I have thought how nice it would be to be salaried and in politics. Even now in COVID times, there are some days I think "how can I help more?" Would I be more useful in a formal role. This is one reason we've started doing some information "brokerage" on the suite set - how to actively talk to your health providers, how to have a conversation about your values as a family before babe is born" - so I hope this past experience is informing and value-adding to our community online. I started working on the concept in the 19 months between babes, I did some informal and some more structured research and recognised that the idea was one that people loved and wanted. Although I had done some work in PR in the past, and been and seen so many product launches by celebrities - it wasn't in our wherewithal to launch in a big way (we'd spent our bathroom renovation money on ethically manufacturing the bags so a launch budget wasn't there). To be frank, we were also deep in having a baby who had not yet turned one and a two-year-old - and sometimes even having a daily shower seemed like a task, let alone organising a product launch with balloon garlands and champagne and influencers. It is important for small startups to realise - that isn't what a launch has to be, in order to be successful. We did what's known as a "soft launch". I had to keep reminding myself that "perfect was the enemy of the good" and we launched with the product done, and the webpage as good as it could be for that stage of our business. So we pressed "live" at about 8pm at night, sitting at the kitchen table when the boys were in bed. At nine am the next morning we sent an email out to all of our family and friends, explaining our why and how of the business. We then posted on my personal social media accounts and linked in and shared the website. It was as soft as it gets, but it was the right launch for our business. I'm not saying I don't play the compare game when I see a celeb launch a product with celeb friends and celeb promotions - because any business that needs monetise, loves that exposure. I am saying that accepting that wasn't within our start-up means, was a healthy thing and it's been a true joy and satisfaction to see our business and community grow through word of mouth and recommendation.</p>
How did you go about getting the products made and what was important to you?<p>I had a crystal clear image in my head of what the individual bags would look like, and I kept true to that during the whole manufacturing process. For me, it was vital the bags were quality and strong enough to be reusable, for them to be as environmentally friendly as they could be (for plastic), they were smell free and nasty free. Although our market research showed differently (!) having them made in Australia was really vital too. In fact, in all of the suppliers of product and service were Australian, and mostly female sole or small traders. I felt this needed to be part of our DNA. But, easier said than done.<span></span><br></p><p>It took a literal year of learning about plastic compositions, learning about manufacturers and speaking with manufacturers to work out how I could get this done. I dragged a six-month-old and a just turned two-year-old around international plastics fair, powered by coffee, bottles and bananas meeting with suppliers and explaining I wanted an environmentally friendly plastic option to manufacturers from all over the Asia pacific. I was well and truly a novelty at that trade fair. It was here, just as the wheels fell off and the tears were almost flowing down the three of our faces - that I saw my supplier - I couldn't stop and talk but emailed as soon as I can and set up our manufacturing relationship. They were very patient as I felt my way through the process, multiple questions per email and multiple emails a week.</p>
What is your vision for The Suite Set?<p>For our products and our conversations in our community be a valuable contributor to supporting growing families, in whatever form they take. That we engage in conversations about understanding realistic and manageable expectations for new mums, we promote care and community and we just make things easier. <br></p>
You describe yourself as a fixer – how has this practical approach to solving problems helped you in your career?<p>I think that "fixing" things comes from a mindset of generosity in the first place. I've learned that to fix things, one must remember a few "rules". Some things don't actually need fixing however there is always a workaround, always a way to be able to reframe a problem and it is important to go along the path knowing "the outcome may not look like you thought it would look, but it is the right outcome for the time". This mindset I am sure is a genetic one, inherited from my nana and my mum. It's meant that I've always been willing to get in and do the work for a better outcome, find the greater good (because that's what fixing is) and be willing to be flexible. By knowing how to reframe something, means you're never stuck. This comes in handy at any workplace, or in any relationship really!<span></span><br></p>
What do you think holds women back the most?<p>Our lack of self-belief coupled with the sad reality that other women can be dissuasive of each other. Also the pressure we put on ourselves for perfection means we struggle to be able to bring joy into our lives - we're so busy with the mental load, of making sure we're doing everything right, the competition - we forget that it feels good to feel good.<br></p>
If you could go back to before you had children, what advice would you give yourself?<p>I wouldn't have listened to even myself, and I still don't listen to myself - when I say "all babies need is love and food, so rest, be kind, don't worry about the washing piling up".</p>
The Grace Tales is a global lifestyle platform for mothers searching for style, substance, and solidarity. Driven by creating content, community and connection, we celebrate the paradox of modern motherhood; the struggle and the beauty, the joy and the relentlessness.
Sophie Harris-Taylor captures something we often try so hard to hide: our vulnerability. As mothers, we're supposed to be strong and powerful, yet what is often overlooked is that our transition into becoming a mother is the most vulnerable period of our lives...
"I think we're often afraid to show our vulnerabilities," agrees London-based Harris-Taylor. "Perhaps we think by showing this side people are going to judge and only see weakness. Where actually I think there's something incredibly powerful and strong about being openly vulnerable. I'm in awe of the people I photograph, its often about striking the balance between confidence and vulnerability. I've found my work to be a very therapeutic experience, it took me a while to open up myself, but by doing this it has allowed my subjects to open up and engage in an honest conversation."
You’ve said: “I think most importantly that looks don’t define who you are, and in the end don’t really matter.” Why do some of us take so long to come to this realisation? And tell me your thoughts on beauty and how it led you to create Epidermis?<p>I think when we're younger we get so caught up on our looks, perhaps before we know where we're headed in life, it can seem like the be-all and end-all. And sometimes it comes from a place where you just want to fit in. And perhaps it just comes from life experience that you start to realise other things matter more.<br> <br>It sounds cliché but beauty is of course so subjective yet in the mainstream media we are often not exposed to this kind of diversity. Epidermis for me was a way of showcasing beautiful women in skins less often seen. Most of my personal projects seem to come from my own life experiences and throughout there is always some element of my own vulnerability – I began to reflect on my own past and feelings towards my skin, I'd suffered from severe acne. Back then, there were no idols, role models and people to look up to who had anything but flawless skin. Which obviously meant I struggled with my own self-image. We've come a long way since then, what with body positivity and generally people speaking out about beauty standards and promoting diversity. However, I still felt that there was a lack in representing skin in an honest and open way. </p>
Your work captures a character’s vulnerabilities – why do you think we sometimes hide our vulnerabilities and what have you learnt about being vulnerable through your work?<p>I think we're often afraid to show our vulnerabilities. Perhaps we think by showing this side people are going to judge and only see weakness. Where actually I think there's something incredibly powerful and strong about being openly vulnerable. I'm in awe of the people I photograph, its often about striking the balance between confidence and vulnerability. I've found my work to be a very therapeutic experience, it took me a while to open up myself, but by doing this it has allowed my subjects to open up and engage in an honest conversation.</p>
For your series Sisters, you photographed and interviewed over 70 sets of sisters, of all ages and backgrounds – and have said that it was a way of reflecting on the difficulties of her own relationship with her sister. Can you describe this relationship?<p>At the time I created the work, there wasn't much of a relationship there if I'm honest, we'd not really been able to see past our teenage years and sisterly disputes. Since then we've started to rebuild our relationship as adults. I think I tried to understand a bit more about the complexities of sisterhood and the journeys of this kind of lifelong relationship.</p>
You’ve described mastitis as more painful than childbirth – tell us about your experience with breastfeeding?<p>Yes looking back I really did! It was very much a love/hate relationship. In some ways I was lucky, my son latched on quickly in the hospital and fed well. But getting mastitis early on meant it became very difficult and painful to feed him at times. I seemed to always be overproducing which led to the ducts becoming completely blocked and then getting infected. The pain combined with sleep deprivation was pretty exhausting. My son used the breast as a comfort a lot so for months I felt like he was completely attached to me, but never that full. I started mixed feeding after about 4 or 5 months.. this helped him sleep through the night. Once he started weening there wasn't much milk left and in one breast my supply had pretty much dried up all together. As soon as I stopped, I missed it.</p>
How would you describe the intimacy or closeness of breastfeeding and how did it make you feel?<p>It's pretty magical. I loved the intimacy, the comfort it gave him which in turn it gave me.</p>
There’s sometimes a longing for personal space, as mothers feel they have a baby constantly attached to them. Did you ever feel this?<p>Absolutely I felt constantly clinged too. Being pulled and tugged whilst covered in milk really did make me long for personal space. Then again, I felt this huge guilt, because I'd met so many mums that couldn't for various reasons breastfeed and there I was complaining about it.</p>
You’ve always had a complicated relationship with your body. Can you tell me about this relationship – and how did breastfeeding change the way you felt about your body?<p>Having had an eating disorder since my early teens, it's been an ongoing battle really. I don't know if breastfeeding really changed the way I felt towards by body but certainly postpartum I was desperate to get back to my old body. And having never had large breasts before, this made me feel pretty uncomfortable, physically and mentally, and it was weirdly unfamiliar.</p>
You felt lost after you gave birth – can you take us back to this period of your life and how you felt?<p>I did, I think because you've got this new identity suddenly as a 'new mum' and your life as what you knew it has completely changed overnight. But you know deep down, you're still you and your identity hasn't really changed at all. Don't get me wrong, I actually loved becoming a mum, but I found the day to day, the monotony of it all at the very beginning pretty boring. My friends were working, and I felt in some ways a bit bored and not that stimulated. When I started to make work again felt like I got a bit more of myself back.</p>
What were some of the most vivid memories you have of shooting MILK?<p>Zenon my son, was there for most of my shoots. This was in some ways really fun and a real bonding experiences between me and the Mum. But looking back a complete nightmare. Logistically. At the beginning when I started shooting, he couldn't even sit up by himself so he'd often be just out of shot, lying on the bed next to the other Mum feeding. Then towards the end, he was running all over the place, pretty much destroying the house..</p>
What messages do you hope women will take away from MILK?<p>It'd be nice for other women, to feel they can relate to the images and experiences of the other mums a bit more, than the typical nursing Madonna-like images we are used to seeing. For a lot of people and not just men, they find it kind of gross. Even though we've all seen a cow being milked, I guess women's breasts have become so sexualised, that actually what they are originally for has almost been forgotten. I think the more we talk about these things and make them more publicly seen, the less taboo they become. At least, that's the hope.</p>
"I know that abandoned is a word that has been used in telling that story, but I actually don't want to use that word anymore," Zoe Hendrix tells me, when we go back to the beginning of her life, when she was born amidst the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war...
When she was five years old, she went to live at an Ethiopian orphanage with her twin brother. In her own words, "It sounds like you abandon an old tire on the road or something, and to me, it's more that she surrendered us because she was very unwell. I only learned this recently as well, so that's why I want to correct the wording I have used previously." Hendrix and her brother were later adopted by a Tasmanian couple and moved to Australia. Fast forward to 2015, and the country watched Zoe marry Alex Garner on the very first season of Married at First Sight. The couple went onto have a beautiful daughter Harper-Rose, but have since separated.