When Sarah Cowen set out to make a practical, beautiful baby bag, little did she know that she'd start a cultural movement in the process.
"I set about finding groups of women who could make my bags, and who would be empowered themselves by this enterprise, using the money they made to support their own babies. The idea of mothers helping mothers," she says.
Without a background in fashion or a file full of contacts, Sarah's research and love of community led her to a Mexican village, where her spectacular range of bags are now created. Alongside the beautiful designs and practical carry items (which now extend beyond baby bags, to everyday totes and clutches) that are produced and cultivated in this small village, so are meaningful relationships and lifelong careers.
We spoke to Sarah about the inception of her brand, the handiwork that goes into every piece and what's next for her collection. And we're now ready to update our wardrobes with these divine, colourful pieces that truly make a difference.
Visit Memah | For Sydney-based readers, view Memah at the Le Marche du Luxe pop-up at 2/5 Knox St, Double Bay.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Interestingly, I don't have a background in design or fashion, but I come from a highly energetic and adventurous family who encourage ideas, and who have all followed their own dreams and visions in one way or another.
I grew up just outside of London and like many a pommie story, I ended up in Sydney whilst travelling the world after university. 17 years later, I am still here, with the addition of a husband, 2 kids, a house, a cat and a business… Oh, and a love of Aussie words for what I previously called aubergines and courgettes.
I do think I was always going to end up doing something creative and something which involved seeing the world and experiencing other cultures. My father was an amazing commercials director and that world always excited me. I am at my happiest when I am making things, so seeking out a career in TV production, which I continue to do, has been an exciting path for me, and really Memah is just another large production.
Despite not following a traditional path into fashion, I have always loved fabrics and colours, tassels and embellishments. I have always been drawn to unusual detailing on clothes and love a hunt for something unique… Let me get lost in a market any day of the week!
What led you to launch Memah?
When I was pregnant with my son, Archie, I was busy looking for a baby bag and found them all to be mass-produced and rather dull and uninspiring.
I could see there were some innovative and practical ones out there but did I really have to carry something around every day that pre-baby I would never have considered? I knew that leggings and sloppy t-shirts were on the horizon but surely I could at least retain some style with my everyday bag?!
Anyway, I ended up with a plain black bag as a last resort and decided when I was pregnant with my second child, Myla, that I would get to work designing some alternatives.
I have never felt a stronger sense of community as I did joining the mum club. I met some wonderful friends at mother's group to turn to for advice. Old friends had been super generous passing on hand me down pieces, and I became part of social networks bringing together other mums to buy and sell stuff, and to share tips. This just made me feel that there must be a way to continue this sense of community in what I wanted to make. I then set about trying to find groups of women who could make my bags, and who would be empowered themselves by this enterprise, using the money they made to support their own babies. The idea of mothers helping mothers.
My research took me to this beautiful village in Oaxaca, Mexico where there were communities of weavers primarily making rugs. I could see that there were three generations of women working harmoniously together on one single rug. So after crafting my designs in Sydney (born from my love of these woven rugs) I knew it was time for the three generations of women in my family, my mother, myself and my four-month-old daughter to jump on a plane to meet these artisans. And so Memah began.
Your bags are handmade on the verandahs of your artisan’s homes in Mexico. Can you tell us about this process?
When you see how much work goes into each bag, and the pride of the artisans behind it, you know it is a real labour of love. At Memah we say "woven by hand with heart." Every bag takes over four days to make, and by staying in the homes of our makers I experienced and gained an understanding of the craft and detail that goes into each piece. I actually became part of their very welcoming village community.
Every bag is hand-dyed, hand-woven and hand-stitched using time-honoured skills passed from generation to generation which trace back to the ancient Zapotec Culture. The natural wool is dyed in small batches over open fires, before being left to dry in the sun. Sometimes the wool is dyed twice to reach the unique vibrant tones characteristic of Memah. The tapete rugs which form the bags are woven on the looms one at a time before the bag is sewn into the desired shape by another family member. The leather straps are the last part to be stitched and these are all made in a home workshop in a nearby village.
How did you source the artisans you work with?
Taking the leap and getting on the flight to Mexico was really the start, and from there it evolved, through staying in the village and knocking on doors.
The beautiful thing about Teotitlan Del Valle is that everyone is connected somehow, so once you meet one artisan, you get to meet the rest of their family, friends and neighbours, all whom can offer something unique to the process. It became extremely collaborative very fast. In fact, one of the highlights of the journey so far came when we needed to expand the choice of leather available so one of our weavers, Ello, her 8-month-old son and I flew to another town to meet artists who specialise in leather and expand our team. This was the first time Ello had been on a plane and it gives me goosebumps even now when I picture her face as we boarded.
Can you share some details of your baby bags and what they entail?
We have three different types of bags – the baby bag, the nappy clutch and a matching little girl's bag.
All bags are handmade from 100% natural wool and are lined with a premium black wipe-clean nylon lining. Pockets, pockets and more pockets. All bags in our range have multiple pockets for ultimate organisation. I actually don't think I could live without pockets now, and when designing the bags I thought carefully about all the pockets you could possibly need… Then added some!
Our baby bags have detachable soft leather shoulder straps, and triple dipped chunky gold metal hardware such as D hooks to enable the bags to be attached to a stroller.
Most importantly, the bags are stylish, vibrant and versatile as well as practical, so they can be used outside those early baby years. The larger baby bag makes a great weekender and the smaller nappy clutch is perfect for those much-needed kid free nights out.
One of the unsung properties of wool (thank you nature!) is that it is highly water resistant, so when they do get wet in the rain, the water just runs off… A bonus when you just need to get out of the house whatever the weather brings as that coffee simply cannot wait!
How do you like to style your bags?
I think our bags really do the styling for you. The pop of colour and the striking geometric designs derived from the Zapotec traditions complete any outfit and help your baby's stroller stand out.
How do you incorporate colour into your own wardrobe?
It might be easier for me to answer how I add blacks, whites, and neutrals into my wardrobe! I think from the early days of me loving my fluro neon wardrobe growing up in the eighties and nineties, I have always been drawn to clothing with bold prints and bright colours. It's fun to leave the house in vibrant colours. I think as soon as you put on some colour it can change your mood. I don't think you need to wait for a change in season to pop on your bright colours; bring summer to your day by wearing them.
If we took a look inside your bag today, what would we find?
A very different array of things now than if you had asked pre kids! Now it can almost be classed as dangerous to leave the house without some form of kids' snack which I can make a Hansel and Gretel style crumbed pathway with to get them out of the park and back home!
But for me, I always have a small notepad to jot down ideas that spring to mind. Despite technology, I will always be a pen and paper girl. I always have my Thank You hand cream, and maybe you might just find a chocolate Lindt ball or two!
What tips do you have for women looking to launch a side-hustle?
It's never going to be the right time. You are never going to be able to afford to do it. You will always doubt whether it will work – whether you are good enough to pull it off, whether you have the right experience and what people will think.
But I reckon all of those thoughts are less important than the bigger worry of never knowing if it was going to work and never fulfilling your own dream to try it.
So in short, just take the plunge and work out the rest as you go along rather than trying to have all the answers before you start and therefore never starting.
What have you found to be some of the most challenging parts of starting a business?
It's certainly not one long straight road, and the challenge is to stay confident that these twists and turns will land you in a better place. Holding onto your energy and tenacity isn't always easy when those inevitable moments of doubt creep in.
For Memah, great challenges arise with the lengthy time it takes to make each bag and the distance it needs to travel from the remote Mexican village.
That's what makes each piece meaningful and unique though, so we wouldn't have it any other way.
As a woman juggling a career, a family, and now a business – how do you make it work?
Lets just say it's a work in progress!
What hacks or organisational tips do you implement in your everyday life to help life happen more smoothly?
Getting up before the rest of the tribe wakes up works for me. Just gives me time to shower, sometimes go for a walk, and gives me that crucial 'me' time that I won't get for the rest of the day! I am also a fan of lists… These days if I don't write it all down there is every chance it will get forgotten!
What’s ahead for yourself and Memah?
Spanish lessons… There is only so far Google Translate is going to be able to take me!
Truly though, the exciting part is that I really don't know. If you asked me two years ago what I would be doing, I wouldn't have said designing bags. I would, of course, love to see Memah grow and for it to be a primary source of income for the artisans in Mexico. If they didn't have to leave their village home to earn an income for their growing families, that would be amazing. If I see the bags being enjoyed by mums all over Australia, that too would be wonderful.
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>
The tiny habits that we do everyday have the power to change our lives. Whether it's getting up early, so you have a moment to yourself before the kids wake up or making time to exercise or meditate or something as simple as a cup of tea in silence, these habits have a profound impact on our wellbeing and also our mental health. Yet, with small humans to care for, so many of us find it hard to start a new habit and stick to it. And we find ourselves in a rut which we can't get out of. In his book 'Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything', world-renowned behaviour scientist FJ Fogg looks at how we're approaching habits the wrong way.
'Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything',<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://thegracetales.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNTYyMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjE0MjgwMn0.8TI2UMx2pnQoTAFVlp9HkCdBEWJoKZspHAXLU4_i7aY/image.jpg?width=980" id="74866" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="39d6cf7788a4ec7837ad26212ee4ba20" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The story we are told of motherhood is one of lightness that leans into the beautiful, the incredible and the magical. However, for all the lightness there is shade, and in the shadows lies a rollercoaster which pushes you to your limits and at times breaks you. Both sides are important for open, real dialogue around motherhood. As a health professional I entered motherhood confident. I had all the resources at my fingers tips as a women's health physiotherapist. Despite this, my journey was far from smooth. Even though I was well informed, it didn't make me immune to the real emotional and physical challenges of motherhood that are still so rarely discussed.
My Motherhood Journey<p>When I first fell pregnant, I was blissfully happy. I felt I had realistic expectations of what motherhood was going to be like. I was also very aware of the high rates of mental health conditions that come up during the perinatal period and knew what to look out for. I was primed and ready to be the earth mumma I was destined to be.<br></p><p>Then my pregnancy had a slight curve ball, I had placenta previa which meant many unsettling vaginal bleeds, no exercise, and the very real threat of complete bed rest. Thankfully, my placenta lifted around 35 weeks, and I was able to have a vaginal delivery. I was induced, the birth was fast and intense, and I needed a ventouse and an episiotomy. Despite this, I felt very positive about my birth mainly because I was informed, supported and respected through the journey. We had a healthy little girl, and I was in absolute awe. Pure. Magic.</p><p>And then the post-natal period began. I had feeding issues, my baby wasn't gaining weight, she had blood in her stool, and chronic vomiting. Paediatricians prescribed various medications and prescription formula, but the constant crying from my bub and the sleep deprivation for all of us continued. For many years. </p><p>Bit by bit my confidence began to crumble. I was anxious that she wasn't getting enough nourishment, I felt guilt that this was all my fault and I started to doubt myself and believe I was a bad mother. This was not the motherhood I had pictured. But as all 'good' mothers do, I put on a brave face and pushed on. I continued to run my business, treated patients, and carried on with life. Under the surface, I was utterly depleted and hanging on by a thread. </p><p>And then we fell pregnant with our second baby. During this pregnancy my level of exhaustion hit a new low. I was still getting up through the night, working and studying, and I became highly anxious about how I was going to care for another baby.</p>
Le Reve is a promise I made to myself, to take our audience into a dream world where everything is calm, warm and amusing
If you've been following us for a while, you'll know that in our dreams, our entire house is filled with the scent of Maison Balzac candles burning, our cupboards are filled with gorgeous glass goblets and carafes in shades of azure, green, mint, pink and blue and our tables are decorated with elegant vases covered in chic spots. Sound dreamy? That's because it is.
Tell us about your lockdown experience - how did your family adjust? What have you taken away from this period of time? Are there any rituals you put in place that helped you?<p>Surprisingly, my husband started a new 'essential' job on the first day of lock down. He had to go to his new office everyday so Loulou and I were home and had a wonderful time together. I didn't take time off when she was a newborn, so it felt like a great opportunity for me to catch up and experience "maternity leave". My favourite things in life are my interior, good food, living slow, not going anywhere and being with my family. So, I was really happy during the entire period, but I knew I was part of the lucky ones (not badly impacted by COVID-19).</p>
As a business, how did you adapt to this time? <p>At first, everything was quiet, unknown, unpredictable and ominous. After a couple of weeks, the demand for our products was unprecedented. We received thousands of requests from around the world, people wanting to bring a touch of happiness or comfort into their homes. We had to adapt to this new, increased flow and we did! My team was incredibly dedicated and solid during the whole process.</p>
Can you tell us about your new collection Un Reve? What are some new pieces you have added? What about the colours?<p>Le Reve is a promise I made to myself, to take our audience into a dream world where everything is calm, warm and amusing. As a reaction to the world's uncertainty, we really wanted to provide an escape! We have added a new, exciting category: tapered and shaped candles. We love exploring different ways to add colours into everyday life... and we love blurring the senses, so we have purposely chosen the same colours for our glassware AND tapered candles. We find it playful to associate a volute candle holder in pink glass with a volute candle in pink...</p>
You've collaborated with Messina on a candle - how did this come about? What did you enjoy most about the collaboration process?<p>We were first drawn together through our like-minded ethos: addiction to quality, playful nostalgia and intuitive design. Honey was the obvious theme of our collaboration, being one of Messina's Creative Department's most cherished natural ingredients and supplied by their local apiary: Rosebery Honey. Also my grandfather was a beekeeper and it's my dad's passion. I grew up with hives in our garden, collecting honey with my dad and dipping my fingers into the frames. I am fascinated by synaesthesia (stimulation of several senses at once) and this collaboration was a chance to translate our new candle fragrances into an edible delight. To celebrate the launch of our collaborative candles, Messina has created a custom gelato flavor: MIEL. It is the first time one of our scents can be eaten!</p>
How do you structure your day - how do you balance work with motherhood?<p>My day echoes the rhythm of primary school: I drop Loulou off at 8.45am, head to our office to start work at 9am. My husband picks her up in the afternoon and we all meet at home at 5pm-ish. I cook dinner every night (sadly I am the only one who knows how to make an edible meal in the household!!!) and I never bring work to our home. So, our evenings are all about relaxing, dining, watching movies or going for a swim near home. Work/life hasn't always been so balanced, so I am very grateful to have reached this stage, eight years into the life of my business.</p>
Running your own business is all-consuming - do you have any non-negotiable self-care rituals you can share?<p>I have zero non-negotiable self-care rituals! I would do anything required to make sure my family and the business are ok. I always come next. This is something I am working on though. I would love to try and prioritise myself sometimes. There is definitely room for improvement!<br></p>
Running your own business, what have been your biggest learning's around developing products, marketing and running a team?<p>Some of the lessons I have learnt are:<br>- There are always people around you who will say NO to your ideas. Ignore the NO and pursue your vision.<br>- Allow 12 months between an idea and a finished product (I used to think that 3 months was enough! No way!).<br>- Surround yourself with people who are better than you in pretty much every field!</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.