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."
Her latest project is MILK, a raw and powerful series which captures both the beauty and the heartache of breastfeeding. "Before having my son, I, like many other women, had an idealised but perhaps unrealistic expectation of breastfeeding," says Harris-Taylor. The images I'd seen tended to represent breastfeeding in quite a generic and non-informative way. I wanted to open up the conversation – not for or against, simply more honest. Letting mums share their story in the comfort of their homes, I hope it can give others who choose to breastfeed something to connect with and to feel a little more understood. With so much more open and honest discussion around the role of women's bodies at the moment, now feels like the right time to discuss one of its most basic functions in a truthful and refreshing way."
Here, we find out more about her meaningful work and the stories behind these powerful images.
Go to sophieharristaylor.com
"I enjoy fulfilling Oki's purest and most basic need – knowing that all she needs to grow is my milk. I love the intimacy, for instance, feeding her in the bath and feeling her soft body on mine as the milk dribbles out from her mouth into the bathwater. I am grateful that I'm able to feed Oki and connect with her on this bodily level, in someway continuing the physical connection we had when she was in my belly. It makes me wonder at the power of one body to grow and feed another: to know that her legs are getting chubbier and she has the energy to play all because of my milk." – Nicole
"Nova had tongue tie for the first 8 weeks which made breastfeeding very tedious for me. He'd feed for very long periods and never seem satisfied afterwards. I was constantly questioning my ability and supply as well as dealing with sore nipples, exhaustion and over all discomfort… I built a negative relationship with the whole thing that is hard to break even though things are better after his tongue tie surgery." – Thea
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
You’ve described mastitis as more painful than childbirth – tell us about your experience with breastfeeding?
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.
How would you describe the intimacy or closeness of breastfeeding and how did it make you feel?
It's pretty magical. I loved the intimacy, the comfort it gave him which in turn it gave me.
"I never imagined how tough it would be. Throughout my pregnancy I had visions of how easy it would be and how much I'd enjoy whipping my breast out in public without a care in the world. I never, ever thought I wouldn't enjoy it. Whenever I thought about it, my head was set on breastfeeding for a year with a 'breast is best' attitude. In reality, I'm counting down the days until we can start weaning and I'm not sure I'll even make it to six months. I've realised that 'best' is whatever makes me happy and relaxed because only then can I be the best mum to Nova." – Thea
"When I had my first daughter I would have said I most enjoyed the slowness and closeness of breastfeeding but now I'm breastfeeding two at once there's no more slowness." – Chaneen
There’s sometimes a longing for personal space, as mothers feel they have a baby constantly attached to them. Did you ever feel this?
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.
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?
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.
You felt lost after you gave birth – can you take us back to this period of your life and how you felt?
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.
What were some of the most vivid memories you have of shooting MILK?
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..
"It would be great to be able to express more, it's hard to find the time and a bit of a hassle with the constant sterilizing and then only getting 40ml at the time…" – Elodie
"The fact that I made every little squishy roll on her body! That it's a secret thing between us that I can't put in words to anyone else. That sometimes when she looks at me when she's feeding it's like the first time she's seen me and that slow blink and smile is the best thing ever. I love that even if I haven't packed a giant nappy bag, I can still feed her, it's just the two of us." – Misli
"I think the most unexpected thing I've found in breastfeeding is down to Raya's personality. The images of breastfeeding I have seen always show the baby lying peacefully in mums arms, feeding away serenely. Other mums in my antenatal group say their babies will feed for 45 minutes to an hour at a time. Raya doesn't feed like that. She always wants to be up and active and we often feed just a few sucks at a time, here and there as she clambers over and around me, milk spraying over everything in the vicinity as she pulls away just as my milk lets down." – Aisha
"I love the closeness of it. How our eyes lock, the skin to skin. I love that I can cure almost any sadness or outburst by nursing her. Breastfeeding also gives me confidence that she gets all the nutrients, good bacteria and antibodies she needs to stay at optimum health. Breastfeeding has also boosted my body confidence. I feel that my body is a superpower." – Anna
What messages do you hope women will take away from MILK?
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.
From rubber rings to earth-shattering epiphanies
Ever since my son was five weeks old, when I felt like I had just woken up from a very long and very intense dream involving repeatedly putting cold cabbage leaves on my nipples (nature's balm for that brutal early breastfeeding soreness), I have been mentally amassing a list of all the things that really, really made a difference. The moments that, whether psychologically or physically, gave me the fresh legs I needed to keep on going on my own new-baby marathon. Or the things I didn't do, that I would have done, had I known about them ahead of time.
1) It's impossible to ever be truly prepped for the arrival of a fresh, entirely unpredictable baby human<p>And so, finally, I've begun to write them down. Next up…</p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
2. Before you have the baby, laser all the hair off your body<p>Okay, so this is extreme, and just the ideal – and needs to be done before you get pregnant. And, I hasten to add, that doesn't include the hair on your head, unless you want to be really efficient with your shower time. But shaving my legs was the one bit of self-care I didn't have time for until around the nine-week mark, which wasn't ideal for my general feeling of self-worth. Alternatively, you could decide not to care ahead of time and make peace with your temporarily 'different' pins – the less painful solution. Then celebrate when you find you do have a window to deal with them, and see that as a success milestone (which I did. And which I wish I'd shared with my new new-mum mates, instead of thinking twice and feeling too embarrassed to). </p>
3. Laser your eyes<p>If you can't afford or aren't feeling brave enough to get your vision fixed, just make sure you have a pair of glasses that actually fit your face and aren't at risk of falling straight into a dirty nappy in the middle of the night (his father's top tip). </p>
4. Get long-term with your beauty treatments<p>If you highlight or dye your hair, switch to a look that doesn't require an expensive and lengthy stylist appointment every three months. For me, balayage chose me during lockdown. Similarly, get a shellac pedicure in a colour that won't look terrible when it chips, and invest in some sort of teeth-whitening, whether it be strips, those magical gum shields or via treatment at the dentist – because you are likely to be drinking a gallon of coffee each day, once your real taste for it returns. </p>
Before you go into the hospital:
5. As mentioned, get your baby's clothes into age, or even better, size order<p>This is partly because all baby brands are in a conspiracy to keep their sizing completely inconsistent, and partly to avoid finding yourself weeping while holding tiny socks in a few weeks' time. <strong></strong></p>
6. Buy a rubber ring<p>Need I say more? You don't need to have it blown up and squeezed into your weekend bag, it's just good to know you have one if you need it. Hospitals seem to have forgotten that rubber rings are good for a certain something that happens whenever you put the most pressure physically possible on your back passage (i.e., to every woman who has a vaginal birth, surely?). </p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
7. Take earplugs, an eye mask and a neck pillow...<p>Because you might find yourself in induced-labour-limbo-land for several days, with your partner creased up like a pug's face beside you in a plastic chair and a snorer sleep-roaring somewhere close to the other side of your curtain. </p>
After you've had the baby:
8. ... then have plastic gloves to hand when you get home<p>(If there are any left in the world by that point) so you can fill them with ice and hold them wherever you need them during those initial 'sensitive' few weeks. <br></p>
9. This has probably become clear from the points preceding this one, but remember that there weeks after the birth might be tougher than the birth itself<p>Because – if you gave birth in a hospital – you're no longer in a building filled with hundreds of people who just want to help you and your family. Now it's just you, your partner, your new baby and a whole lot of nipple cream. So pace yourself as much as you can, and keep popping those painkillers. </p>
10, If you can, arrange for someone to assist with the home-work<p>Having some help with the maintenance of your living space, even if only every other week for those early few months, is such a morale-booster. Mentally, seeing your home back in order occasionally helps to relieve the sense that you've totally lost control of your life. Then decide not to worry about the mess you simply can't clear up. Alternatively, venture out so you can't physically see it until you stop feeling the urge to throw dirty crockery plates against the wall. </p>
11. Some of the best, and truest, things people have said to me are...<p>'Your nipples "adapt", so that breastfeeding really does stop hurting.' (It did.) </p><p>'Four weeks will feel like a milestone, then three months, then you're off on and running.' (We were.) </p><p>'See breastfeeding as your me-time – to watch TV, have a snack, sit back…' (Now I don't really want to stop breastfeeding.)</p><p>'Keep your phone, various remotes and whatever you want to eat near your breastfeeding "station" so you don't need to struggle to reach them with a hangry human being clamped to your nipple, or to have to ask someone – who's fast running out of patience – to hand them to you.' (Funnily enough, it was my husband's idea to get a little trolley for this very purpose.)</p><p>'Lean on visitors as much as you can. Get them to do the washing up as a trade off for seeing your baby.' (We probably should have done more of that.) </p>
12. Remember that cabbage leaves may ease the nipple pain?<p>… but they reduce milk production too (your boobs will stop hurting in a few weeks, I promise). And shields aren't the end of the world during a nipple crisis. </p>
13. As soon as you can bear it, put him or her down when they're still a tiny bit awake<p>This is so that they are aware they are sleeping in their Moses basket or sleep pod rather than in your arms, and therefore may not freak out quite as much when they wake up. Or at least, be brave and try it a few times before you totally give up on this extremely un-intuitive strategy. </p>
14. Have your Sleepyhead to hand from the outset<p>For the ultimate arms-free 'hug in a pillow', that will probably help him or her sleep more contentedly for longer. </p>
15. Phone anyone who has ever suggested that you shouldn't use a dummy while your baby screams and make them listen<p>And just remember that the dummy fairy will have no problem ejecting all the pseudo-nipples from your child's life when the time is right. </p>
16. Once they reach six months and are okay to sleep in a seperate room, make sure it's dark<p>Because sleeping with a bedside light on is annoying for them too. </p>
17. Nap when they nap, but only if you want to<p>Alternatively, enjoy the buzz and stay awake if you like. It was a shock to realise what a huge social occasion having a newborn is. If you don't want to miss a moment of loved ones cooing at your baby for the first time, that's okay too. Some new parents need less sleep than others, and some new babies need more than others too, if you're lucky. When he or she gets to around nine months and, hopefully, starts combining all their naps into one three-hour stretch, plan what you want to do with that part of your day in advance. Don't waste time faffing – just do, do, do and you'll feel a little bump of satisfaction before they wake up each time. </p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
18. Plan ahead and a shower can always be possible<p>Ideally, have your partner do the morning nappy change – especially if you're doing all the night feeds – and you can get washed and dressed then. Alternatively, if your baby isn't rolling yet, plonk them down in the bathroom naked and label it their daily dose of nappy-free time. They love it. Or, dash off to get ready whenever they eventually go down for their first nap. If you're anything like me, you'll feel at least 50 per cent stronger post-shower. </p>
19. Use a baby carrier around the house<p>Babies generally love watching your hands do whatever you're doing with them around the house, or will pass out if they're at all sleepy if you wear them facing forwards (advised for babies under five months). It's an excellent work out for you too, so there's no need to force yourself to do much other exercise during that first year. If you have a Bjorn, you may well need a thinner one for summer days. My baby was born during the hottest UK heatwave since recordings began and I did not quite have the brain-width to both order a cooler wrap-style carrier and learn how to tie it. </p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
20. Save answering Whatsapps for the endless breastfeeding sessions<p>Don't respond to the many messages you'll likely receive as a new parent if you've just yourself you're going to try and have a nap. Have a blanket 'Love your message – I'll respond properly when I can' kind of 'Whatsapp Out of Office', ready to cut and paste so you never need feel any nagging guilt about ignoring anyone. </p>
21. Don't be afraid of your baby<p>I realised I was a little bit scared of my son about six weeks in. But then I realised: he's a baby. I'm a grown-up. (Exactly what I tell myself when I see a big spider, and they're far less cute – in my eyes, anyway). He's more scared to be alive than I am about keeping him that way. And then all the rest felt infinitely easier. </p>
"I had burnout mid last year trying to do too much. After having reached that point, I am very careful about what I take on and I'm also a lot more comfortable with letting go and not feeling like a failure if I say no," says Tabatha Brixton, the Melbourne-based mother and founder and director of womenswear brand Allora. She's speaking honestly about the reality of running a business while raising small humans. The word failure is key – if we're not running at a million miles per hours, we often feel we're failing. Stepping back and slowing down, needs to be celebrated.
Georgie Abay wearing an Allora cape
What does sustainability mean to you and why was making Australian made and ethically produced fashion so important to you?<p>Sustainability to me is about ensuring my purchases are considered and not something I will only use once and throw away. I invest in pieces that I really value and will use for a long time. As a brand we are constantly looking for ways to improve and become more sustainable including sourcing sustainable and premium quality fabrics, reducing our textile waste, recycling off-cuts, eliminating plastic from swing tags and using biodegradable packaging.</p><p>Making in Australia has always been important to me as I've always valued buying local. I've worked in the fashion industry for most of my working life and I've seen so many Australian brands move their production overseas and the adverse impact that this has had on the local industry. I feel strongly about supporting local manufacturing as I think it's important that we keep skills and jobs here. We have so many talented makers and factories in Australia that we need to look after and we also need to make sure we keep the industry alive so it's available for future designers and makers too. I also really value having a direct relationship with the makers and knowing the people who make my clothing.</p>
COVID-19 has changed the way we consume – do you think we will be focusing on buying less, but buying better?<p>I think in these times we do gravitate towards well-made classic pieces. People are becoming more 'conscious consumers' and thinking about fashion purchases and the impact it has on people and our environment. That said I also think there is still a way to go. Fast fashion is still prevalent and there is an overabundance of product in the marketplace which COVID-19 has highlighted to us again, it's not anything new. I do hope COVID-19 has made people think and reflect about what they <em>really</em> need and how much.</p>
Why start your brand with capes – where did your love of capes come from?<p>I fell in love with capes while I was looking at historic fashion photography of women in the 1960's. Capes were so popular, especially in Europe and I just loved how effortless, chic and stylish they looked and how versatile and practical they are. Living in Melbourne with its four seasons in one day I really took to the idea of creating a beautiful cape as it just seemed like the perfect item for my wardrobe and women I know.</p>
Some women aren’t sure how to style a cape – how would you advise they style their cape?<p>One of my favourite and most frequently worn ways is with a classic shirt, blouse or a knit and a pair of jeans. That is my go to look as a busy mum and working woman. It takes me anywhere. A cape also allows you to show off a beautiful sleeve or cuff detail and be a bit more creative with your look.</p><p>I've designed the capes in classic colours such as soft grey, black, ink and bisque so they are easy to coordinate with anything in your wardrobe from plains, stripes or prints. Over the years we have styled the capes many different ways to show the versatility and ease of wearing capes – from layering over a blazer to a more relaxed weekend style with jeans and a stripy tee. Our website is full of inspiration.</p>
What are your winter wardrobe staples?<p>A cape, coat, blazer, blouse, knit, jeans and a couple of winter dresses with boots. </p>
Georgie in the Allora Claremont dress
Georgie in the Allora Claremont dress
At what stage of the business did you decide you wanted to expand into other categories?<p>I had purely been a cape label for two years before I expanded into other pieces. It really was a natural progression as I had had such great success and feedback on the capes and customers were coming back for a second and sometimes third cape. I had a loyal customer who appreciated my quality, style and ethics. I really wanted to offer her more, firstly pieces to wear back with the cape she already had and then to offer her something completely new that was made to the same high standard of quality that she appreciates.</p>
Tell us about your colour palette for this season?<p>The palette this season is earthy and neutral which is timeless. It features Burnt Orange, Ecru, Wheat and Cream that all work well with our classic cape and coat colours. </p>
Georgie wears Allora Superfine Merino Skivvy
Georgie wears Allora Superfine Merino Skivvy
You’re a mother of two – talk us through how you’ve navigated a growing business with young children?<p>It hasn't been easy and at times very challenging to juggle everything. There is always so much to do and life gets really busy. It's hard to find the right balance sometimes. Looking after myself and my health is a priority and blocking out work time and family time is really important. Children are small for such a short time and I am lucky that I have been able to have them with me so much. They have been on the journey with me the whole way, coming to the factory and that's been wonderful. They have been a huge part of the Allora story and I'm very thankful for that.</p>
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?<p>When COVID-19 first began and we went into our first lockdown in late March I was right in the final stages of launching the new A/W20 collection that we had all worked so hard on. It was a year of work and we were all devastated to watch everything just stop after we had put so much in. I had to put some of the production and fabric orders on hold and had to just see what was going to happen. Like all businesses at this uncertain time we have had to focus on what we can do to continue to trade and move forward. </p><p><br>While sales have not been what we had forecast due to lockdown with events cancelled and people working from home, we are so thankful our customers have continued to shop with us. Our pieces are timeless and well-made and that is what our customer comes to us for. There has also been an increased movement towards buying Australian made and people really wanting to support Australian manufacturing and that has helped us a lot.</p>
If a mum could only buy three things for winter, what would you recommend?<p>1. A Cape. I really think it is a mum's essential wardrobe piece. When I was pregnant and feeding all the time my capes were my saviour. I would throw one around my shoulders and head out the door.</p><p>2. Merino Knitwear – Nothing makes you feel better than something beautiful and soft to the skin. It's a beautiful layering piece and you can wear your favourite blouse or dress over the top.</p><p>3. Wide Leg Pants – I think our Becker wide leg pants are the most comfortable pair of pants on the planet. Wide leg pant with a pair of white sneakers and you are set to go anywhere and they are also super comfortable for at home. </p>
And what do you love most about being an entrepreneur?<p>I love the freedom and creativity of building a brand from scratch but mostly I love building a business that aligns with my values and ethics especially around local manufacturing. I'm driven everyday knowing that decisions I make, both big and small, align with my mission and that I am making a contribution to an industry that I am passionate about.</p><p>It makes my day when I receive a beautiful email or note from a customer who is so happy with their purchase from Allora and who appreciates all the work that has gone in – it's the best feeling and tells me I'm on the right path and to keep going no matter what challenges lie ahead. </p>
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>
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.
"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.
Given recent events, what changes do you want to see happen in the world?<p>As Australians, I want us (as a priority) to address the injustice and inequality that indigenous people have faced for too long. I also would like to see more education around race and racism, both interpersonal and at the institutional level. This is a matter of human rights and the dignity of all people in our world. And finally, the goal at least in my opinion is substantive change. Equal opportunity in education, work, media representation, and under the law. Not just feel-good sentiments. </p>
How can we talk to our children about what being anti-racist means?<p>I am not an expert or trained in education. However, as a parent, I am aware that there are plenty of excellent resources and books on this precise topic. Including one coming out shortly called<a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/624774/antiracist-baby-by-ibram-x-kendi-illustrated-by-ashley-lukashevsky/" target="_blank"><em> Antiracist Baby</em></a> by best selling author and academic Ibram Xolani Kendi. Beyond that, I believe that it is not enough to talk to our children or read to them about being anti-racist. We must SHOW them by practicing it in how we conduct ourselves. How we speak, how we engage with others from different cultures, and who we point to as role models for ourselves. My child is still very young, but I know that she listens more to what I do than what I say.</p>
Take us back to the beginning of your life, when you were abandoned at an Ethiopian orphanage, when you were five years old. What do you remember about this stage in your life?<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. I only say that because I think it doesn't actually tell the full story of what a mother does when she forfeits, or when she, gives her children up. 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.</p><p>My twin brother and I were born amidst the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war. It was also during the continent's deadliest famine. My mother was Eritrean, and my father was Ethiopian, and these two different countries were in the civil war together. Our mother was from the other side, effectively, with little support around her.</p><p>I do have memories of my mother because we were almost six years old by the time we were adopted. So, we were with her, at least, for five of those years. I have memories, but not full memories, but I do have cherished memories, of her. I remember her hands. I remember her smell. I remember she would sing us songs and that she was kind but strong. I remember those kinds of things.</p><p>When you're adopted, once you have a child of your own, it actually gives you a different perspective on motherhood, and on your mother, because it allows you to step into her shoes. I always believed she loved me, but I did not realise what love from a mother to a child was, until I became a mother. Becoming a mother myself was quite triggering for me, to be honest, especially having a daughter as well, because it made me think about all that I had missed. I had to go through a lot of grief over my mother, once I became a mother, and acknowledging that bond and how hard it must've been for her to lose us. My adopted mother wasn't the fairy-tale mother you see in adoption stories, she had her own battles, and that impacted my life immensely. That was also something that has taken time to heal.</p><p>I'm still very close to two girls that were in my orphanage. They're in Australia as well, in Queensland. We've always been best friends ever since we happened to be adopted to the same country. They also have children and we go on holidays together. It's a very powerful connection because you understand each other, you get it. It's like siblings. And we have moments where we watch each other process different things. One of them is called Marta and she and I are soul mates in the way that we women can be. I treasure both of them. We just kind of take turns celebrating each other's wins and being there for each other's struggles.</p>
You were raped when you were five-years-old – how have you processed this trauma over time, and what gave you the courage to share this experience?<p>Sexual assault is quite a complex trauma to process. It was around the Me Too Movement beginning, where I was reading so much about it and it was everywhere that I felt very triggered. People talk about trigger warnings, but it is actually quite terrifying when you're forced to think about things that you thought you'd nicely packed away. I had nightmares and panic attacks for months. Memories would replay in my mind. Therapy and talking to people I trust helped.</p><p>For me, it was more understanding that there is no full stop necessarily in processing some types of complex trauma. That it's something that has actually changed my brain. It's changed my understanding of safety, my understanding of relationships, and security. It doesn't mean that I can't have all of that, but it's something that I can give myself as long as I need to properly process.</p><p>For example, I'm very cautious about people around my daughter, very cautious. I don't want to be too overbearing, but at least I think about things. I also think the more people talk about it, the more we take away the shame. The statistics are quite terrifying in Australia. We need to let survivors know that they are not alone, that we believe them, and we stand with them. We also need reform to make it easier to obtain justice and lock away preparators.<br> <br>I'm a very strong supporter of, teaching our boys not to rape. We have to teach our boys to respect girls. So, all of our sons, if we have them, and our nephews and everybody, because we can't just place it on us to protect our daughters. We can no longer put so much of the responsibility onto the behaviour of women, I find that so infuriating. It's just as important to teach boys about rape. About consent, about respect.</p>
What would you tell other women who have experienced sexual assault?<p>It had nothing to do with you, this was the actions of someone else who was committing a crime, and a huge human rights violation, and that there was nothing you could have done, or nothing that you did that played a part in that. It was nothing to do with what you were wearing because if a five-year-old can get raped, it can happen to anyone. It's just about power and people wanting to take away power. You are not your experience. When you're ready and willing, people will share with you. Give yourself time and remember it will not be your full story.</p>
Tell me about your relationship with your brother…<p>We're permanently connected because he's my twin. He has a daughter as well, who's six months younger than Harper. They love playing together and are always asking for each other, so it's lucky we live close by! We're different people, my brother and I, but I think we have an understanding of each other, and respect for each other, and we're always there for each other as well. Our mother would be proud of us.</p>
After your daughter, Harper, was born, you yearned for your birth mum, and it pushed you to travel halfway around the world and search for her, only to be told you were too late….<p>I ended up finding her family, which is my family, so her brothers and sisters, and my uncles, and most of them actually live in America and throughout Europe. I found them through social media – an image that I posted of myself and my daughter on my Instagram, somehow got onto a popular Eritrean/Ethiopian page, and then they spread it, and then I started following leads, and people were helping me and tagging me everywhere. It was like a scene from some thriller movie.</p><p>In the end, I found my family and now I'm getting some insight into what had happened and the kind of challenges that my mother faced as a woman. I've been speaking to her family, getting to know her story, learning about myself when I was little, which is really strange but wonderful to hear. I am so happy. Our family is so happy to reconnect with us and I look forward to a trip to the US and Europe to meet them once the COVID travel ban ends!</p>
When you discovered that your mother had passed away, how did that feel?<p>In 2018, I went to Ethiopia to find her and so to discover I was too late was devastating. I did meet my birth father. He told me they didn't have a relationship and he was married to someone else when we were born. It was very difficult to get any information out of him, but he did say she has passed away.</p><p> <br>I didn't fully break down when I heard the news, I guess a part of me didn't believe him, didn't trust him. It has taken me a year, if not more, to properly process that grief, because I really, really, really, believed that she would be alive. I actually saw a psychic and she said to me, "Your mother's coming through. She just wants you to know she's looking over you and your daughter. And she'll always be here with you, with her arms around you, and that it's okay." I knew then, even though I was a bit skeptic when she said that, and the words that she used, I just felt it, I actually felt it. I knew that she was gone, but she was still here. Watching over us.</p>
Miscarriage is something that we often deal with alone. And you've been so honest and open about your experience with pregnancy loss. What do you want to say to other women who are experiencing pregnancy loss?<p>It is so scary, isn't it? We celebrate new life. We share when we're pregnant or getting married. But there's so much of our life that we don't share. And it's because of shame and feeling that we did something, or that there's something wrong with us. We need to share all of it. My favourite relationships are the ones that I can talk to about all of the crap, all the shit things in motherhood, and all of the challenges in relationships and all of the issues with children and all of the fears, and that includes miscarriages. Or IVF struggles. We need to talk more about it, normalise it, not normalise it to say, it's just whatever, but to let people know they don't have to suffer in silence, or that they have to move on and ignore it.</p>
What about postnatal anxiety? How did this impact you day to day, and how did you overcome it?<p>I have a theory. There are two types or two experiences of postnatal anxiety. The first is the obvious type, where you can obviously see that someone is suffering. And they may show all of the signs of anxiety and stress and crying and visible postnatal depression, not wanting to come out of the house, just all of the signs they tell you to look out for.</p><p>The other one is the overachiever. And that was me. And my anxiety came out with me polishing the crap out of my bench, having an obsession with my house being perfectly clean, having an obsession with everything having to be perfect, having an obsession with not looking like I was falling apart because that was part of my anxiety and my experience of postnatal, was to prove that I was okay. To avoid and to hide the fact that I was crippled with sorrow. It was almost like a mask that was on top of all of my fears.</p><p>We have to look out for the women who are allegedly doing amazing at motherhood. And when we look at them and we say, "Oh my God, you're just smashing it, you're doing amazing." We actually need to be like, "You're doing great, is there anything that I can help you with?" Because we almost project onto them, when they're doing everything perfectly, that, that's what they should be doing or that it should be commended, when we should still look to them to see if they are actually okay because it's a symptom of something more sinister. It's the people who look like they've got it all together who are often not ok.</p>
Your Tasmanian parents adopted you in 1995 – can you tell me how have they influenced your life?<p>I'm very much like my dad. My dad does a lot of writing, he's very into social science and human behaviour. He's interested in how people do things and why they do things. He worked as a mediator. I grew up always reading from watching him. He has also greatly shaped my early interest in politics, law, and feminism. We had a normal childhood – sprinkler on in the front yard on the grass and barbecues on Saturday, and football and cricket and all of that, the normal 90s childhood.</p>
Growing up, what were your thoughts on being adopted? Was it something you gave a lot of thought to? Was it something your parents talked to you a lot about?<p>If I could change anything, it's that. I've worked with <a href="https://www.adoptchange.org.au/" target="_blank">Adopt Change</a> over the years and I'm still not convinced that the way we do adoption is right. I think there's still room for improvement. For example, it's important to tell kids when they're adopted, about their birth family, and make it a normal conversation that you have. Because it doesn't take away from your family or your parenting, I think it actually adds to it. So, for us, we very much ignored our birth family. We didn't really talk about them. When my brother and I would say, "Oh, our mum", and whatever, our parents would say, "Well, no, because your mum has died." Because that's how adoption works, isn't it? You don't take kids unless they're orphans. And by definition, legally, an orphan is when your parents are dead.</p><p>I'm really for adoption in circumstances that require it, but I think that, just like surrogates or anything in this, we consider that people should know who their biological family is and that there should be systems in place to be able to teach them. This will help children to grow up to be stable, happy adults, it's also a basic human right.</p>
Bringing a baby into a marriage often puts an enormous amount of pressure on a relationship. Did you feel pressure after Harper was born, on your relationship?<p>In hindsight, I have learned that you don't know who you've married until you have a child. Sometimes it's not what you agreed and it's not how you thought things were going to go. I was surprised to find that I was doing a lot more than I thought I would be doing, often all by myself. Day in day out. And that this continued even when I returned to fulltime work. I would say I'm quite a modern woman. I have modern views about parenting and gender roles. But I would say that that wasn't a shared attitude. I didn't really realise this until after we had our child. I've learned a lot from that experience.</p>
Since being on MAFS and moving into the public eye, do you care what people think of you?<p>I'd like to say that I don't, but I would be lying, although I care less now. I'm actually less active on social media, because even though I like it and it can be fun, I'm focused on building my life beyond that public image as well, and in a different direction more suited towards my goals. I find that you can have 300 positive comments, and you get two comments that say something negative, and you focus on those two comments. I've had moments where I'm like, "Why are you doing that? What about all these other comments?" And I've never understood that. And I wish I could understand that. But I think that comes down to your self-esteem. There is a certain level that your self-esteem depends on. We are all human.</p><p>Also, people are allowed to disagree with you. There will always be people who don't believe in you, and who don't agree with you. And then there are also people who just have their own issues. And so their comment is not about you, it's about them. You almost have to remove yourself from some of these comments, because it's not about you, that's easier said than done, obviously.</p>
What has it been like being a single mother?<p>I love being a single mum. It has taken me a while to go through the stages, but here I am, and I've almost graduated with my law degree which I'm doing with honours. My goal is to become a Barrister. I have an interest in, possibly in Criminal Law and also Human Rights. They are the two things that are my passion, and nothing is going to stop me. I have predominant care of my daughter, and I know if I can complete my degree whilst raising her, I know I can do anything. I feel really, really proud to be a single mum. It's empowering. There's a lot of freedom in it, and there's a strong connection with your child. Harper is thriving and the light of my life. It's time to reframe how we perceive single mothers. There's a lot of single parents that are very happy with their life and kicking goals.</p>
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>