PEOPLE: “I wanted everyone to see that people with disabilities were beautiful too.” – Madeline Stuart

Madeline Stuart is a game changer.

After deciding she wanted a career on the catwalk, her first photo shoot went viral, and she has never looked back. With the support of her mother, Rosanne Stuart, Madeline has embarked on an incredible career in the spotlight, and has used her very public platform to advocate for diversity and empower the disability community.

In this interview, Madeline shares her career journey so far, and how she sees the representation of people with disabilities evolving.

  • When you told your mum at the age of 17 that you wanted to be a model, what was going through your mind at that time? 

I was at a fashion show. I had just seen the models on the catwalk for the first time. I was in awe of their beauty and confidence, they looked like they were having so much fun and everyone was watching them walk. I wanted to be up there, I wanted everyone to be looking at me like that. No one had ever looked at me like that, I don’t think anyone had ever seen me like that, except my mum of course. I wanted everyone to see that people with disabilities were beautiful too.   

  • What stood out to you about a career in modelling? 

I think it was just the catwalk, it has always been about the catwalk for me, I wanted to represent my community, I wanted to change the world and I thought to be up there walking was the first step. 

  • Has your modelling career turned out as you had anticipated? 

Oh my god, no way, I never dreamt I would ever have the opportunities I have had, I feel so blessed to have been able to travel the world, to be able to educate people on disabilities, to meet the most amazing people. I really will be eternally grateful to everyone who has supported me on my journey.  

  • Have there been any surprises along the way? 

Yes so many surprises, so many things to learn, so many things to be changed. I think the biggest surprise to me was the way different countries relate to disabilities and how people with disabilities are treated.

I always talk about my time in Uganda. We went there after a Pastor reached out to us for help. He had a young girl with Down Syndrome living in his village who was in danger. In Uganda there is not a word for disability – people do not understand what down syndrome is, they think people with disabilities are a curse, that they will bring bad luck to the villages so they kill them.

We went to Uganda to educate people that down syndrome was perfectly natural and nothing to be scared about. We travelled the country and 50 families brought their children out of hiding, children that had never seen the sunshine before. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Uganda is just one country that we had the privilege to visit and every country is different.  

  • With more people with disabilities appearing on catwalks, do you believe the modelling industry has truly become an open and inviting space for anyone and everyone? 

I think the industry is heading in the right direction, I think we have come a very long way, you now see a lot of campaigns with people with disabilities, you also see a lot more models on the catwalk or in magazines with disabilities but I still believe it has a long way to go. 

  • In your view, are people with disabilities ‘visible’ enough in society? Why or why not?

If you look at statistics, 1 in 5 people have a disability so 1 in 5 people we see on the catwalk, on tv or in magazines should also have a disability of some kind. We live in the real world at a time where people want to feel accepted and want to accept. I do honestly believe we are only at the start of our journey, of the journey to an inclusive world and with time the world will change and people will feel included.

  • What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your modelling career? How have you overcome it? 

The biggest challenge that I have had to face in being recognised as a professional and financially compensated as one. Unfortunately a lot of people feel if they include people with a disability on the catwalk or in a campaign that is payment enough and also a lot of parents and carers do not expect the young person they are caring for or advocating for needs to be paid – they are so use to them being excluded, being invisible to society.

I was lucky. My manager never let me work for free, she educated people that like everyone else I needed to be paid, that I was valuable to their company and with time things have slowly changed and now people always expect to pay me.  

  • What’s your advice to other aspiring models who may feel they don’t fit the stereotypical ‘look’ of a model? 

Don’t give up, believe in yourself but also be realistic. It will be a lot of hard work and there will be a lot of rejection, also just because someone says no does not mean you are not good enough, it just means you are not what they are looking for this time.

Also remember that just because you have a disability does not mean you can do all sorts of work. One of the reasons I have been successful is because I am sample size so I can go to any catwalk and fit into the clothes, if you are a plus size model than go to casting calls for show that are for plus size models, if you are under 16 go to casting calls for kids or tweens and most importantly if you are over 18 only do shows for adults. I have so many designers that do childrenswear ask me to model as I look very young for my age but I never walk in a show for Children or tweens as I am an adult.

About the expert

Madeline’s modelling career began just over four years ago when she attended her first photo shoot and then posted the photos to a public figure Facebook page with the help of her mother Rosanne Stuart and they clearly spoke for themselves. Overnight the post went viral. Madeline’s social media numbers grew, the photo was viewed over 7.2 million times which resulted in her hitting global headlines with publications in Iceland, Germany, the US, Australia, Mexico, Cuba and the UK picking up her story. Within weeks Madeline was receiving offers to model and walk at the world’s most prestigious fashion events.

Since then, Madeline has walked in over 100 fashion shows across the globe, frequently walking on the official Fashion Circuit including; New York Fashion Week for the past 8 seasons, London Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week China, Astrakhan Fashion week Russia Runway Dubai and many more. She has built herself a credible platform to promote the brands she is working with. With over a million followers across her social media platforms, and a readership of over 50 billion. Madeline’s core audience is young women between 18-44, a demographic that she believes will benefit greatly from the achievements and inspiration she provides. 


Image description: Professional photo of a Caucasian woman sitting on a chair, looking at the camera. She has long, red, wavy hair and wears a red and white floral dress. The photo’s background is black.


VIEW: Having multiple skills strengthens adaptability

Following a teenage crush on Mulder in the X-Files, Jo started acting at 15 years old. While building this career and acting alongside the likes of Heath Ledger, Jo undertook a degree in education and became a primary school teacher.

As well as juggling these two career streams, Jo has become a social media influencer, mummy blogger, and of course also manages her most important job of all – being a mum. In this interview, Jo shares how she multitasks and manages her various skills, and her view on what you really can have it all.

  • As someone with multiple professions and skill sets, what is your approach to being flexible in your career?

My approach is to continually train and upskill regardless of the job, career, or industry I am in. I think covid-19 has really shown us that just having one set of skills can limit our adaptability and ability to thrive when things go south. If one area of work becomes unattainable for some time, or even permanently, we need to have a metaphorical bag of skills that we can reach into so we can branch into other areas.  

  • What are some examples of where you’ve had to change your skill set or career path, and how did you approach these challenges? 

Luckily, I have never been in the position to be forced to change my skill set, but I have adapted my skills such as in education, social media, performing arts to capitalise on growth and wealth opportunities. For example, using my knowledge and contacts from my performing arts world to create a thriving blog and social media accounts that support my role as an Australian family influencer through The Magical Oz Family. 

  • Throughout your career, how have you prioritised your various passions, professional opportunities and family needs?

Family will always come first. There’s no ifs, buts or maybes. But, in saying that, it can be difficult to juggle teaching and my role as a Mummy blogger and influencer with my most important role as Mum to my son, Beau. However, as he has been on-screen and on stage since he was three months old, he loves creating his own unboxing videos and doing is own promotions for Nerf, Alcatel etc that we get to spend fun quality time together while filming content for our blog. I am also lucky that my role as a teacher allows for time off on school holidays and weekends so I can pursue my other passions.

  • Do you believe the saying ‘you can have it all’? Why or why not?

To be honest, this saying always confused me I have so much in my life to be thankful for, I pinch myself everyday I wake up. I have a beautiful son, the most amazing family and friends, an amazing career in teaching at one of the most supportive schools in Brisbane and my mental and physical health. In my eyes…that might not be what others think the saying “You can have it all” means, but to me I have it all…..and so much more. 

About the expert

Jo Christiaans is an Australian actress, primary school teacher, mum, social media  influencer and creator of the parenting website The Magical Oz Family.

She is best known for her role as Selena McMillen in Spielberg’s epic television series, Terra Nova and has worked with screen greats such as Heath Ledger, The Rock and Tom Hiddlestone. She lives life to the max juggling successful careers as a primary school teacher, actress and social media influencer. Check out her blog at and on Instagram @TheMagicalOzFamily 

Image description: Jo and her son are smiling next to each other, with their hands cupping their faces. Jo has long blonde hair and wears a pink sweater, and her son wears a white t-shirt, has brown hair and is resting his head on Jo’s shoulder.

VIEW: Makeup does not have a gender

Lisa Mitrov has been a makeup artist for a decade and is frustrated with seeing the same challenges over and over again – limited options for people of colour, stereotyped products based on gender, and stigmas influencing who should and shouldn’t use makeup. In 2020, Lisa believes makeup should be gender neutral, and it’s time the industry caught up with where society wants it to be.

  • As a makeup artist, how difficult or easy is it to keep a makeup kit suitable for models/clients of all skin colours and types?

When it comes to skin types, the market is flooding with an endless supply of beauty products to address any of your skin concerns. From dry to oily, sensitive or acne-prone it’s safe to say there is an extensive range of products available for you.

Now, I wish I could say the same about skin shades but the reality is there is still a HUGE lack of diversity and representation for People Of Colour.

Not too long ago, I walked into my local makeup store looking to top up my makeup kit with some face powders suitable for my clients and models of colour. As I searched the store, examining each product from high end brand to brand, I had no issues finding countless shades of white and more white but could not seem to find the shade I was after. I decided to ask the floor staff to point out where I could find a powder deeper in shade. As she paused for a moment, I could see the colour draining from her face. She franticly started searching the store and stated that some shades may be “hiding away in storage”. After some time waiting for her, she pulled out a bronzer and said “this might work”.

Since that very moment, I haven’t stepped foot back in that place . I refuse to support a company that claims to be “inclusive” but in fact, still demonstrates discrimination. Makeup should equally be as accessible in store, regardless of your skin colour!

  • What are the stigmas around makeup that you’d like to see change? Why?

Makeup should not exclude ANYONE. This includes the domination of gender in the beauty industry. As a working professional, I have done makeup not only on women’s faces but on men’s as well. Every TV show you watch, or online store you shop at, you are looking at a male with makeup on.

I would love to see a demand in change for the way cosmetics are packaged/ labelled and promoted so that it’s gender neutral. Studies show that men are becoming increasingly interested in shaping their appearances whether it’s concealing blemishes or evening out skin tone. I want to break down that stigma that men can’t wear makeup.

Makeup does NOT have a gender.

  • What are you doing in your day-to-day work to change the stigmas around makeup?

I love to educate my clients/models about their skin and what specific products are best suited for them. It’s also very important for me to constantly research the ever-growing industry so I can discover and support the brands out there that are already trying to step up and REDEFINE the beauty game.

  • What can others do to drive change around gender and/or racial stereotypes related to makeup?

Start by educating yourself and do a little research online, broaden your search on your socials and ask yourself, do I follow a diverse range of accounts? This includes race, religion, age, gender and the LGBTQIA+ community. What you follow is what you SEE.

Once you start broadening your content you will start to notice a change which may encourage you to use your voice to break down these stereotypes we see not only in makeup. Once you make a start, you may find yourself a strong community of other individuals going through the same experiences and this is where we can come together and create CHANGE.

  • In a perfect world, how would you like to see the makeup industry evolve? What does it look like?

Online, I have definitely seen some great brands use their voice to step up and push for change but I would love to see this translate IN STORE.

Anyone from any background, should be able to walk into a makeup store and feel confident that whatever they are looking for they will get the same service, respect, products and advice as EVERYONE else. No more discrimination, no more lack of shade range, and no more gender boundaries.

About the expert

Lisa Mitrov is a proud queer woman who is gender fluid working in Hair and Makeup for 10 years now. She has worked for the TV Week Logies, on Film Sets, for Weddings, and on Photoshoots for brands such as Cotton On, Edge, St Goliath, Supre, and Factorie.

PEOPLE: How The Rainbow Babes are supporting, mentoring and being visible for the rainbow community

Kellie and Nicolette are The Rainbow Babes – a powerful same-sex couple due to be married in 2020 and currently undergoing IVF. While Kellie has a high-profile career in aviation marketing and Nicolette is a well known voice for diversity in healthcare, these profiles haven’t been built without challenges. Not least of which occured in the last few months, as their highly revered and influential Instagram account was hacked by an anti-LGBT hacker.

But The Rainbow Babes believe strongly in the power of representation, speaking up, and supporting your community. So these challenges haven’t deterred them. In fact, they quickly started a new Instagram account, have continued to speak out on issues important to them, and are determined to be visible role models for others.

  • Also known as The Rainbow Babes, as a couple, you’re outspoken about being a professional same-sex couple. Why is it important to you to proactively promote the ‘rainbow’ side of your relationship?


Well firstly, who doesn’t love a bit of rainbow in their life! I think whatever we do we like to bring a bit of colour and personality to it, so the rainbow label was something that always came quite naturally to us both.

But most importantly, with any minority group, visibility and representation is so important. It’s that old adage, you can’t be what you can’t see! We honestly wouldn’t be where we are without the strong and inspiring LGBTQI+ role models, trail blazers and boss ladies who came before us, normalising same-sex love, paving the way for women, diversity,  gender equality and showing us just what we could achieve in our lives and careers.

But there’s still a long way to go! And if we can pay it forward and provide that visibility or mentorship or support to other young professionals, then that would be pretty amazing. Long live the rainbow!


From the perspective of @TheRainbowPharmacist I think it’s important to see diversity (and someone visibly queer) in healthcare. Pharmacy is inherently conservative and leadership roles are driven mostly by men, despite 70% of pharmacists being female. Having a platform to be visible, and open, with an opinion and a personality is important! It’s an opportunity to echo what is interesting and topical for our community and support other people with common goals and interests.

2. Nicolette, you’re also known as The Rainbow Pramacist and are passionate about diversity and tackling discrimination in the healthcare industry.

i) How have your personal experiences impacted how you address and discuss these issues today?

Nicolette: I think my experience as not only a healthcare consumer, but a member of the rainbow community, has uncovered some insecurities in the healthcare profession in regard to skills, knowledge and education to adequately speak to and fulfil the needs of the LGBTQI+ community. For me as a pharmacist I found the LGBTQI+ education, and particularly around transgender members of our community, that treatment and management was really lacking.

Hearing awful stories from friends of mine, such as activist Johnny Valkyrie, on the treatment of transgender patients really opened my eyes to the ignorance and discrimination that can happen in healthcare. But there are so many colours in the healthcare rainbow, and that’s why I started the The Rainbow Pharmacist. Not just to bring a new perspective to my peers, but to give a voice to those that sometimes don’t have one.

On a personal level, the other thing that both Kel and I have discovered lately is how discrimination isn’t just found in the healthcare profession, but ingrained in legislation too. We recently started our IVF journey, and Kel has always been quite vocal about her long history with endometriosis. But despite her individual medical history, same sex couples undergoing IVF treatment are by default diagnosed as “socially infertile” rather than “medically infertile”. What this means is that under a diagnosis of social infertility you are not able to access medicare rebates and unable to access private health coverage for reproductive services. And let me tell you, IVF is not cheap!

ii) What sparked your passion for LGBTQI+ health? How has that passion evolved over time?

Nicolette: The inequality in health outcomes for those in the LGBTQI+ community has always deeply concerned me. Look at national statistics on mental health or pretty much any chronic condition, and LGBTQI+ seem to be an at risk population. And when I started to scratch beneath the surface I started to see why, and it didn’t sit well with me. So I had to something about it!

Unfortunately we still have discrimination that occurs from individual healthcare professionals denying healthcare services. Access to care can be challenging particularly in rural and regional areas. We also have things like the way Medicare funding works that sometimes isn’t geared towards the health and wellbeing of the rainbow community, e.g. the Government removing a type of testosterone injection off of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for gender affirming treatment for transgender men.

It’s a complex environment for our rainbow family, and I might not have the answers, but l think education, awareness and representation is a good start! And also rainbow is so much more interesting!

  • Kellie, as a marketer in the aviation industry – an industry currently under enormous pressure due to COVID-19 – how are you planning ahead and how have your personal experiences impacted the way you’re approaching these tough times?

Kellie: How the world has changed in a mere few months! It’s crazy to think up until 8 weeks ago I was travelling interstate several times a week. With the whole aviation industry in pause I think the shift in focus has definitely been to human interaction. People are hurting right now and in these uncertain times they want honest, authentic, real and human communication right now.

As consumers, Nic and I have both been personally impacted by the pandemic too, and understand this more than ever. Our May 2020 wedding and European honeymoon plans may have been forced into postponement, but we also had a very real brush with COVID-19 when my brother (and our IVF sperm donor) became one of the first Queenslanders to test positive, after returning from a work trip to Aspen, Colorado in early March. Thank goodness he was one of the lucky ones who had a mild case! It’s still unknown what this will mean for our IVF journey, but in times like these you’ve just got to take stock of what you’ve got and go with the flow.

  • Kellie, how do you see the marketing industry evolving in 2020, considering the dramatic changes to how everyone is interacting with brands before, during and presumably after quarantine?

Kellie: I think priorities will shift as more people move to the “new normal” of remote working and some form of ongoing social distancing. The fundamental needs of consumers, both physical and psychological, are changing in this new environment, and as marketers we need to adapt to that change.

Cyber security for instance is a huge issue as more people find themselves online for longer and subsequently vulnerable, so consumers will need brands and corporations to come to the party, make them feel safe, and assure them that their data and privacy are secure. Cyber crime is actually rife right now and we speak from experience! Even @TheRainbowBabes experienced a security breach recently, with our page hijacked and deleted by an anti-LGBT hacker.

We’ve had to start fresh with @TheRainbowBabe until we can claim our original handle again. So be sure to send us a “follow” and make sure you switch on two-factor authentication people, you won’t regret it.

About the experts

The Rainbow Babes chronical the adventures of Nicolette & Kellie – a professional same-sex couple and their two adorable pups Finnley & Rodrigo.

Nicolette (also known as The Rainbow Pharmacist) is a clinical pharmacist, key opinion leader and media personality within the healthcare industry. Kellie is a marketing professional that travels extensively in her high flying role in the aviation industry. With a love of the ocean, surfing and the active Burleigh beach lifestyle, both are passionate about outdoor adventure, travel, fine food and beverages, and living a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Their pooches Finnley (an adorable pomeranian with a personality that makes up for his small stature) and Rodrigo (a chilled out cavoodle) complete their small rainbow family – which they hope to expand on later in the year when they start their IVF journey.

Having recently announced their engagement on a surf trip to Rainbow Beach, The Rainbow Babes are currently planning their dream wedding which will take place in May 2021.

VIEW: How to change cultural representation in film

Diversity in the film industry has been lacking, with the so-called ‘Golden Age’ to blame for some of the worst statistics in terms of female representation of actors, screenwriters, directors and producers, according to analysis of 26,000 movies produced between 1910 and 2010. The trend of male producers hiring male directors and male writers has had a domino effect on how women are represented on screen, and their roles in the overall industry.

But times are changing, and the impact of each change is significant. Recent studies show that increased efforts to increase diverse faces, stories and perspectives on screen are having a tangible impact on young people. Many have experienced a boost to their self-acceptance and self-esteem, by being able to better relate to what they’re seeing on screen, including in new Netflix shows like Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever.

Rupanty Akid is an actress performing on screen in both Australia and Bangladesh, and has experienced first-hand how the industry prioritises people of certain ‘looks’. In this interview, she shares how those experiences have shaped her perspective and approach to working in the industry, as well as how she’s seen the power of audience demand in being able to spark change on issues like representation and diversity.

  • When was the first time you realised your complexion or skin colour impacted what roles you did and didn’t get? How did you feel at the time?

The first time I realised this was when I first started out as a freelancer in Sydney, and was seeking jobs online. The majority of acting and modelling jobs listed would say ‘appearance must be Caucasian, hair must be blonde’ and similar specifications. At the time as a child, this was just something I accepted as normal, which is an isolating feeling. I assumed that people just don’t want to see anything ‘different’.

Racial discrimination is a social concept we learn as we grow – no children are born knowing racism. I slowly grew up to realise I’m not different; that Australia is so multicultural, and I’m a normal part of this beautiful country, but it’s the Australian media that won’t represent it that way. 

  • How have your experiences with racial discrimination or preference evolved since you joined the film industry? 

Over the last 10 years that I’ve worked in the industry, and especially since signing with an agent, I have noticed a huge shift in attitude towards diversity. The more the general audience demands to see a broader representation, the more they will be heard. There is so much power in people which they don’t realise. The film industry is headed in the right direction, but it’s just not there yet.

  • What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed between working in Australia in comparison to the film industry in Bangladesh? 

Bangladesh is an entirely different planet from Australia. I love working in Bangladesh though, as it’s my way of staying connected to the culture and learning their language. But, there are some obvious differences like pay; what I earn per hour in Australia as a blurry background extra is more than what I earn as a lead role in an entire movie in Bangladesh. There, you do not get paid per hour, and so working hours on set are inhumanely long. Then there are some subtle behavioral differences. 

For example, the way I am treated in Bangladesh is like royalty, just because I work in front of the camera. This makes me feel very uncomfortable. Crew members freak out when I try to hang out with them and make a friendly conversation, because they’re not used to it, and can get in trouble for ‘disturbing the actress’. Even on social media, when I reply to my follower’s comments, they are so shocked I would respond to them, like they are beneath me for some reason.

There’s a very clear hierarchy, and you get treated differently based on that, I don’t completely understand it yet. There you have maids, drivers, personal ‘spot boys’. I guess, people just grow up with the mentality that some are ‘lower class’ and others like those in the media, are idolised, as though we are any different from anyone else. 

And of course, the obsession with ‘fair skin’ in their media is so huge. I can’t think of one big actress in Bangladesh who is proudly dark-skinned and successful without ‘white’ makeup or edits, because the audience would not allow it nor accept it. There are plenty of famous dark-skinned male actors though. The audience also shuns any female actors who get married, and they stop getting work. Whereas married male actors remain popular, but that’s a whole other discussion for another time. 

When I’m working on set in Australia, we are treated equally with respect. We all learn each other’s names and have a great time together, regardless of whether we are a background extra, lighting assistant, or a featured actor. On set, there is no outright discrimination based on gender or ‘status’ or any other factor. I love that it’s all about if you are nice to people, they will be nice to you. I’ve experienced how the golden rule of ‘treat people how you want to be treated’ does not apply in the Bengali film industry. But I still love it, as there are many positive things about Bangladesh, outside the media world.

  • Whose responsibility is it to address the issue of diversity and racial representation in the film industry? Why? 

It is up to each and everyone. I know I am privileged because I get preference, just because I am ‘fair for a Bengali’ and have that ‘foreigner’ look. But it’s my responsibility that I never accept compliments about my skin colour. I always educate them that there is no connection between beauty and fair skin. This is such an issue in South Asian cultures. But different skin colours are just a consequence of how our ancestors reacted to sun exposure, depending on their location. That’s literally all it is, yet people make it an issue. 

As an audience, if we see an ad that we love, everyone should commend the brand for their efforts. This encourages them, and other brands will follow suit. If you see advertising, movies, or shows with a lack of diversity, call them out on it, and generally just voice your thoughts everywhere needed. With incorrect portrayal in the media, they are erasing stories of the majority of the world.

As creators, as casting directors, as brands, as people in actual positions of power behind the scenes – they need to listen to the demand for more representation. Not just for diverse backgrounds, but to cast people with disabilities, or who are LGBTIQ+. At the moment, ‘mixed races’ are preferred so they can still play that ‘token’ diverse role without actually being from that ethnicity. People are quick to blame actors for this, but there are a lot of people involved in making decisions before filming starts. 

I have already seen so much improvement with casting in the media, and I know we will only move forward. Representation of diversity can still be so much better, and it will with everyone taking responsibility and doing their part. 

About the expert

Rupanty is an actress, model and influencer based in Sydney. Although born and residing in Australia, she travels to Bangladesh for work in the media, out of love for her heritage and culture. 

VIEW: Adjusting your work to others leads to a dead-end

With smartphones, almost everyone now has access to technology that allows us to be ‘photographers’. But to be artistic, meaningful and purposeful with photography requires a skill and mindset that not everyone holds.

Valentin Zhmodikov moved to Australia from Russia in 2014, with a passion for photography that has evolved since childhood. In this interview, he shares where that passion came from, and how it drives what photography he does and doesn’t do today.

  • What sparked your interest in photography and how did you go about the journey of self-teaching yourself this complex skillset?

My interest in photography wasn’t like a spark, it was a long process. It first appeared when I was about 14 years old. But it wasn’t that serious back then so other things more typical for a teenager replaced it shortly. 

I got back to photography about seven years later while studying Philosophy at St. Petersburg State University. At the very beginning, it was just casual shoots of my mates and random people during endless rave parties, which were quite popular in Russia in the first decade of the twenty first century. I never thought that this interest would become my main passion and last for so long.

The more I put my mind into photography, the more I realised that I lacked some basic knowledge, which was easy to find on the Internet. After getting the basics, I came to realise that the characteristics of my simple camera were not good enough for my goals so I decided to learn more about photography gear. So, step by step I got all the necessary theoretical information from the web. While doing this research I discovered several classical photographers which have become my main source of inspiration for quite a while. I believe that learning from the classics really helped me to develop my own style.

Long story short, all the skills and valuable information I mostly got from the Internet and from my own zealous practice.

  • How do you choose which work to take on and which not to?

When picking a shoot, I try to follow my gut feeling, but also my interests and curiosity.

Though I’m a portrait photographer, I would never do photos of newborns just because I don’t feel quite right about it in general. I have never done weddings and I’m quite sure that I never will.

But sometimes I’m really driven by a challenge to do something that I have never done before. Back in Russia, I applied for a product photography position, having zero experience in it. I spent half a year in this role and it gave me great knowledge about studio lighting and basic editing. I’ve tried food photography once just following my curiosity about how these kinds of photos actually should be done.

Sometimes I reject portrait and model test shoots if when looking at a potential subject’s social media feed I don’t feel they are quite right for me to work with. Once I decided not to collaborate with one big Russian celebrity because of this very reason.

  • You’ve mentioned that you sometimes take work unpaid if it’s work that allows you to be true to yourself, and you’re even willing to lose followers if it means you’re staying honest. How difficult is it to do this and how do you go about setting parameters for yourself?

I started doing photography because of my interest in it. A bit later I became really passionate about it. Surprisingly, after more than ten years I feel the same.

I’m not and have never been driven by the material behoof not only because photography has never been my only source of income but mainly because I really enjoy doing it. That’s why I still do collaborative projects with no money involved. Especially when I feel that the subject would be right for some of my ongoing photography projects. No matter whether this is a celebrity, a well known model or an everyday person who I’m working with, we all share our time with each other. The time of a human life is beyond money.

Photography is an evolutionary process for me. It’s like a journey with no exact destination with the freedom of frequent spontaneous decisions. That’s why I’m not afraid to change the subjects and the style of my work. It’s not hard when you’re following your own zest.

Since 2012, Instagram has been the main source for sharing my work with other people. And it may sound tough, but after so many years I more or less understand what people would like and want to see. Not all of them, obviously. That’s why when I post something non-typical on my feed, something provocative, less creative and more philosophical I’m aware that some people won’t like it and would unfollow me. And it’s totally fine! I think that adjusting your work for the preferences of others leads to a dead-end for creativity.

  • When you were unemployed, you rejected working with well-established studios. Why?

Back then it was an easy decision. I was much younger and more reckless. I just didn’t like their aesthetic and stereotyped attitude to portrait photography. I wasn’t ready to follow their criteria and rules. Sometimes I think that I should have tried to work there. Maybe I would have learned something new and could change their style for the better. But I don’t regret it. I was honest with myself and the way I’m following.

  • What were some of the most challenging experiences you’ve faced since moving to Australia from Russia in 2014? How have they shaped your approach to living and working today?

There were quite a few! By 2014 I had already had some progress and achievements in Russia and established my name in the photography field. So, first of all, I had to start my career from the very beginning. I literally knew no one in Australia!

Second of all, my surname – quite unusual and weird sounding even in Russian – turned out to be unpronounceable for most English speaking people. There are so many versions of it that I’ve heard and seen! Even now, more than six years later, some people recommend I change it or to get some sort of pseudonym, which I always reject. No matter what it is, it’s my family name and fairly speaking with a bit of practice it’s not that hard to pronounce.

So the first years in Australia were a challenge for me. But at the same time a great source of inspiration. Such diverse people from all around the world were calling me to shoot more and more portraits. Did you know that people in Russia never smile or say hi to strangers? I love so much that here in Australia people do!

It was not only people – everything was new for me. Architecture, nature, seasons, way of live. I fell in love with all of these from the very first days. But I still love my motherland and it’s severe beauty. I travel there once a year and can’t wait for the borders to open to go there again.

My migration to Australia gave me a lot. A possibility to live and work in such an amazing place. A connection with so many new interesting and talented people. But the main thing, it gave me the experience of moving forward in the circumstances of absolute suspense and uncertainty about what is going to happen in the future, which is really helpful in these crazy days of the world pandemic. But I’m looking forward for all that mess to finish anyway. And I really hope that our world can become a better place after that. Or, at least, not worse.

About the expert

Valentin Zhmodikov is a self-taught Russian-Australian photographer with an interest in portraiture, landscape and music. He was born in Saint-Petersburg, Russia and moved to Melbourne, Australia aged 28. He has a Bachelor degree in philosophy. 

Valentin participated in a number of personal and collective exhibitions, published in different print and online magazines worldwide and was a finalist in photography contests.

Specialising in both art and commercial photography, in his work he aims to encapsulate not only the shape and beauty of the subject but its essence and nature. Capturing everyday people, professional models and celebrities from all around the world, he extracts their personality in his own unique manner.

PEOPLE: Providing mental health services in an overloaded industry during a pandemic

CONTENT WARNING: The following article mentions suicide and domestic violence. If this triggers something or you need to talk to someone, please called Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. If you’re in immediate danger, call 000.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many are doing it tough, including the thousands of healthcare workers on the frontlines. Sarah Goulding is one of these frontline workers, taking on night shifts to deliver much-needed mental health services to patients, while homeschooling during the day. In this interview, she shares how she has seen the mental health industry evolve throughout her career, her experiences during the pandemic, and advice for others considering a career in this space.

  • Working in the mental health space, what are the major mental health challenges you’ve seen Australians struggle with and how has that changed over time, particularly now during COVID-19?

The major challenges we face in mental health are access to service issues and under resourcing. Access to community mental health services and inpatient beds remain an issue – long waitlists for community treatment teams, blockages in Emergency Departments for consumers awaiting and inpatient beds.

Staff are constantly under pressure to move people through the system as quickly as possible, to make more space for the high demand of patient flow. This has resulted in poor patient outcomes and high staff burn out rates. 

The majority of struggle during COVID-19 has been the sudden spike in mental health issues whether consumers have pre existing conditions or new presentations. When you have a system that is already overloaded and these unprecedented events occur, it can be quite catastrophic. Consumers have been struggling with a range of emotions, such as panic, hoarding, low mood, and anxiety. We also have to consider our consumers that have pre existing mental health conditions who have relapsed under the stressful conditions of social isolation. 

There have been reports of impulsive suicide in the community and for consumers in quarrantine. There has been a major spike in domestic and family violence cases. 

Over time we have learnt to adapt to staff shortages, bed shortages and lack of resources, however the rapid increase of mental health presentations and relapse in consumers with pre existing conditions has made it very difficult to manage. COVID-19 has required public services partnering with private services, cooperation and problem solving to try and attend to the needs of a community in crisis. My hope after COVID-19 is for more awareness on the fragility of our community especially post the bushfires, we need mental health services more than ever.

  • What are some of the signs people should recognize as indicators that someone needs professional mental health support? 

As a general guide, I would look for behavioral changes, mood shifts, food intake, sleep, levels of motivation and socialization, (even via Facetime during COVID-19) irritability, hopeless or helpless themes in conversation.

Risk issues can be a difficult conversation to have with another person, however if they express suicidal ideas or thoughts of suicide it is really important that they speak with a professional immediately to get advice. Options include your local G.P, telehealth services such as Beyond Blue, Life Line and Suicide Call Back Service. If there are imminent risk issues it is best practice outside of business hours to contact 000 and attend your local Emergency Department. Another challenge we are facing is that consumers that are acutely suicidal are very reluctant to attend hospital or be admitted to an inpatient unit for fear of contracting COVID-19, so there is a huge amount of pressure on community services right now. 

If there are changes in mental state with low risk, for more than 7 days and the symptoms are unchanged or worsening, the first place to start is with your local G.P who can link you to the appropriate support, and if there are ongoing issues, then there are alternative options for pharmacotherapy and more intensive specific therapies.

Secondly, pre existing mental health conditions and managing relapse are very much dependent on the diagnosis. As a community we are predominantly educated on  Depression and Anxiety, Diagnoses such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Personality Disorders and Eating Disorders are far more prevalent than most of the community are aware. In many cases most people would not know what to look for. For example, Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric conditions. I think as a community we are very uncomfortable about discussing suicide, self harm and challenging or difficult behaviours. We need to be more transparent and direct more attention to capture a better view and understanding of mental health outside Depression and Anxiety.

  • Particularly now, as many are struggling with increased stress, anxiety and loneliness, how can we help others in our life who may be struggling with these things, but who we can’t physically be close to at the moment?

Maintaining emotional contact with the people in your life is very important. Even though we may not be physically present, when we have presence, albeit, technology based, it does give us the sense of company and emotional contact. Using Facetime, Zoom and other social platforms are helpful in maintaining a sense of familiarity, connectedness and staying in touch with laughter, thought and conversational skills.        

Encouraging and assisting people in using technology online is also important – Online G.P reviews, telehealth appointments with Psychologists and Mental Health Social Workers.

Similarly, for the elderly setting up an ipad or sending videos if they have tech – or if not lending them simple tech and showing them how to use a device to maintain contact – is really helpful. For the elderly that don’t have these options, family, friends or carers, slip a card into their letterbox, phone them, check in with them. It makes a difference.

  • You believe diversity is important so we get a better understanding and appreciation of where people are coming from and their experiences. What are some of the best and worst things you’ve experienced in your work, where that understanding or appreciation did or didn’t exist?

The best experiences I’ve encountered in my work are seeing recoveries, and those consumers living their best life, having the opportunity to specialize in Eating Disorders and learning so much from clinical information to service design and implementation. Being invited to speak at a consultation group during the Royal Commission into mental health (Victoria) was a humbling experience to meet people you would rarely have an opportunity to speak with. CEO’s of NGO’s, Board of Health and Hospital Directors, the Commissioners – it was great to speak about a variety of my experiences in real time with people of influence and that have the ability to make social change. 

The worst experiences are obviously suicides of consumers we work closely with, and working with severely mentally ill consumers requiring physical or chemical constraint can also be very confronting. Involuntary detention is always an unpleasant way in which to work, however in some cases it is necessary for the safety of the consumer, their carers and the public. 

Mental health is a very difficult and complex profession. We often work in high pressure environments, making serious decisions in short time frames, working with severely distressed consumers and families. It requires a certain skill and knowledge level. We often work alone or in very small teams, and in the long term, on a sub conscious level, the cumulative effect of trauma is manifest through our interpersonal relationships, and workplace culture. I think at times this has led to very negative workplace dynamics which is hard to navigate if you are early on in your career and have not had time or experience to re frame and reflect.

  • Would you recommend a career in mental health to others? Why or why not?

I would recommend a career in mental health. If you are passionate about people, if you are passionate about social justice, and have a legitimate interest in psychiatry then it’s certainly a place where you will get to experience many different bio psychosocial scenarios, learn about different legislation, micro, meso, macro systems and public service structure and development. It is a multi-faceted career path and you do have the ability to specialize in different areas. 

However, in my experience, you will need a rigorous self-care and external professional supervision regime, be open to learning, adjusting and adapting to scenarios because unlike general medicine, Psychiatry is not linear, there are no direct cures only treatments. At times I’ve found this frustrating, but I do have hope that mental health will slowly get the full recognition that it deserves and consumers get the highest quality of service.

About the expert

Sarah Goulding is an Accredited Mental Social Worker and Family Therapist. She has spent the past 19 years working in public mental health services. She has worked on Inpatient units, Community Care Teams, Crisis Assessment and Treatment Teams, Emergency Department Triage, Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery, mental health service design and development, private practice, telehealth and community consultation groups in Victoria and NSW. Her passion, commitment to quality, education, awareness and advocacy for mental health continues to guide her practice and she is always inspired and motivated by consumers’ strength and resilience, with the hope of continually improving the space in which we work. 

ADVICE: Breaking the bamboo ceiling

Annick Ah Lan is the Chief Operating Officer of Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, but had to overcome a range of racial stereotypes to get there. Annick is passionate about getting more women on boards, and believe strongly in the importance of recognising everyone has something valuable to bring to the table.

In this interview, she shares her experiences with meeting and surpassing the bamboo ceiling, and how she has thrived in male-dominated industries ever since.

  • You’ve had an impressive career in various industries, and currently as COO and 2iC to the CEO at AIQS in the construction industry. Have you ever experienced the bamboo ceiling?

Very much so. It was fortuitous that the first job I held at a European company based overseas had a progressive Managing Director at the helm, who mentored me and kept to the adage that “the sky is the ceiling” for every single member of staff. He looked after the health and wellbeing of employees, invested in training and development and had workplace practices that only now, almost 15 years later, some companies are barely making headway into developing for their own staff. 

Due to the GFC and numerous closures worldwide of this company, I left to face the realities of the job market when I based myself in Australia. Some comments I received whilst interviewing were along the lines of, “You’re so young, why are you on such a high salary?” and “Oh, you can’t REALLY have done all that work?” or “You are so accomplished for someone so young!”. 

It also goes without saying, when you see the line-up of senior management within any particular company and you cannot spot someone who is young, Asian and female, you pretty much deduct in hindsight why you didn’t get a particular job you were aiming for. 

Whether it’s one, or a combination of reasons, there is never an easy way of eliciting the base reason if it stems from unconscious bias. I knew my worth at the time because I had done the hard yards and put in the time, but I was constantly discouraged from aiming high. Another favourite I heard one too many times is, “Oh, you’re very outspoken for an Asian person! Where are you from exactly?”

  • How has that experience shaped the way you approach business, leadership and your career today?

It’s definitely taught me to never take anything for granted! It’s also made a me a much stronger person, more resilient, and quick to accept and react to change. 

There’s no point in fighting against the status quo, so it’s made me quite resourceful in finding smart and innovative ways of doing things.  It’s also made me more understanding and open to listening to others. 

I always ask why, and what am I missing, in situations where I do not see eye to eye with someone else. I also try to figure things out by myself, rather than just wait for answers to fall into my lap, which is something I’m vehement about in instilling in workplace culture. 

Someone who has gone through the painstaking journey of figuring out how to do something will never forget it, and they will do it well, because they would have learned from mistakes made along the journey. 

  • What’s your advice to others unsure of whether they are facing the bamboo ceiling in their current roles? And for those who are, what can they do about it?

To be sure about what they are feeling. Whether or not they take it to the next step to voice their concerns is purely up to each individual. I personally never have, because I chose to either work thrice as hard to prove my worth, or leave the company. If I’m on par with everyone else and can significantly demonstrate this without anyone finding anything to argue against, then the argument to not promote me or not give me what I justly deserve becomes moot. 

How someone acts or reacts in any particular situation is purely up to them, as you can’t change other people’s behaviours, but you can change your own. It is with this attitude that I take things, the good with the bad, and every single hurdle and challenge put in my way has only served to help me grow and become a stronger, more resilient person. 

Sitting around and raging about the situation doesn’t really help anyone, take things into your own hands and demonstrate what you can do, or move on.  Either you accept the situation, or you change things, whether it’s your environment or your attitude, to ensure your contentment.

  • What or who encouraged you to embark on a Bachelor of Computer and Mathematical Sciences when you were studying?

Growing up, I have always had a keen interest in sciences. My dad qualified as a Chemical Engineer, so I assume that being around scientific equipment at a young age sparked my sense of wanting to explore the what, how and why of things. Instead of asking for dolls I was asking for telescopes, microscopes and scientific kits. The National Geographic shops were my favourite place in the world! 

I was also lucky enough to have had a Commodore 64 which was my first foray into programming. From there we moved on to the Pentiums and my fascination with computers continued to develop. I selected IT, maths and biology as majors for my HSC and then applied for two IT-related courses, and neurology as a third option! I was happy to go into either field, but IT won! 

Having said that, I will be the first person to tell anyone that I am an artist at heart. I have done classical ballet almost my whole life and played the piano to university level, however, these were never perceived to be “proper” career options, coming from an Asian background!

  • What do you think holds back young women from studying STEM, and how do we as a society overcome these obstacles?

I believe it’s the stigma and preconceived ideas – almost unconscious bias – surrounding STEM.  My interests were never quashed, I was never told that I couldn’t pursue something purely because of my gender – and I’m talking about from much earlier than kindergarten age.

My thirst for knowledge was encouraged, critical thinking and research were key educational pieces at home, and I devoured books.  As gender wasn’t an issue for me, I never saw it as an obstacle.  During childhood and adolescence, I had a good group of male friends, which meant that I was never afraid to voice my opinions or ever felt uncomfortable being the only female in a group of males. 

I believe that the key to overcoming it is developing a high level of emotional intelligence, understanding that males and females are wired differently, and we need to embrace those differences rather than setting it up as a battle of the sexes. 

A good, solid education begins at home. School is of course, important, but the shaping of a human being’s intrinsic ideas, behaviours, instincts and core beliefs, these come from parents. Therefore, society as a whole needs to work together to overcome the obstacles, it’s not just a matter of policy-making within businesses – by that point, it’s much too late.

About the expert

Annick is the Chief Operating Officer of a Professional Association within the construction industry. Her core focus as the 2IC to the CEO involves operationalising the company’s strategic goals across all areas of the business, including project management, corporate governance and risk management, human resources management, business development and financial management.

She is a spirited advocate of and holds staff lead roles across some of the business’s various committees, including a Diversity & Inclusion Committee, Membership Committee as well as a newly-formed Digital Innovation Committee. Annick is a firm believer in the Kaizen ethos and is a self-professed quantum physics aficionado!

PEOPLE: Moving overseas because the Australian film industry was “playing it safe”

Ola Endress is an Australian actor an content creator who wanted to be the change she wanted to see on Australian screens. But after extensive attempts, she found her most successful path to being part of a diverse film and TV industry would be to move overseas.

In Canada, she’s experienced the richness of an arts scene that welcomes and embraces diversity, while also working at a major video tech company. While she balances these two careers, Ola is hopeful that the Australian film and TV sectors will soon become more diverse and open-minded, creating exciting opportunities for all actors and content creators to thrive.

  • You moved to Canada after experiencing first-hand that the Australian film and media industries weren’t ready to show ‘diverse’ faces. Can you please share what that experience taught you, and why you felt the need to move to Canada?

I moved to Canada after realizing that the Australian film industry was not ready to show the rich diversity that Australia already has on TV screens throughout the country. Although I was still booking roles here and there, they weren’t roles that were prominent on screen.

Three years ago, I was offered a lead role for a popular Australian TV series, it came down to myself and one other actress for the part. I was told that although they loved my look, the show needed to play it safe. I felt disappointed in the industry that I looked up to throughout the years and realized nothing was going to change anytime soon. This experience taught me to take matters into my own hands and to think of different ways I could still achieve my dreams.

I felt the need to move overseas, to a country where they were already ahead of the game, encouraging actors who come from diverse backgrounds to audition for lead roles and to book them.

  • What have you noticed as the biggest differences in North America, when it comes to accepting or welcoming different people, ideas, and views?

Canada is very multicultural, just like Australia, and both have many similarities, so it is surprising to see how much farther ahead Canada is when it comes to the TV and film industries. The roles they are auditioning for are funnily enough reversed. Casting directors are wanting more diverse people to apply for lead roles, they want more than just the standard Caucasian look, which I believe was the complete opposite in Australia. I think the industry is realising that we are now living in different times compared to 5 or 10 years ago and that everyday people want to be able to relate to the characters they see on their screens.

They want to see that there are actors and characters that have diversity, that come from all types of different backgrounds. They want to be able to relate to them and build a relationship with the characters they watch, finally putting an end to diverse actors only playing stereotypical roles like they had in the past. This allows for more depth, more creativity, more conversations and ideas to be explored now than ever before.

I absolutely love the direction where the industry is heading towards and really would love Australia to get on board to the same capacity where Canada is at right now. The audience wants to see that the characters they watch are relatable to them especially in the times we are living in now.

I just moved back to Australia, so it will be interesting to see where the industry is now at and if things have changed since I left however I will have to patiently wait as the industry is at a complete halt while we deal with the current Covid-19 situation.

  • As someone who is half German and half middle eastern, have you experienced any discrimination since moving to Canada?

Not at all, in fact in the two years that I was living in Canada not once did I face any sort of discrimination, as it is already very multicultural and accepting of all backgrounds. I felt very accepted and really loved that about Canada.

  • You’re now working for a tech company – what encouraged this career shift or extension?

Fortunately, I was able to land a job for one of the largest video tech companies in the world, which happens to be based in Canada. I am especially fortunate that this company was created and founded by someone I look up to – a young, entrepreneurial woman who also comes from a diverse background.

The company I work for allows me to audition so that I can pursue my acting goals at the same time, which is a dream come true. I love that the industry I work in is very supportive and flexible, even more so that I am still able to work for the company right here in Australia now that I have returned back home.

  • What have you noticed about the issue of gender diversity in tech, which has a renowned and dire reputation in North America?

I feel as though the gender stereotype is now out-dated. Times have really changed and I am feeling blessed to live in a time in history where individuality and diversity are encouraged. There are just as many women as men, if not more, which work in the same company/field that I work in. It is exciting to see that we are building a future in the right direction where no minority or groups of people are being left out.

I truly believe we are on the right track as a society. We are all aspiring to have equal rights, not just for women, but all genders and people who come from different backgrounds as well.

About the expert

Ola Endress is an Australian actress, content creator and also works for one of the largest video tech companies in the world. She loves to inspire people to make the most out of life by doing what they love, living life to its fullest and seizing every opportunity that comes our way.

She believes there should be no boundaries when it comes to achieving your goals and if there are roadblocks that are stopping you from reaching your goals, then to pave a new way to get to where you want to be.

PEOPLE: 84% of girls rate their self-belief and self-love below a 5/10 – Milly Bannister’s mission to change the stats

Milly Bannister is the the Founder & Director of GRLKND, a non-profit organisation connecting young women to mental health resources.

GRLKND is an organisation build by and for women. With the purpose of advancing self-belief and kindness in high-school leaving and college-aged women, its self-development curriculum and online support community is backed by a board of female experts and psychologists.

The GRLKND App (free) supports a daily check-in experience to help users get to know themselves better and feel supported, and a ‘help me hub’ for instant access to mental health resources and crisis lines.

In this interview, Milly reflected on GRLKND’s journey so far, and why she wants to “represent and empower women to not only know they matter, but to chase and create realities they desire.”

  • What instigated you to build GRLKND? 

In the United States, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15–24 (10.6%). In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 15–24 (35%). These stats are terrifying. They indicate that, now, unlike ever before, young people are faced with a critical amount of risks to mental health. Traditional education may not effectively cover these areas of self-development in a relatable, accessible way. It’s only with judgement-free, peer-educational space and support that I was able to understand what mental health meant and why it mattered. Being able to label things and have your emotions and feelings validated is crucially important for young people. That’s exactly why GRLKND exists. Feeling supported is something every human deserves.

  • What was the original ambition for GRLKND and how has that evolved over time? 

Great question – it’s quite enjoyable (and a little cringe) to look back at what GRLKND looked like a couple of years ago during its conception in 2018. Originally, I wanted it to be an online program that facilitated a young woman’s journey towards self-love, kindness and confidence. Now the extensive ’online program’ that was written in co-ordination with our board of experts, exists on our site, socials and free App as a series of videos and worksheets. I guess the high-level evolution is pretty visible in the way we transitioned from a self-development program to a mental-health focused non-profit organisation.

  • Have you been surprised by the response to GRLKND? Why or why not? 

Initially I had a little bit of imposter syndrome – expecting the worst for my little concept I cooked up in my brain as a young, inexperienced businesswoman. The more I spoke about the idea and workshopped it and brought the pitch to industry-leading female experts, who helped shape what we are today, the more I realised how much young people need this space. Then of course the feedback we received from in-person workshops, social media, the podcast from our target demographic was beyond anything I could have ever expected. For me, supporting even just one person a day is a success.

  • In your view, what do you think are the biggest reasons for why 84% of girls rate their self-belief and self-love below a 5/10? 

I don’t think there’s a single, uncomplicated answer for that. It’s a whole barrage of events and circumstances culminating into a high-pressure, virtual, relentless monster that hangs heavy on the back of all of us, so heavier than others. This generation, that I’m a part of, (our target demo of female-identifying 15-25 year olds) grew up online. Traditional education, the more clinical psychologists, therapists, books and even our parents cannot actually comprehend what that’s like since they never experienced it.

I think it’s important for us to remember that yes, it’s possible for us to understand that the expectations we see on social media and in real life are only societal structures, while simultaneously struggling with self-perception, self-love and self-kindness. Some days are harder than others in this continuous journey towards self-acceptance, which is why at GRLKND, we want to support every moment of that and help each individual understand their worth, their value throughout every part of that.

  • How did you expand GRLKND to the US? 

I actually moved over to California in 2017 to finish my last year of a Bachelor of media/journalism and got to experience life on campus (yep, it’s just like the movies). I got certified in human research and suicide prevention while I was there and made lots of meaningful connections. Once I founded GRLKND in 2018, while living in NYC, things moved pretty quickly, as I was able to meet companies, brands and organisations in person and get the resources I needed to make an impact. I was able to partner with a high-school touring organisation to visit public high-schools across 6 different US States. Sadly our March tour got cancelled due to covid-19, but we’ll be back on the road in August for a bigger one! We’re still in early days, but soon I’d ideally love to host inter-campus conferences and events and retreats with high-school-leaving and college-aged girls. I think we could all use a community-focused, connection-building safe space, led by bad-a** female industry-leading experts.

  • What is your advice to other women considering starting a social impact organisation like you did? Any watch-outs to be aware of?

Honestly just go for it. If your heart is with the mission, and your intentions are honest, things will open up for you. Since everyone’s journey is different, make lots of mistakes quickly and move on. Just keep moving forward and reach out for help. You may be surprised by how incredibly ambitious, kind and serving this generation of women is. Empowered women empower women. Get it, girl.

About the expert

Milly Bannister is a communications expert, lifestyle journalist, mentor and creative director with over 175,000 followers. She’s the big sister/ BFF you always wanted, backed by a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism & Media, and certification in Human Research and Suicide Prevention.

As Founder & Director of mental health-empowerment and educational organization, GRLKND (est. 2018), her professional lifestyle and travel photos are filtered, but her words are not.

VIEW: Diversity is not just about how one looks

Madison Page is a proud Wiradjuri woman, currently working in the construction industry as a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Advisor, while also modelling with WINK models. In this interview, Madison outlines her broad-ranging career, from studying marine biology to working with Aboriginal business leaders, as well as her views on diversity – or lack thereof – in the modelling industry.

  • As a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) advisor, what does your day-to-day look like?

Each day is really different which is why I love it so much. I spend a lot of my time working on tenders and projects coming up with different engagement strategies to ensure we are providing equal opportunity to minority groups. The main minority focus group is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people not only because I, myself, am an Aboriginal woman but because we are mandated by a policy called the ‘Aboriginal Participation in Construction Policy’. I also work a lot with keeping relationships with Aboriginal businesses and Social Enterprises to ensure they are given the opportunity to work on our projects. 

  • What initially drove you to pursue a career in D&I, and how has your interest in this field evolved over time?

Funny story actually! I had studied Marine Biology at university and when applying for an Environmental role at my company I was given the opportunity to work in the D&I space given my previous work experience. I jumped at the idea as any opportunity not taken is wasted. I fell in love with making a difference in people’s lives and encouraging an inclusive workplace. There’s a lot of work that needs doing in the D&I space to break various stigmas and shift ancient mindsets, so it’s a challenge. For now I’m super passionate about what I can do to make things business as usual in the space and encourage change. 

  • You also have a modelling career – what have been your experiences as a Wiradjuri woman in the modelling industry and how do you think the industry currently responds to or embraces diversity?

Since I am white-passing and have been told a lot I look Asian, I have been cast in Asian roles. I understand the industry is very based on looks however, I am not an accurate portrayal of an Asian girl. I think this is where the industry misses the mark.

Diversity is not just about how one looks. When people from different cultural backgrounds come together you get a ‘diversity of thought’. Understandably, the modelling industry does not really require one to ‘think’ per se but it should have accurate representation and equal opportunity for cultures. I have felt terrible for taking opportunities for work from girls who are Asian and have felt very out place when on those jobs. 

  • If you could change one thing about the modelling industry, what would it be? Why?

It would be how biased it is. But every industry has a bias. It’s whether you know someone, how many Instagram followers you have, your height, your shape, your measurements, your look. Granted each client has different requirements but it can be so hard to get your foot in the door when subconscious bias is a thing. 

  • Who are your greatest role models, and what influence have they had on your life?

Growing up I loved Jessica Mauboy because she was an Aboriginal woman who made a name for herself and at the time I wanted to be a professional singer, so it seemed to fit. More so now, it’s my mum. She managed to juggle being a single mum and raising two kids. She’s showed me how to be independent and to work for what you want. 

About the expert

Madii is 23 years old and a Wiradjuri woman who has grown up in Sydney, Australia. She is currently working as the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor for NSW/ACT at a construction company and has worked in the modelling industry. She loves spending my time in the ocean and with friends, and is passionate about making a difference to people and to the planet. 

PEOPLE: How Stephanie started two businesses at home with $1,000 each

Stephanie Ferrara is an entrepreneur at heart. She started her first business while studying design, and then expanding into a second business as well as continuing a career as a designer.

In this interview, Stephanie shares how, from humble beginnings, she built two brands and hundreds of products she’s proud to call hers.

  • What’s your first memory of you as an ‘entrepreneur’? When did the journey begin?

I was working in our brick and mortar retail store for Life in the Sun (Which was previously known as My Store Sydney) and I had the phone ringing, emails flowing, orders coming through and I was sending out wholesale contracts for new stockists of our Label Gerrycan Active and I had just finished my design degree and at that moment I knew I was onto something. 

So cliché, but hard work will always be the first and foremost important element to becoming an entrepreneur. Within a few months of graduating I was already working as a successful designer, having launched a label during my studies in 2015. Gerrycan Active + Swim was with my mum Olga Harmat. The brand went from selling five items per month to over 500 per month, with online stockists and estimates that they would reach 1000 pieces per month by the end of 2018. 

  • At the age of 25, you already have two businesses of your own. How do you prioritise each of their needs and the time to dedicate to each of them?

It’s never simple. Not one day is the same as the day before or day after. I spend most of my time buying overpriced stationary and desk accessories to mentally prepare for the many hats I wear. 

At different times of the year, the two businesses demand more attention. 

My business partner Olga and I are both a team and so we really play on our strengths. I am very operational and creative and Olga is more creative and bigger picture. Our CFO makes sure it all happens without any disasters. We can both get hot handed with a credit card when we have these big dreams in front of us. 

I have both emails flowing throughout the day for both businesses. I try and split my time by first and second half of the day with priority lists for both, complete by 11am. 

I start early and finish late but I dedicate an equal balance and so does my business partner. We alternate and we are only working on the same business in meetings, other than that she is focused on the opposite business to me day to day to ensure we never neglect demands of each business. 

  • What’s your advice to other business owners, currently doing it tough in terms of how to plan ahead during a downtime?

I may be young, but I started both businesses with $1000 dollars. Yes, you heard it right. Start documenting all costs associated with your business. Make sure you itemise what is important, what is key, and what is a luxury. More often than not, cutting costs can be more refreshing than you can imagine. It allows you to regroup and adjust your focus. 

For example, we were paying $14USD for an app that was great 3 years ago on our site. Now, I cancelled the app and instead learned how to embed our Instagram feed once and for free. YouTube and education, as well as research on how to stay relevant and up to date is vital, and so is the extra $14USD in my bank account. It means I can put that into apps or programs that will enable conversion and visibility. Education and thinking are the most important, whether you have $5 in your bank account left after your bills, or $5 million. We all have the same amount of hours in a day. Find value in yours and put into play what you learn! 

  • What’s your approach to business planning and how are you maintaining or change that at the moment?

At the moment we are seeing a big focus on website design and user friendly accessibility, and we are focusing on expanding ranges but being able to deliver them in a really beautiful way that is easy for our target market to use, or for new shoppers and clients who might be new to our target market. 

We want to be accessible to all and by looking at new ways of displaying our websites, we hope to be able to make life a little easier as we navigate this new way of the world working. 

Business planning needs to be flexible, adaptable, reactive but forward thinking. I never thought I would be selling Activewear to 70 y/o Susan from London from my inner city (tiny) studio. But I now know my reach and I need to be able to cater to everyone, not just the first target group I established when starting each business. 

  • What are you most excited about in the graphic design world for 2020?

If you follow me on my personal Instagram @stephanieferrara_ or on my design filled @laidbacklee_design you will see that I am an avid fan of muted tones, monochromatic themes and bold lettering, fonts and shapes on a neutral base. I think 2020 is a time where people have more time for fun, for art and for design. I am loving that people are exploring their passions as we are all working from home and isolating. I love seeing the emergence of flowing lines and shapes, genuine and authentic imagery (moving away from dreaded stock photos), simple and heavy fonts – love a bit of drama. Last but not least, abstract and dreamy illustrations and graphics. 

I hope in both Life in the Sun and Gerrycan Active + Swim, we are able to implement and appropriate some 2020 graphic design trends in what we offer our clients! 

About the expert

A designer, swimwear enthusiast, entrepreneur and fashion + beauty lover. Stephanie is someone who loves helping make a noise for people who need to be heard. With two retail businesses selling worldwide and a design and styling hustle on the side, there’s no stopping Steph with her ambitions to be able to provide to all. From designing swimwear, to head buyer for Life in the Sun Store, or meeting with clients for their latest interior design projects as part of Laid Back Lee Design services, the hub of business, the teams for success and the clear vision for each company, Steph has mastered the art of wearing multiple hats and dominating markets. All it took for her was a degree in design, a mood board for each company and a lot of hard work. Stephanie is your go-to for motivation and inspiration.