PEOPLE: Propelling South-East flavours and cooking into MasterChef

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Depinder Chhibber? 

A normal day for me would start off with a cup of Chai and catching up on what is going on around me. I love to cook so I try to have a combined breakfast with lunch or brunch which would typically be smashed avocado toast with eggs.

I spend a lot of my day reading, researching and experimenting with recipes or ideas which have been floating in my mind. My afternoon is generally catching up on emails, chores, and sometimes a sneaky baking session.
Evenings are reserved for family be it a cup of chai with everyone or cooking dinner for them.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

Being a pharmacist I have always preached for diversity and inclusion. It is something which always come naturally to me, which I am grateful for.
I belong to a heritage where inclusion through food is something we learn at a very young age.

Food for me is an expression of love and care, something we find common in all cultures and backgrounds. For me cooking the food I love to eat is my way of inviting people into my culture and my home.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

Moving to another country comes with its own challenges. We had no family in Australia and culturally it was so different to India so there was a lack of sense of belonging. I started working at a very young age and there were times where I had to prove myself more so than usual however, I have been quite blessed in terms of my work colleagues and employers who always accepted me for who I am.


The youth today is far more daring than I was growing up in Australia, so my message to them would be that following your dreams and passions has nothing to do with your background or coming from a minority so please follow your dreams. There will always be someone who might not accept you for who you are but there will be plenty of others who will love you for being yourself so focus on the positives. We only have one chance to live this life right so why not start now?

Want to follow and support Depinder Chhibber?

You can follow me on social media, @depinder_ (Instagram); Depinder Chhibber Masterchef Australia (Facebook).

About the diversity champion:

Born in New Delhi, Depinder Chhibber moved to Newcastle at the age of 11. Now based in Sydney, she still considers herself a Novocastrian, but her heart and soul remains in India. Highly influenced by the women in her family, Depinder grew up watching her grandmother, mum and aunties cook, fascinating and inspiring her to cook from a very young age. This involvement has nurtured her style of cooking, learning many traditional recipes from her mother and her passion to cook from her father. Having followed in her father’s footsteps to become a pharmacist and currently studying for her Masters, Depinder enjoys her career. However, cooking is a passion that she can’t ignore, with much of her free time spent reading recipes and daydreaming about cooking experiments. Depinder is inspired by Indian and South East Asian flavours. As a self-taught baker, she adores cooking pastry and desserts.

Image description: Depinder is wearing a MasterChef Australia apron whilst wearing a brown top


PEOPLE: The community lawyer championing diversity from the front

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Tu Le? 

I have ‘Me Time’ scheduled in my calendar every morning. My mornings include meditation, stretching, giving my dog Cleo lots of cuddles, reading, walking Cleo, and having a cup of coffee with my partner while we read from ‘The Daily Stoic’ – not always in the same order. Having a consistent routine, particularly in the morning, is important to me and helps me stay energised throughout the day. I try to work between 9-5 as much as possible, as I usually have after-hour meetings and events on during the week. With the easing of restrictions, I’m back to team sports, social gatherings, and face-to-face meetings. Wednesday and Sunday evenings are my basketball game nights. I have weekly scheduled meetings for a few of the organisations and projects I am currently working on. My Sunday mornings are dedicated to the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association where I teach dharma classes to young Buddhists. I catch up with my family and friends around these commitments.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I work in the community legal sector assisting people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities who are disadvantaged by our legal system, so diversity and inclusion is critical to the work that I do. I am constantly striving to break down the barriers that make it difficult for people to access legal help. This means ensuring our services are targeted, culturally-appropriate and being approachable as well as accessible. A lot of people, particularly newly arrived migrants or refugees don’t even know community legal centres exist. Some people don’t seek help from a lawyer as they think it is too expensive, or they think they don’t need legal advice for their matter, but it’s important that people understand their rights and legal options. No one should be disadvantaged because they can’t afford a lawyer, don’t speak English or aren’t aware of their rights.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I have faced my share of challenges in my professional career as a young woman of colour. Unfortunately, it is not an uncommon experience to be confronted by prejudice and discrimination, often because of people’s biases or assumptions about you because of who you are or where you live. I have always been opened to learning and making mistakes. You should never be afraid to ask for help – I asked a lot of questions when I first started my career, and still do! Over the years, I also gained the confidence to challenge the status quo. Just because things have always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean that should continue. People with different lived experiences contribute unique perspectives and ideas. It can be refreshing and spark the type of out-of-the-box thinking needed for creativity and innovation across any industry. I feel fortunate that throughout my career, I have been able to demonstrate my competence and capabilities with outcomes. Actions speak louder than words. Talk is cheap and not everyone is afforded the opportunity to be heard. It’s important to show your worth, and in my personal experience, sometimes this means working twice as hard just to be seen. Also, I only recently embraced my identity as a Vietnamese-Australian woman as an advantage rather than an impediment that stops me from smashing the proverbial ceilings foisted on me.


Don’t be afraid to embrace your identity as a hyphenated Australia. Australia is becoming an increasingly diverse society and what it means to be Australian is ever-evolving. Your cultural heritage is an asset to this country. In 2021 and beyond, we should be moving from mere tolerance to cultivating our cultural diversity as central to our national identity. Young people are pivotal to that shift.

Want to follow and support TU LE?

Instagram: @therealtule

About the diversity champion:

Tu is a lawyer, community worker, advocate, and organiser who grew up in South-West Sydney. She works in the community legal sector as a community development manager and solicitor assisting CALD communities, particularly male perpetrators and victim-survivors of domestic and family violence. She is also the co-founder of YCollab and a Youth Leader at the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association. Tu is a second-generation Australian-born woman with Vietnamese heritage, with her family coming to Australia as refugees after the Vietnam war. She lives to serve her local community and improve the lives of others; to make our society fairer and more equitable, especially for the most vulnerable members in her community. As a beneficiary of the public education system, Tu understands the life-changing significance of a good education and decent employment opportunities can have on individuals and their families.

Image description: Tu Le is looking at the camera while sitting on a bench, wearing a red jumper

PEOPLE: Award-Winning Director and Producer driving diverse perspectives onto the big screen

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Hawanatu Bangura? 

For me, a normal day when I’m working on my business, it will be first off when I wake up, I tend to do stretches, so I’ll do yoga or another kind of movement. Call your cheek. So I’ll do that for like maybe 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on how much time I’ve got. And then also just wanted to say that I work from home, so I have the luxury of time. Then after that, I just get ready, have a shower, brush my teeth and, you know, just dress in whatever I want to dress in and feel really refreshed for the day. So once I’ve done that, I will go and make myself a cup of tea or just warm water with lemon. First thing in the morning, I’ll drink. Or sometimes I just include ginger or something else. It’s all just kind of like healthy stuff I’m trying to get into. And and then I’ll have breakfast, which includes muesli and fruit salad. So that’s the healthiest part of my day. And once I’ve done that, I will get on my I’ll create a to do list of all the things I want to do and prioritize the most cogent ones. So but before I start my task, I usually check my emails and just reply to people that I need to. And then once I finish that, I just start with my task.

So, like most of my time is spent like on the computer and you know, whether that’s like creating new content or developing developing a proposal. So a lot of admin things because of my because of my business and I sometimes have meetings as well inside in the morning or in the afternoon with different people who want to collaborate with me. So we’ll have like. It can be on Zoom, usually with the lockdown and everything. It’s been on Zoom. But before that, yeah, I might be able to meet with the person, maybe at a cafe or their office as well. So I’ll do that. And I also tend to go like during my lunch break, I’ll go for a walk. So I live in the inner west and have the luxury of, you know, like going for a walk and going to the park. And then I’ll come back, have lunch and then continue with more work and then buy each other. I don’t really have a set period when I finish work, but let’s say by late afternoon, I’ll wrap up and then, yeah, just relax for the rest of the evening. Sometimes I just play games with my partner and we have dinner or we watch Netflix, so you know, it’s just something to wind down. So that’s a typical day for me.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

For me, as a filmmaker and and a woman of color, I feel like it’s very important to have authentic and diverse representations of people on screen and also off screen as well. What I do notice now, you know, there has been like throughout the years, couple of years now, there has been some sort of diversity. I think that’s like the, you know, the new way that we’re going, which is really good seeing people on screen. But it would also be nice to see that captured with more people off screen as well as crew members. But just going back to when I started in the film industry in 2009, I made my first film like I never saw anyone that really looked like me. You know, venturing into this, you know, it was it was sort of a risky career path to take. So I didn’t have any role models, and I just have to figure out what to do on my own and maybe get the film industry, which is predominantly made up of, you know, which is predominantly white in a way. And and so for me, I find that that was that was quite hard as someone who’s coming up and, you know, we want to see someone who is from like a refugee background or an immigrant person who is making films and, you know, trying to follow their path. But that was not there.

And I find myself exploring and networking and going to different places. But you know, I did find opportunity to connect with some people, but there’s a level of connection that you have with someone who has gone through similar experiences to you and can give you advice as well. I feel like that was missing in my case, but also in terms of diversity and inclusion. And Australia like this is, you know, Australia as Australians, you know, we really praise ourselves about how multicultural we are, but that’s not reflected in the TV shows and in the movies that we even sell out to the international community. So for me, I really realized this when I went overseas to film festivals where people were always surprised that they’re Africans in Australia, even Asians. So other people decide what they see on TV. You know, they’re not about the indigenous people. But beside that and Caucasians, there was no one else in the picture. And this really does a disservice to our to our nation because this is not what is reflected within Australia. So for me, I feel like it’s really essential that the, you know, the media and everything sort of, you know, keep up with with the fact that this is this is, you know, how things should be, you know, diversity and inclusion is really essential for our community, for our society to thrive.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I have to say in terms of like challenges directly based on my identity, not necessarily. Or I might have been oblivious to it, but nothing that really impacted on me in such a way. But just from my own observation of. Like my because I’ve been in the industry for like 12 years now, and just reflecting on that, I have experienced, you know, tokenism. So, you know, whereby like, you know, you just it’s something that’s even though it’s not told, but when things keep consistently happening or people keep approaching you for certain things or put in. Me in a box that I don’t necessarily want to be in. I find that quite contriving and, you know, there has been some quite a few experiences of that tokenism, which I am totally now that I’ve evolved into what I do now, like I can totally identify it. And there’s some things that I will say no to because I can sense that that’s what it is like. There’s nothing essential behind it. There’s no good intentions beside like, Oh, you know, we’ve got diversity, and here is this person, one person that’s part of the, you know, part of this whole thing. But there’s several other people as well people of color who are not being recognised in that way or or it’s just even the language that is used that is, you know, not necessarily empowering. So for me, that’s one thing. And being in the film industry, it is very there is challenges I find am I don’t necessarily be due to my background or identity, but what I find is that when a person is emerging filmmaker, we tend to find there is more opportunities in that level.

From my own experience that, you know, there’s opportunities here, there’s opportunities there to to gain experience to learn about the industry. But the next step from there is where there’s a wall, and that wall is really hard to break because once you’re not emerging anymore, you’re not really like established where you’re in the middle. It’s kind of like a limbo place, and that’s quite challenging, I think for a lot of people in my either make or break. And for me, that’s where I emerge with my with my social enterprise, my creative, because I didn’t necessarily see myself fitting into the film industry. And I consider myself as a storyteller. So I then I’m not necessarily just a filmmaker, but I can tell stories in different mediums and that’s what I wanted to do. And I also wanted to create a initiatives that will help people to transform their personal stories as well. So something empowering. And I also wanted to incorporate my social work skills into it. So none of this really, you know, is something it’s not a position that’s created for me. I had to create it for myself, have to pave my own way in other for like just for the vision that I have for my own career. I think that’s that’s the way I’m going now. So it’s a combination of my social work and filmmaking passion. Combined together is what I have as my social enterprise now, which I really enjoy.

I wake up every day and I’m very enthusiastic about it. So for me, that’s very important and I also like working on other people’s start, like working on other people’s, collaborating with other filmmakers and making their work as well as producer or whatever extent it is. But I feel like the greater impact for me comes from the vision that I have. That’s bigger and I think in in a place like Australia, this is what I find as well. I had the experience of travelling overseas to attend film festivals and met other filmmakers, and I get an understanding of the way they work. You know, a lot of places that don’t have, you know, government initiative. So those sort of things, so they have to work triple had and from there for them to go from nothing or start from scratch to something, you know, make something amazing happen. They have to have a vision for that. And I thought, that’s what I need and having the right people to come on board to work with me and make that vision possible because that’s what is really important in in Australia right now. You know, we may not fit into us. Some of us that come from migrant background might not necessarily fit into that niche or that box of the film industry. We can create our own of what we want to see, you know, with social consciousness, social justice and all the sort of things that are important to us as well.


The one piece of advice just connecting with what I mentioned before, it’s really I think the greatest thing is don’t be limited by yourself. Don’t be limited by the external barriers, but also your mindsets as well, because their true levels of barriers that you may be facing. You doubting yourself. And also people that are doubting you or not giving you the chance to to do what you you want to do. And I say, once you’re really passionate about filmmaking, it is very hard. It’s one of the most hardest industries to be in and you have to work with people. It’s not just one person, but you have to work with a crew of people or even actors and all these things, sir, you really got to be, you know, you really got to have like a tough game going into it and know that it’s not just, you know, what probably we see with people who have become more established like the Hollywood directors or filmmakers. You know, that is like the, you know, the pivotal point of whatever it is you get to showcase. But in the film industry itself, it’s just like, you know, it’s it’s a hustle. So, you know, really knowing who you are intuitively and making decisions based on your intuition and what seems right for you in terms of the people you get on board to work with you in terms of the stories you want to tell as well. And don’t just see that you know that someone has told a story or whatever it is, think about what angle you can tell the stories because most of the stories are pretty much recycled.

Want to follow and support HAWANATU ?

Hawanatu Bangura| filmmaker|writer| director| Australia

Facebook and Instagram handle: Mahawa Creative

About the diversity champion:

Hawanatu Bangura is an Afro-Australian award-winning director, writer and producer. She was part of the prestigious Screen Producers Australia: One to Watch program in 2017. Born in Sierra Leone, she migrated to Australia in 2002 and as a teenager discovered her interest in filmmaking when she was involved in a youth film project. She took the creative lead to make a short film and realised her passion for storytelling, creativity, and expression could be best channeled through the medium of film. Hawanatu relentlessly pursued this passion, attending her first filmmaking workshop and shortly after wrote and directed her first short narrative film about the experience of a person from an African background challenges and triumphs of settling in Australia.

Image description: Hawanatu is looking at the camera with a gleaming smile


Local indigenous business-woman, Julie Okely, of Dilkara, is set to face 30 of Australia’s top CEOs and business leaders, at the 2021 Global Sister Pitch.

Not-for-profit organisation, Global Sisters, will host the third national Sister Pitch. The online event will see local businesswoman, Julie Okely, a proud Kamilaroi woman, face a panel of high profile CEOs, founders, and senior executives to pitch her Indigenous range of hair products, Dilkara Essence of Australia. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Julie Okley? 

I love my “normal” days because they offer so many opportunities to my businesses along with connections with family and friends. A usual day starts at 8.00am (which to some seems a little late but I am a self-confessed night owl) with a black coffee and time with my two Pomeranian puppies. It then leads into getting ready for the day ahead. I am usually in my office at 9.00 checking emails and compiling the to-do list for the day. By 9.30 I am starting to see my Dilkara Hair clients, as I have a salon built into my house. 

I have had this business for over 20 years now, and many of my clients are long time customers and I have seen many new babies grow to graduate high school, even University. I am lucky enough to have my office in close proximity to the salon, so I am able to work in the office whilst my clients are having colours and we chat and enjoy the quiet time!

It is not unusual for me to work in the salon for at least a 10-12 hour day. I tend to prepare meals during the processing times and I am an amazing multitasker that can also do the odd household chore or prepping the many online orders that need to be shipped out via our courier company for the next day, whilst I am making a cappuccino at the same time!

At the end of the day, I have usually had online meetings with my web design team, graphic designers and our social media guru Dish, who works remotely for Dilkara. It isn’t unusual for me to place several orders with manufacturers to maintain a consistent level of Dilkara hair, skin and hygiene products – that are made here in Australia. My pet hate is when the stock sells out and I need to have a slight delay for new orders coming in.

I often have phone conversations with my business team in Melbourne to see where Dilkara can be seen next, and focus on the growth of the business.

At other times, I can be found in conversations about my new book being made into a TV Series, with my co-author Simone Hamilton or our TV Production company based in Sydney.

An important part of my day is organising all of my paperwork and financials for my bookkeeper. This helps me see the financial health of my business and assists me in understanding where things need to be changed or added.

I usually end the day with a nice relax and a mental breakdown of the day, and where it went well.I love what I do, but I do find it easy to switch off when I need to, and even though I tend to have a lot of energy, I give every day it’s all (unless it’s my day off and I love Netflix time!)

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I have been in the Hairdressing industry for over 30 years of my life and I think when we talk of hairdressing, diversity and inclusion immediately comes to mind.

I find this topic comes with a sense of normality in this industry, as we love anything that its outside the norm, and we want, and need diversity and inclusion in our industry.

Creativity conjures up thoughts of diversity and feelings of expression. We showcase our ability to show our true personalities through fashion, design and colour! Just look at the kaleidoscope of colours available to utilise on any colour chart. Last week I did two amazing expressive colours that brought out the wonderful personalities of my clients using orange, black, purple and pink.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

A challenge that I faced in my professional career because of my identity…? That is a tough question. I think identity hasn’t really been an issue for me because I identify as a proud Aboriginal woman and I own that. It is part of who I am, so to me, it’s not a debateable topic. But on my personality…? Sure, I can sometimes come across as open and driven, sometimes to the point of being too blunt at times. I don’t apologise for that, as I honestly feel where I am coming from is a place of concern and compassion, I just don’t offer it with fluffy fairy floss.

Maybe that is the strength I derive from my heritage. There has been so many challenges for the Indigenous peoples in this country, I believe it’s a story that needs to be told and we need to remind Australians we are all in it together and we all deserve a voice. 

I don’t think it is wrong to believe in yourself and aim to do the best you can, by your own standards.


Feel special. You are unique because where you have been placed in this world. One voice has a powerful impact and I think if your voice is one for positivity, you should stand tall and focus on the positive things you bring to your community. 

Everyone is an individual and no one person is more important than another, but how you share that message can come from a place of good. Create a movement of positive change, don’t sit with conformity and hope you see amazing things comes from a lack of involvement. No one ever won watching the game.

Be kind, be true and be focused. Write up your goals and your dreams for the future and aim for them, no matter how long it takes to get there. Life is a journey and it is never a straight line with instant success. Our knowledge stems from all of the things we learn not to do – just like many entrepreneurs in our history. Find your favourite one and use their story to inspire you to achieve your dream for your own life. As they say, find someone that does it well and follow their footprint, you too will leave yours.

Oh, and never base your success story on the pigment of your skin colour. Remember a cup of tea is still a cup of tea, with or without milk.

Want to follow and support ?

Instagram: Dilkara_Australia

Facebook: Dilkara Australia

About the diversity champion:

(she/her) Julie Okely is the award-winning founder and creator of Dilkara products. She has won the 2016 NAIDOC Business Woman of the Year, Supply Nation Indigenous Businesswoman of 2017 and Winner of The best new business 2016 Canberra Women in Business Awards. In 2015, Her Canberra named her as one of the 15 Women to Watch in 2015

Image description:

PEOPLE: Finding your ‘WHY’ to achieve your goals

Yemi Penn is a fearless businesswoman and thought leader on creating your own memo, meaning ‘she’ gets to write the script of her life and she encourages others to do the same.

We speak to Yemi about what her day-to-day looks like and how she found her ‘why’ in achieving all her accolades and the many hats she continues to wear.

Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Yemi Penn? 

Ha! This feels like a trick question but pre-covid and covid days vary a lot. In the spirit of manifestation, this is what my day should look like.

My alarm goes off at 4.45am, I make my 5.30am F45 class, there is an 80% chance I beast mode in that class and then I’m set up for the day. I would then head home, meditate, although I get distracted with the gram so this needs further work. I then share the contents of my day with my partner to see if we have any gaps we could fill. I get my daughter (and son) ready for school.

My day is filled with variety, the mornings are about high impact deliverables as this is where my brain is on fire. So I am either building presentations, keynotes, programs or a campaign around my next documentary. By around 1pm, I need a nap….true story, I have a nap or at least get horizontal to trick the mind and body that I’m giving it rest. I have a mini second wind around 3pm which is where I make phone calls or focus on applications and/or emails.

I do eat somewhere in between but I rarely cook. I then go for a walk before dark and figure out what my daughter will eat as she is a fussy eater, and I don’t cook so it’s ‘hit and miss’

I will watch some crap tv if I’m a little wired or I get into house renovation/building programs with my partner as we plan the build of a mini retreat for our family and extended community.

During COVID? Remove all the freedoms and no F45…..ouch

How important is diversity and inclusion to you and in the work that you do?

So important, I no longer subscribe to lip service or shallow allyship. We can no longer survive, let alone thrive in a ‘sameness’ environment. D&I is a buzz word but it is necessary, the planet is sustained by a biodiverse community. Humanity needs to wake up and understand the importance of a diverse and inclusive world. I appreciate I tick a few diversity boxes and so when I work with clients, it is important I let them know why it matters that they invited me to the table but best believe I also build my own tables because according to research and data it will take decades for equality to be a thing and that is purely on a male/female gender basis, so this doesn’t take into account culture, neuro-ability, physical ability, non-gender. The work needed is deep.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I can’t say anyone has said something specifically to me based on the labels society give but the ‘jokes’ and ‘offensive’ (unconscious bias) comments cuts deep. I didn’t have the vocabulary or confidence back then to correct people, especially in a compassionate yet clear boundaries way. This is a skill we need to work on especially with kids who are still figuring out their identity as a human being, let alone the labels they were given.


Firstly, get clear on your goal. Noting a goal is a dream with a deadline so I invite you to dream big and often. Then put together an action plan and either find a mentor you share this with or an accountability partner, so you stay on track. It is important you think and write down ‘why’ you want to achieve these goals. This ‘why’ ideally will be so strong and rooted in your identity that you won’t ever let that dream go or worse, let your world given identity make you shrink. I personally find that when I am the ‘minority’ in a room, I imagine this superhero cape on my back and make sure I represent all marginalised groups in society even if I represent purely with my presence #blackgirlmagic

Want to follow and support yEMI?

I would love your support by following and engaging with me on my Instagram page, link below

Yemi Penn (@yemi.penn) • Instagram photos and videos

But what would really really help me and my ‘why’ is contributing towards my next documentary. $5 goes a long way as I take that as your energy and vibration to want to make the project succeed. You can learn more about the project and donate via the this link. Do We Choose the Experience Our Trauma Teaches Us? | Documentary Australia Foundation

About the diversity champion:

(she/her) Yemi Penn is a serial entrepreneur with a common thread of transformation, whether it be transforming Sydney’s rail network as an engineer, transforming physical health in her F45 gym or shifting the perspective of our minds as she supports people in creating a life that they not only want and deserve. More recently Yemi has added documentary producer to her repertoire as she shifts her core life’s purpose to raising the vibration of acknowledging and healing our individual and therefore collective trauma.

Image description: Yemi is looking at the camera wearing a yellow top

VIEW: The Rise and Importance of Ethical Fashion

The below is a guest post from Niccii Kugler, founder of ethical and sustainable online marketplace Nash + Banks.

In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed. Over 1000 were killed in the destruction, even though workers had been voicing their concerns over the building’s safety for weeks. 

In the years following the Rana Plaza disaster, conditions did improve with the introduction of The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Despite these changes, however, inequality remains rife, with the European Parliament using the term “slave labour” to describe the current working conditions of garment workers in Asia. 

How the fashion industry is interfering with human rights

It’s no secret that the fashion industry is a problematic one. And, although there have been many positive changes throughout the years, environmental issues and human rights abuses are still prevalent. The fact is that the majority of fashion retailers don’t own their manufacturing facilities. Subcontracting is incredibly common, making fashion supply chains a murky and complex labyrinth. Every twist and turn takes these brands further from accountability, and human rights violations are easily hidden from the public’s sight. Did you know:

  • The International Labour Organisation states that of the 260 million children in employment worldwide, 170 million are engaged in child labour, and at least 6 million are in forced labour.
  • In India and Bangladesh, the Fair Wear Foundation reports that at least 60% of garment factory workers experience harassment at work. However, this figure is likely to be underreported because of fear of retaliation.
  • An estimated 27 million people working in the fashion industry suffer work-related diseases or illnesses each year.

The rise of ethical fashion

The advent of COVID-19 forced many of us to reconsider our priorities and think about what mattered most to us, and investing in ethical and sustainable fashion is something that many consumers are embracing.

However, the fact is that the operating practices of clothing manufacturers are shrouded in mystery. If consumers want to find out where their clothing comes from, how it’s made, and the social and environmental impacts of production, we need to spend hours digging into reports and data, poring through statistics and lengthy essays. 

Luckily, there are resources that have done all the hard work for us – researching supply chains and certifications.  With easy access to a plethora of information on the environmental and social implications of fashion, we’re seeing a global cultural shift when it comes to purchasing decisions as millennials and Gen Zs grow their stake of spending power. Ethical, sustainable, minimal waste and slow fashion are gaining momentum, and brands are starting to take note. 

Riding the wave of change

These changes are starting to spill over into the mainstream with The Ethical Trading Initiative’s “Corporate Leadership on Modern Slavery” Report (which polled 61 global sourcing executives with a combined buying power of $100 billion) finding that 82% of companies believe that addressing human rights within their core business model is the most significant strategic indicator of corporate leadership on modern slavery. Meanwhile,  93% of companies highlighted that they have a responsibility not only to do everything in their power to address it but also to ensure that workers most affected are protected from further harm and compensated appropriately.

The fashion and textiles industry has, thus far, been slow to adapt and make the necessary changes to the status quo. But this all changed with the pandemic, which accelerated and magnified problems that already existed in the supply chain. With the advent of COVID-19, supply and demand levels were radically altered, while temporary trade restrictions and shortages highlighted weaknesses in production strategies. Multiple national lockdowns slowed and temporarily halted the flow of raw materials and finished goods. And, of course, numerous organisations suffered staff shortages and losses, which further impacted their operability. 

As global supply chains abruptly and drastically changed in 2020, this mass disruption has accelerated the need for a genuinely systemic transformation towards a more sustainable model. Intentional or not, our existing reality has changed, and it’s paved the path for a new way of doing things. 

About the expert

After the birth of her second child, Niccii Kugler found her awareness of the increasing cost  of overconsumption became really heightened. Frustrated by a sense of helplessness, she  started searching for brands that offered alternatives and discovered an inspiring community  of change-makers, innovators and artisans all dedicated to rewriting our future.  

However, the process of researching and vetting products and brands is time-consuming and when Niccii couldn’t find one  lifestyle platform that offered her what she was looking for she decided to build it herself. 

Curated online marketplace Nash + Banks was officially launched in 2018, providing conscious consumers with an easy way to discover and shop for brands and products that are committed to having a positive impact on people and the planet.

Image description: Niccii Kugler, founder of ethical and sustainable online marketplace Nash + Banks at home in Avalon Beach. Niccii is sitting on a wooden chair at her desk in front of a laptop. She is turning around and looking to the side. She has short, blonde hair and is wearing a sleeveless black outfit. There are photos and framed images on her walls, and a pot plant and guitar on either side of her desk.

PEOPLE: How Shanya is helping consumers transition from ownership to usership

According to recent research by Levi’s, more than half of Aussies admit that about 10% of the new clothes they purchase are only worn once, or not at all, which is no insignificant considering over 30% of Australians own between 50-150 pieces of clothing items.

Despite the rise in popularity of sustainable fashion, many Australians are still confused about the various labels and certifications, and are struggling with information overload or the challenge of having to do further research to know the difference between fact and spin.

One local entrepreneur, Shanya Suppasiritad, intends to address these issues by making it easier for consumers to simply buy less. Shanya’s new brand-to-consumer fashion rental technology, Rntr., cuts out the need for 3rd party hire platforms and allows consumers to rent products direct from the brand’s own e-commerce platform via the “Rent with Rntr” button.

In this interview, Shanya explains why she started Rntr., how it works, and what the future of sustainable fashion looks like for younger generations.

  • What sparked the idea behind Rntr.? 

As a former personal stylist, I realised how hard it was to be sustainable in the fashion industry. Essentially my job was to encourage people to buy more things and not everyone has the budget to only consume sustainable and ethical brands, and back when I was styling there weren’t so many of them either. 

Even those brands who were more ethical, can only be as sustainable as the system allows them to be. They still have to make more items to sell in order to make more money. I truly believe that that’s the issue we are all facing. I then thought to myself; how can I help fashion brands remain or increase the profit margin without producing more items?

That’s where Rntr. was born – a user-led design solution to provide fashion brands with a second revenue stream while producing less and connecting more with their consumers. 

  • How does it differ from the rental options already in the market? 

Rntr. works with fashion brands to enable them to offer the rental services directly from their own website to their customers. We are somewhat like a semi white label, we do all the heavy lifting while building brand trust so that customers can enjoy quality and authenticity of the garments and rental service. We want brands to be part of empowering and encouraging the change in consumer behavior by making it easier for them to create a circular experience for their customer as an additional option to buying. 

  • How did you know there would be a big enough market for this product? 

Consumer behavior is changing, and it’s driven by millennials and Gen Z. They no longer want to consume fashion in the traditional way. Millennials were the first to embrace the sharing economy and Gen Z were born into it, they value usership rather than ownership. 

Rntr. set out to drive the market rather than just taking the current market share. The fashion rental industry is sitting at 1% of the industry as a whole. Currently it’s being dominated by a few heavy weights. We have created a plugin solution and infrastructure that enables every single brand in the world to be able to participate in the rental market directly from their own website. In the next 5-10 years most brands will have to jump on board or they will be left behind. 

  • How are you seeing consumer attitudes around sustainable fashion shifting in 2021? 

Since 2017 the consumer’s behavior has already begun to change, and the search for ‘sustainable fashion’ has increased significantly. 2021 is going to be interesting. We are all still recovering from COVID and adjusting our lives to the ‘new normal’. 

According to the Good On You article, “Research by McKinsey revealed “57% of shoppers agreed that they had made significant changes to their lifestyles to lessen their environmental impact.” What’s more, the study found that “64% of shoppers decreased their spending on clothing and footwear during the pandemic.” So it looks like conscious shoppers will keep pushing brands to produce more eco-friendly and responsible clothing in 2021.

Brands will be asked to do more and won’t get away with anymore Greenwashing in exchange for their customers to keep swiping their credit cards. They need to find a way to engage deeper with their consumers beyond one time purchasing. 

  • What are your plans for Rntr. over the next 3 years? 

We are on track to bring more brands on board to step into the rental market. We have a really cool partnership that we are cooking up – it’s all very exciting! In 3 years we are hoping to be able to provide accessibility to most people that don’t want to own a rotation section of their wardrobe anymore, they rather have access to it when they choose to do so.

About the expert

Shanya Suppasiritad is a Sydney-based former personal stylist and fashion designer turned entrepreneur who was motivated to make a positive change to the toll the fashion industry is taking on the planet after watching the documentary The True Cost.  Recognising that the sharing economy had potential for fashion, she founded peer-to-peer wardrobe-sharing platforms Tumnus and Coclo in 2018 and 2019 respectively, before turning her focus to helping brands rent directly to their customer base. In 2021 Suppasiritad unveiled Rntr, an all-in-one software and logistics solution. The next generation fashion rental technology provides a customised branded subscription website for brands whilst managing warehousing, dry cleaning, packaging, pick, pack and post service for them and simplifying the process of renting fashion for consumers.

Image description: Shanya is sitting cross-leffed on a chair, wearing a black T-shirt, red floral pants, and white sneakers. She is smiling and looking to the side, with one hand in her long, black, wavy hair.

Image by Monica Pronk.

People: How hairdressing paved the way towards a diverse and inclusive mentoring platform

The below is a guest post from Joan Dellavalle, owner of Ebony and Ivory.

As an international student who arrived in Perth from Zambia in 2001, I had never felt so excluded as when I sat in a local hairdresser chair trying to get my hair washed and blow dried. The experience though gave me the courage to use whatever savings I had to study, become a hairdresser and open my own inclusive salon space – Ebony and Ivory.

What does an inclusive salon space look like?

For me, it is a space where people of all backgrounds – race, colour, culture – can come in and not feel like what I felt two decades ago: that having a different type and style of hair is not something to be ashamed of, but an opportunity to learn more about other people’s diversity – their uniqueness.

Achieving an inclusive social space such as Ebony and Ivory does not have its roots in large amounts of funding or being able to recreate the current “it” style.

Instead, it comes down to acceptance and a genuine interest to listen, discover and empathise with other people’s stories – funnily something that I feel are the characteristics you need when you are a hairdresser!

After all, how many of us have talked non-stop, divulging often personal stories or funny incidents with our hairdressers?

To that end, creating an inclusive salon space at Ebony and Ivory involved:

  • Creating a warm brand that says “we’re open to anyone.” It’s amazing how things such as the design of your logo and what language and image you post on social media can say about you and your business!
  • Hiring and training hairdressers from diverse backgrounds and importantly with an interest in not just hair but the people under the comb, hairdryer, colour brush.
  • Taking that inclusive space to outside of the four walls of a salon! More on this…

From the salon to the streets of Perth

Hair salons are a grapevine of stories and I realised, a place to understand more what’s happening “out there.”

Two styles of stories generally come out – one of inspiration and the other of challenges – the latter often of how young people are lacking positive role models and the opportunity to learn about diversity, difference and a different perspective.

After years of listening to such countless, remarkable stories, I was reminded of how in Zambia, we would spend time with our Elders, just listening and talking as they shared their knowledge and wisdom. Here we learnt about the power of listening, of possibilities, of accepting, of being open to difference.

The stories and my experience of sharing them gave me the idea to create a diverse and inclusive space to the streets of Perth. That’s how the Ebony & Ivory Masterclasses and Mentoring Program began!

Since 2017, I have myself run more than 21 lifeskills Masterclasses, sharing my own story of changing exclusion towards inclusion and collaborating with role models (such as Dr Rishelle Huma, CEO of Indigenous Women in Mining, Florence Drummond and international educator and Oprah’s favourite guest of all time, Dr Tererai Trent) who didn’t let difference get in their way of achieving their dreams and also advocating for diversity and inclusion.

We start the Masterclasses with setting a promise to each other how we can all contribute to creating a safe, inclusive and diverse space to gather.

These Masterclasses are mostly aimed at adolescents – to date we’ve had over 80 – go through one-day through to seven week programs, designed around learning and accepting difference via immersive storytelling such as:

  • Watching the movie and talking about A Wrinkle in Time to talk about differences in spirituality;
  • Collaborating with relevant organisations such as Edmund Rice Centre to connect and listen to stories of refugees;
  • Open discussions about bullying and overcoming stigma, run by youth leaders or positive role models who have themselves experienced these challenges.

You know that it is possible for anyone, everyone, including a small business such as mine, to make a difference when you have the same young people return to your programs – confident and comfortable in themselves – to teach others about acceptance.

About the expert

Joan Dellavalle is the creative mind behind Ebony & Ivory hair and beauty. The Perth celebrity stylist and fashion designer has forged her Zambian routes into building the powerhouse salon that is Ebony & Ivory. The refreshing and colourful energy of Joan allows each client to feel as they are family when they walk through the Perth CBD store.

To find out more about Ebony and Ivory and our work towards a more diverse and inclusive community:

Image description: Joan is standing with her hands together, presenting in front of an audience, with three black, leather armchairs behind her. She is wearing a dark green velvet blazer over a matching green blouse, has blue, curly hair, and is smiling.

PEOPLE: How Cherie Johnson built her business, lost it overnight during the pandemic, and started again

Five years ago, Cherie Johnson started her business, Speaking in Colour, to enable and improve education around Aboriginal perspectives. After several successful years of business growth, the pandemic led to a significant business downturn, and Cherie had to start again.

In this interview, Cherie shares why she started Speaking in Colour in the first place, and how she has perservered through tough times to ensure the business is still moving forward today.

  • What prompted you to start your own business? 

Speaking in Colour Pty Ltd was established in 2016 with the vision to support educators, and embrace and implement Aboriginal perspectives into the classroom. It is mandatory for all teachers to do so however, there are simply not enough local resources to support the teachers in doing this well.

The business started when I was on leave from teaching with my young children. Project work creating resources at night allowed me the opportunity to stay at home with my young family and still make a difference in education by supporting my colleagues.

  • How did you determine the business model and services for the business? How did you know whether there was a market for what you were offering? 

There are several arms to the business. The first was the professional development and resources for the teachers. This started organically as several of the projects I worked on in the early stages were for galleries, creating pre- and post-exhibition resources for the teachers to support the students visiting. This helped engage the students in their learning, developing a greater understanding of the content while the teachers felt empowered by the approved teaching support material.

Demand drove the supply and diversification of the resources, leading into education kits, cultural programs at schools linked to key learning area (KLA) outcomes and further endorsed professional development.

From this place we had enquires from the business, government and corporate sectors. Over time we refined our offerings, which we continue to diversify and modify to suit geographic location, objectives, and fit for the organisation size including online offerings.

Today our span crosses preschool professional development right up to the corporate space with the aim to support organisations’ and individuals’ cultural education journeys through our training and cultural experiences.

  • What have been your biggest challenges with running your own business? 

Learning how to run a business while balancing the why, that is making sure the impact we want to achieve is in the forefront of our mind. It’s one thing to work in your business, it’s another to work on it well. Understanding billable hours, time and money budgets, working smarter by understanding your demographic and how to make the impact you hope you can.

  • How did the pandemic impact your business? 

Massively, we lost 100% of our business overnight.

So, we took the opportunity to get busy and work on all the research and development we had wanted to do for ages. Fortunately, one of our large contracts advised we could continue with our training contract if we could go online. For a long time I had wanted to create an online option to supplement and support our professional development for teachers and business/government – here was the opportunity. Within three weeks we had over 10 hours of content created and at pilot stage. We continued to create and with a brilliant team we were able to deliver the contract better than we had originally expected.

Post-COVID, if that is where we are, we are back to delivering programs and products we had pre-COVID, however we now also have several other online options we are constantly refining.

  • In your view, how did the events of 2020 impact the way Australians view Aboriginal culture? Has this impacted the way you run your business?

There is a growing awareness of injustices and rightly so. I have found the majority of Australians are surprised when taught the real history of this country and surprised at the level of racism, systematic disadvantage and disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people still evident today despite an individual’s socioeconomic status. The #Blacklivesmatter movement, the Intellectual property and copyright debate over the Aboriginal flag, the #wearitblackwednesdays are all people movements we should be aware of. This is growing.

Generally, we have found people are hungry to understand how can they be part of the solution. Our recommendation is diversifying your viewing, reading and listening. Look to the Aboriginal authors, story tellers and journalists to help challenge and shape your understanding.

At Speaking in Colour, a large part of what we do is support business and individuals do exactly this. We now provide online weaving experiences for anyone to participate in. Via our online shop we have two Creative Kids options, whereby you can use your Creative Kids vouchers to purchase two packs which are posted to you, all inclusive of the voucher value. We provide cultural capacity training for groups and individuals. Our cultural immersion wellness and team building sessions have become a very popular way for teams to learn and connect with each other post-COVID.

We hope to continue to make a difference and are honoured every time we are invited into workplaces, especially when we have been referred by our community to represent our people.

About the expert

Cherie Johnson is a proud Gamilaroi and Weilwun woman from Northern NSW, who resides in Newcastle, and participates as an active member of the Awabakal Community. Daughter of Dawn Conlan, Granddaughter of Rachel Darcy, and great granddaughter of Charlotte Wright.

Cherie is Founder and Owner of Speaking in Colour, an Aboriginal education and training company based in the Hunter region providing: training, cultural experiences and Aboriginal education resources for Corporates, Government and educational sectors.

On leave from her Visual Arts and photography teaching position Johnson is currently a PHd candidate and casual lecture at the University of Newcastle in Aboriginal culture and Education.

Image description: Cherie is wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt and is standing in front of a light brown wall.

ADVICE: How Eunica Liu started her own cloth nappy business from scratch

Australia uses an estimated 3.75 million disposable nappies every day, making up a significant portion of household waste entering landfill. One alternative that has evolved rapidly in recent years and is now a sizeable market of its own, is cloth nappies. In this interview, Eunica Liu shares her experiences with starting her cloth nappy business and how she managed customer feedback along the way.

  • How did you approach understanding the market and marketing opportunity for cloth nappies?

I was incredibly lucky in that there were Facebook groups and communities dedicated to cloth nappies. I spent six months lurking and absorbing as much knowledge as I could, identifying the key pain points for parents/carers using cloth and finding a way to solve them.

  • At what point did you know it was a market opportunity worth pursuing?

I felt like our product addressed a gap in the market. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, but built on existing designs and made them better.

  • How did you take the first steps in building the business from scratch?

Most women who start cloth nappy businesses do so because they have used cloth nappies and want to make their own. They also benefit from having little ones to test their initial designs and samples.

I didn’t have my own little bottom to trial nappies, but what I lacked in this area, I made up for by constantly seeking and responding to feedback, creating a VIP Group so that I could connect with my customers and ask for their thoughts. Our customers will take the time to give us feedback because they know we will address their concerns, however minor.

I was also able to dedicate 100% of my time to the business because I didn’t have to run after a little one or take breaks for feeding/bedtime routines. This meant that I was able to respond to emails at 1am, or within 10 minutes of receiving it, even on a Sunday. A lot of our very loyal customers became loyal because of this – and I know because they tell me that this was the clincher.

  • How do you incorporate and balance the needs of being price-friendly, fashionable, and eco-friendly in the business model?

I have discovered that I am a pretty average person. So if I’m not ready to pay $X for a product – no matter how pretty and no matter how many bottles it saves from landfill – then it is unlikely someone else will. And no matter how amazing a product is, if there is no demand for it, it will sit unsold and eventually contribute to more landfill.

  • What’s your advice to other budding entrepreneurs considering starting their own business?

There is no time like the present. If you chip away at it each day, you will find that you get a lot more done than you anticipate. If you go “I’ll do it when X happens”, you’ll find that other things will pop up to prevent you from doing it.

  • What were your biggest challenges along the way?

Entitled customers. I’d like to think that my skin has gotten thicker over the years, but there are still days when an angry email from an unreasonable customer will throw my day out.

  • How do you recommend other entrepreneurs approach these kinds of challenges?

Tally up the angry customer emails and look at it as a percentage of your customer base. As you grow, you will inevitably come across more varied types of people but it is helpful to remember that they are a small minority of your much larger customer base.

About the expert

I’m Eunica and I’m passionate about making a social and environmental difference! Monarch came about through my desire to create a self-sustaining avenue for real change. I wanted to create an easy-to-use cloth nappy system that is no harder than disposables, and help transition more families into cloth. We create stunning, exclusive prints to make sure everyone is on board. All this while donating at least 10% of profits to customer-nominated charities.

Image description: Eunica is standing in a field in a patterned blue dress and black cardigan.

ADVICE: Business leaders need to think holistically about tackling ableism

Recent research by the Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health has found that “about two thirds of people with disability have reported some kind of violence”, and “women with a disability were more than twice as likely to report sexual violence in the past year compared to women without disability”. The horrifying stats highlight the reality that ableism is ever-present across all aspects of our society and causing real damage.

In this interview, Ainslee Hooper, Anthropologist & Disability Consultant, shares her expert advice and experiences regarding ableism in Australian workplaces, how ableism can and should be managed, how it can be mitigated for future generations, and why a holistic approach is required to tackling ableism.

  • What are the most commonly overlooked forms of ableism you’ve noticed in the Australian workforce? 

I have found the most commonly overlooked forms of ableism are often covert. For example, people are discouraged from going for opportunities that come up in the workplace because superiors have already assumed the individual cannot perform the job like their peers. Still, there is no evidence to show this is the case. It is due to stereotypes that persist.

Another common one has been people with disabilities being excluded from opportunities because the workplace has not considered how things could be done differently. The lockdowns resulting from COVID19 and how the Australian workforce pivoted to keep things running were a real wake-up call. Many workers with disabilities have previously been told accommodations would be too difficult to implement, not logistically possible, etc., and yet these accommodations have been implemented due to the pandemic.

The final one, which is surprisingly huge, is the lack of disability in diversity plans. With disability being the largest minority group, it amazes me that disability is still glaringly absent from many plans. I have found the main reason for this is people are scared to touch disability, so they leave it. This solves nothing and instead allows problems to persist. There are diversity targets for the employment of people with disabilities, but that alone does nothing.

  • How has ableism in the Australian workplace evolved in the last few years?

I want to say things have evolved, but we have such a long way to go. We currently rank 21st out of 29 OECD countries regarding people with disabilities participating in the workforce. So, there are not only issues that persist within the workforce for employees with a disability but also cases of people with disabilities gaining employment, which is a whole other conversation due to the Disability Employment Services system’s flaws.  

  • What has been the pandemic’s impact on ableism and how people with disabilities are viewed in the workplace?

As mentioned previously, there have been considerable changes in the workplace as a result of COVID19. The biggest ones that have benefited people with disabilities are remote working and meetings via technology such as Zoom. Their peers without disabilities have also benefited from these and, as a result, are more aware of the issues faced by people with disabilities. Although for a business that does not have an employee with a disability, this may not be as obvious to them.

  • How are you working with business leaders to combat ableism?

I have been pleased to see businesses being proactive in reaching out to get guidance on improving the experience for not only workers with disabilities but also for their consumers with disabilities. I take a holistic approach, so I’m working with businesses in various ways and at all levels, from top to bottom.

I encourage all businesses I work with to implement a Disability Action Plan, making them aware of issues not previously considered. Working closely with businesses to assist them through this process, they soon see how easy it is to combat ableism and the gaps they need to focus on.

I am also doing speaking engagements to talk about my lived experience. I find storytelling is the most effective way of making people understand the problems and the impact these problems have on people with disabilities. I am always pleased to see people motivated to create change as a result of these sessions.

Many businesses have committees or groups focused on disability-related issues. I perform audits to identify any problems impacting these groups’ smooth functioning or committees to address critical problems effectively.

Finally, I’m also helping businesses identify issues for consumers with disabilities by talking with consumers about their experiences in a confidential manner to provide businesses with insights to gaps and recommendations on improving the experience. My approach to combating ableism is holistic, and I encourage businesses to think holistically too.

  • What are the most common challenges you come across in your work? Why do you think this is?

There are two common challenges I have come across. The first is lack of knowledge. One of my favourite sayings is from Anais Nin – “We see things as we are, not as they are.” There is so much unintentional ableism out there. When people hear the word ‘ableism,’ they often get defensive. It’s rarely intentional but stems from a lack of understanding of what the experience of disability is really like. The problems people with disabilities face are rarely what businesses think.

The second common challenge comes down to money, which brings me to another favourite quote, this one by Olivier Nourry – “Ableism is the natural child of Inaccessibility.” I still often hear businesses say providing for accessibility is not always feasible due to financial constraints. While this is a reality for many, and I don’t dispute this, I would love to see a shift from expense to investment because it allows more people to access your business. I am currently in talks with various parties to discuss how businesses can overcome these issues. Watch this space.

  • What’s your ambition for how ableism is managed in our workplaces?

For starters, we need more disability representation in the workforce. People with disabilities must be the ones who are leading addressing the problems. However, we can’t manage ableism from within workplaces unless we also combat ableism from the outside. My ambition is to encourage and assist businesses in fighting ableism at all levels, and it doesn’t have to be all at once. It’s a slow process, but we can get there. My ambition is to help businesses see the possibilities and the wins this will bring to their customers and society.

About the expert

Ainslee Hooper is an Anthropologist & Disability Consultant with a lived experience of disability as a lifelong wheelchair user. Her business, Ainslee Hooper Consulting helps businesses and organisations identify and remove invisible barriers to reduce the risk of ableism and be more inclusive and accessible. She is also available for speaking engagements tailored to a wide variety of audiences. Ainslee is currently completing a Ph.D @ Deakin University with her thesis examining the experiences of people with disabilities in Geelong during COVID19. You can contact Ainslee on 

She also has a newsletter you can subscribe to by jumping on her mailing list at

Image description: Ainslee is sitting in a garden in a mustard-coloured sweater. She has red hair, hazel eyes, and is wearing glasses.

PEOPLE: How Mei pivoted from a mining career to becoming a sustainability entrepreneur

Mei Yong runs three businesses in the food industry, all of which involve plant-based food products, reducing waste, and using local produce. In this interview, Mei shares her experiences in switching from a career in mining, to turning her ideas into thriving nationwide food and sustainability businesses.

  • At what point did you decide to turn your idea into a business? What was the biggest driver behind this transition?

While I was working within the mining sector, I experienced that life was busy. People wanted quick nutritious authentic foods at home with ease and many people struggled with cooking with flavour. Consumers were time poor and were leaning towards quick food options – that are often unhealthy for the body and the environment – at meal times.

At the same time, food has always been in my blood. My uncle owned one of the first bakeries in Malaysia and my parents opened up one of Perth’s first vegan supermarkets and restaurants in the 1990s.

So, I combined my love for good, clean food with knowledge of what busy people crave to create spice packs and curry pastes that can be used to cook delicious food within minutes. I opted for cleaner, vegan/plant based, gluten free and local products, which also supports our planet.

I saw this gap in the market and decided to give it a go. With the savings that I had from my mining job, I invested into our concept and vision. The key was to continuously listen to your consumers at every stage of the business growth. We changed packaging, we changed price points, we changed so much at the beginning of the business. Listening to how consumers use the product and cook was vital in shaping it to be the brand it is today – an everyday food product suitable for all Australian homes.

  •  What were the biggest challenges along the way, and what were the learnings from those challenges?

Starting a new business has many challenges. When I worked in the corporate world, I specialised in Human Resources Management in the mining and resources sector. It was my focus – people, performance, retention and training. When you are in a small business, you are thrown in to do all aspects of business. From being the manufacturer, to being the marketing guru, the sales lady, the admin and accounts person. Pretty much everything. With limited resources, it was the only way for the business to be viable. To be a very hands on business person.

Although those roles were carried out, you may not be the expert in that field. I have now learnt to delegate, outsource and get help for the areas where your strengths don’t lie. Focus on what you’re good at, direct and lead the rest of the other areas. You will be able to excel a lot quicker. I took the long route to learn this important lesson.

Once you are able to ask for help and delegate, you will find you have more time, energy and passion to do what you are best at, and to work on the business instead of just in the business.

  • How did you make the decision to start a new business, rather than partner with or join an existing business that was working on something similar?

My family have always owned their own businesses in Perth and in Malaysia, particularly in the food sector as mentioned. From baking schools, restaurants and food factories. So I come from an entrepreneurial upbringing, where hard work and vision were the foundations of business. We also came from a poor family and that determination to escape the poverty cycle fuelled our focus to working hard and passionately on our own business – a value we’ve all retained from generation to generation.

So when I pitched my idea to my family, it was encouraged and supported, providing me with a safe foundation to start a business. There was an opportunity, a clear gap in the market, so I took it and they supported it!

I did not work with existing businesses, as other businesses in this space were located on the East Coast of Australia, making it logistically challenging to produce and manufacture.

Also, from the very beginning, we wanted to have a more locavore, sustainable approach and work directly with farmers and fresh produce to keep costs competitive and produce tasting amazing, grown from our region. It also enabled a better-quality product, and more control over the manufacturing process, which was paramount to providing a superior product.

  •  Many consumers are now struggling with information overload when it comes to sustainable living and purchasing. What’s your advice on how to know whether your ‘eco-friendly’ purchase really is ‘eco-friendly’?

Do your research before you buy. Check out their website and contact the manufacturer or retailer with the questions you have to satisfy your curiosity and be confident about their promise before you purchase. Transparency is key in this market and it is important to enquire and take control of your information funnel.

That way, you are in charge of the process and can weed out the noise in the marketplace. You have the right to know what is real and what is presented to you, so I suggest you push for answers to ensure that it aligns with your personal values and ethos.

The other thing I suggest is get to know the language that is often used in the industry to describe the real ingredients and what’s marketing jargon. For example, we know now that the words “natural flavouring” does not mean it is made out of real ingredients. Instead look out for ingredients that you can easily pronounce. For those you don’t, have Google at the ready to find out more about what it is to help you make your purchasing decision.

Here at Turban Chopsticks, we are big on giving information for our customers. We invite our retailers to our factory to see the process at hand, we run Insta stories to show what happens behind the scenes, we encourage people to contact us with their questions, feedback and requests.

  • What are your ambitions for your businesses this year?

We are focusing more on sustainable packaging. We already use recycled biodegradable jars and packaging. Boxes printed with vegetable-based inks that are printed and made in Perth, WA, to reduce the carbon footprint.

We are also currently sourcing bamboo plastic that is biodegradable and seeing what other innovation the market is offering and emerging in this space. Being true to our words and recognising that every business can help fight climate change and make sure our planet is safe and healthy for our kids and their kids is important to us here at Turban Chopsticks.

Sustainability also works when it is shared or part of an ecosystem. When we support and work with each other, we can accomplish so much more.

We have also launched our new artisan chutney range – where we use second grade farm fruit and vegetables and turn them into delicious chutneys and jams. We are working directly with farming regions like the Gascoyne Food Council where we can source directly and help our local farmers. We will continue to foster these partnerships and extend our product range in this space, with seasonal ingredients.

By doing this we help reduce food waste, support other local businesses to also embrace sustainability and importantly, we want to help change the narrative or perception that second grade fruit and veggies – that do not make the ‘perfect grade’ of the big supermarkets – still tastes as good!

Another project focus we have at Turban Chopsticks this year is also working on value-add products, with products that are already being farmed in WA. We are looking at ways to bring WA ingredients to the forefront of the global market through new brand extensions and unique sustainable food concepts. Watch this space.

About the expert

Mei Yong is the Founder, Director, Food Creator and Innovator of Turban Chopsticks – Australian makers of authentic South Asian and South-East Asian ready to eat curry pastes, sauces and meal kits.

Born in Malaysia to Chinese parents and raised in Australia by a full house of foodies, Mei was exposed to a bold variety of cuisines and exotic ingredients.

Mei started Turban Chopsticks out of an inconvenience she encountered early in her working career where she saw busy working professionals turning to fast food, adding fuel to a stressful lifestyle. Mei decided there is a need to offer wholesome, sustainable and good foods that are easy to cook and can be enjoyed by all.

Today, Turban Chopsticks is stocked in over 300 retailers nationwide, is 100% Australian made, owned and produced and focuses on sustainability in every aspect of their production, packaging and final product.

More information:

Image description: Mei is standing behind a table covered in fresh fruits and vegetables alonside jars of jams and chutneys. She is smiling, wearing a colourful headsband and blouse, and has shoulder-length black hair.

ADVICE: We, as parents, must start to role model new behaviour for our kids

The following is a guest post from Natasha Janssens, author of Wonder Woman’s Guide to Money and an award-winning finance broker and money coach.

As a working mum of two, #choosetochallenge is a reminder to me to challenge the outdated social norms that govern the way I view my role in society and what is possible for me. It means challenging the storyline that says it is my responsibility, and mine alone, to make sure that my kids and husbands needs are taken care of.

I choose to challenge the guilt that comes along for the ride, every time I walk out the door to do something just for me – and leave hubby to deal with the kids on his own. I choose to challenge the story that I have to sacrifice my identity and financial independence in order to be deemed a good enough mother and wife.

The fact is that times have changed, and the rules that applied when our mothers and grandmothers were growing up, no longer exist. The reality today is far removed from what we were taught as kids.

While men and boys have been primed to thrive in a capitalist society (having been taught that their primary role is to be the providers), women have in many ways been set up to fail. While boys were told stories depicting the male character as a hero, girls were told they needed to look pretty and wait for prince charming to come to their rescue.

What happens then, when we find ourselves living in a reality that is in direct contrast to the stories we have been told as kids? Just look at the news headlines to find the answers. Women approaching retirement age are often broke and facing homelessness, after having dedicated their lives to caring for their families.

As much as I adore my children, the truth is I cannot afford to sacrifice my financial independence in order to raise them. As much as I love being a mum (some days more so than others), I cannot afford to think of myself as ‘just a mum’. Whether I want to or not, I cannot afford to be a stay-at-home parent and sacrifice my skills and ability to earn my own income. And I cannot afford to not play an active role in my financial future and leave all the big decisions to someone else.

Not only is it not good for me, but it is detrimental to their future. One of the main reasons that the gender gap has been so slow to close is because it is clearly not enough for us to just talk about it. We, as parents, must start to role model new behaviour for our kids. And it all starts with women letting go of the household chores and embracing our entrepreneurial and intellectual abilities. Let’s show future generations that their value lies in more than just their appearance or ability to cook a delicious meal.

About the expert

Natasha is the author of Wonder Woman’s Guide to Money and an award-winning finance broker and money coach. Her passion for education and helping others led her to start Women with Cents – an online community dedicated to empowering Australian women through education. Natasha is on a mission to ensure that all Australian women have access to professional financial advice, regardless of their age, income or circumstances.

Image description: Natasha is sitting on a black, leather lounge chair with her legs crossed. Her feet are on the lounge, with her black high heels on the floor. She wears a pink blazer, white top and blue jeans.

PEOPLE: Laura’s transition from allied health professional to tech startup founder

In this interview, Laura outlines how her career in allied health led to her founding her own startup, Theratrak, a HIPAA certified digital platform that enables allied health professionals to create, monitor, and track custom therapy home programs for children.

  • What interests you most about the allied health sector?

I’ve worked as a paediatric occupational therapist for the last 8 years and every day is just such a privilege and a joy. I get to work with kids to support them to achieve their functional goals. Whether that’s building skills so they can make their first friend, improving their fine motor skills so they can learn an instrument and join a band or overcome anxieties that might be holding them back from participating in a family meal.

The allied health sector is such an incredible space to be in because we are able to support people to live as independently as possible by either working with the person to modify their environment, teach them the skills to do the task or advocating and creating a more accessible experience. I believe this sector plays a big role in the preventative model of healthcare and when we use the model we can help people to live fulfilling and meaningful lives.

  • Why did you launch Theratrak? 

I started Theratrak for many reasons. The first was because I was frustrated with an outdated and inconsistent healthcare system that meant my clients weren’t able to remember what we had spoken about in therapy and therefore struggled to implement therapy strategies outside of the clinic.

I also know that we have a workforce shortage of allied health practitioners, waitlists only seem to get longer and so many kids miss out on early intervention at the right time because there’s just not enough of us. I believe that parents and carers can be the best support for their child’s early intervention process and if technology can support them to feel more confident and supported with what they are doing at home then that is what technology should be doing. Theratrak is designed to support both the clinician by improving their workflow, saving them time and creating easier avenues to connect and communicate with their clients. Theratrak is also designed to support parents so that, hopefully, we can reduce the amount of time kids spend in therapy, reduce the cost of healthcare to these families and support kids with the right amount of access to early intervention so that they can live their most independent life.

  • What has been the biggest surprise since launching the business? How does this differ to what you were anticipating? 

There have definitely been a few. Very early on one of the big surprises was how much kids embraced technology in therapy sessions and weren’t distracted by it. I had some reservations about what therapy sessions might look like if therapists pulled out a phone and used to record photos and videos of the kids with the app. I was worried that the tech might take over the session and that it would distract from the therapeutic relationship. I could not have been more wrong on so many occasions, kids and parents seem to really embrace the tech in sessions, I see kids getting excited that we are taking images of them and using them to build a bespoke and customised home program. I even had one client ask me to refilm something so that he could have a practice and do it better to show his mum.

The other big surprise which has been such a great learning curve for me, but how many similarities there are between occupational therapy (OT) and starting a tech startup. In OT we look at a functional problem for a person and then break the task down to either teach the skill, modify the task or modify the environment to allow the person to be able to solve the problem. I see this time and time again when we are building features for the app, we come up against a problem, break it down and either add new features, modify old features or change the user experience to solve the problem. I think I didn’t expect to have so many soft skills that I had learnt as an OT that would apply to being a tech startup founder.

The last surprise and I’m sure it won’t be the last, is just how many people we have the potential to help with the platform. I started the journey with the idea that I would create a home programming app for paediatric OTs and that would be my target audience. However, along the journey, I have realised that the same problem exists across all areas of allied health, both from discipline and age, it’s exciting to know that we can potentially help so many people and our reach and impact can go so far.

  • How are you seeing the allied health sector adopt new technologies and digital capabilities?

It’s definitely getting better that’s for sure. I think previously there have been many factors that impact people changing their behaviours around technology. Tech burnout in the health sector is a huge issue, I’ve spoken to many practitioners who are fed up with old clunky systems, or they’ve hacked their way around an old system so that it fits their workflow and so many times they didn’t know that they could approach the technology companies and ask for the help to solve their problem. The other challenge is time, time to learn new technology is crucial. Clinicians need to feel confident with the tool they pick up before they are going to use it with their client, if they aren’t given enough time in training it can be very hard to even start the process. 

However, COVID has been an incredible accelerator of this process for therapists, as much as it was tricky, many therapists had to learn about new ways of providing care early on in the year and I think there was a lot of grace given by clients who were also learning how to use tech in healthcare. I definitely think we are on the right path to digitising healthcare, especially with younger clinicians who seem to expect technology to be part of the healthcare system and are often confused when it’s not. 

  • How has the pandemic impacted Theratrak and your plans for 2021? 

Yes, we’ve seen a definite impact, but a positive one which is great. At the start of the year in 3 months we grew our user base by 500%. I think the pandemic had clinicians looking for alternative solutions to provide care and home programming was at the top of everyone’s mind.

We also have expanded to other areas of allied healthcare this year. At the start we were mainly focused on occupational therapy, we then found speech therapists and physiotherapists were jumping onto our platform and wanting to work as multidisciplinary teams with their clients.

So we are now in the process of expanding Theratrak so that it is a multidisciplinary platform so that teams of therapists can work collaboratively with their clients, gain better visibility about what they have prescribed and hopefully better outcomes for their clients as well.

We also became HIPAA compliant in April and now have a few US therapists on our platform. The goal was to expand to the US next year but the pandemic just seems to have accelorated most of our goals. Now our plans for 2021 are to find another large enterprise partner to continue to build theratrak with us and expand further into the US, maybe even Europe at this rate as well.

About the expert

Laura Simmons is the founder and CEO of Theratrak: a HIPAA certified digital platform that enables allied health professionals to create, monitor, and track custom therapy home programs for children.

Therapists use the mobile app to create custom therapy programs and send them within the clinical sessions, saving time. Parents also get access to the app for free, they receive automated nudges throughout the week to stay on track and send feedback to their therapist about their progress. Finally, therapists can also use the clinic portal to customise the platform to meet their therapeutic treatment styles.

Laura is also a passionate paediatric occupational therapist and has worked across Sydney’s private health sector for the last eight years. Laura is passionate about supporting the digitisation of healthcare to improve global access to early intervention for children living with disabilities. Laura launched her start-up journey entering into one of Australia’s leading tech accelerators for female founders SheStarts in January of 2018, launched the first version of the app, raised a pre-seed round and had her first paying customers within a year of starting the company. She also won the inaugural Australian Artificial Intelligence Medicine (AIMed) shark tank award in 2020.

Image description: Photo of Laura in a children’s playroom. There is a colourful alphabet-themed playmat on the ground, climbing equipment and a rainbow tunnel through which a child is excitedly crawling. Laura is sitting at the end of the tunnel watching the child, smiling, and wearing a black t-shirt and black pants.

PEOPLE: How Charlotte is streamlining clinical trials with Evrima Technologies

In this interview, Charlotte Bradshaw outlines why she founded Evrima Technologies, how it has grown eight-fold in the last six months, and how she is planning to expand the business in 2021.

  • When you first launched Evrima Technologies, what were the key drivers?

The key driver for me to launch Evrima was to streamline clinical trials and remove the pain-staking manual processes for clinical researchers, which then has a positive impact on patient experience. Clinical trials are very complex and challenging to manage, it’s unlike any other industry, and is rife with inefficiencies across the value chain.

Not only that, but GPs are the most trusted source of information for patients when it comes to clinical research as a care option, yet they aren’t empowered to have these conversations and trawl through trial registries. The biggest challenge is finding patients for highly specific trial criteria. After years of facing these challenges first-hand, I founded Evrima to address this problem. 

  • How have your motivations and ambitions for the organisation changed over time?

I’ve always had an interest in productivity and process improvement, and what has kept me motivated through this journey is designing and implementing customer-driven solutions where we can make a difference to our customers, patients and GPs involved in clinical research.

As Australia increasingly becomes a key destination to conduct leading clinical research, I’ve been motivated to grow a talented team and foster creative thinking and a results-driven approach. For some patients, clinical trials may be the best or only options to access treatments that are not readily available, yet to get a new medicine on the market, it can take on average 10-12 years. For myself, and the Evrima team, we want to help change that and get these new medicines to patients who need them much faster. When I first started in clinical research almost 10 years ago, it wasn’t something people had really heard of but more recently, we’ve seen it evolve into an industry and new players entering the market, which keeps us motivated as well.

  • What have been the biggest achievements to date?

In the last 6 months we’ve grown our sales pipeline 8x and connected thousands of people to trials across 30 locations in Australia and New Zealand. I am incredibly proud of the team who have rolled up their sleeves and achieved what we essentially had planned for 18-24 months in this time. We are well placed to achieve even bigger goals next year.

  • What were the biggest hurdles and how did you overcome them?

I think for any entrepreneur there will always be challenges, there are some that can be fixed easily and others that take time. A key challenge as a first time founder is learning everything for the first time as a CEO and with skin in the game. There was no Plan B and after quitting my corporate job, I bootstrapped the business and was generating some revenue however the sales cycles in B2B and especially clinical trials can be incredibly long.

I was fortunate to be part of the HCF Catalyst Accelerator program cohort of 2019 and have some incredible advisors who have helped me along the way but it has boiled down to building relationships, doing the work and managing cash flow. Every dollar has to be scrutinised before being spent and you have to ensure payment terms are met else it can turn very quickly to a slippery slope. I have zero regrets though!   

  • How has the pandemic impacted the business and your business plans for 2021?

We have been fortunate to be able to adapt and support our clients with creative solutions, essentially we brought what was planned for 2022 forward which has been incredibly well received and today we had a client say “Can’t Evrima just run everything?”, which gives us the confidence and validation that being solutions-driven, really understanding our customers, and testing our assumptions early, has been the right approach.

In 2020, we have helped our clients navigate new territory and acted as their trusted guide, it has so far been a rollercoaster and each month we outperform the previous month.

Traditionally our industry would work on face to face relationship building and generating new business by attending flagship conferences. This year we only plan to attend one (virtually) yet business is growing at a rapid rate. I’m really excited for 2021 as we have some huge plans to implement new revenue streams, grow our team and create more opportunities for patients to connect with trial opportunities.  

About the expert

Charlotte founded Evrima in early 2019 after facing the many challenges of patient recruitment first hand and recognising the need to bring general practice and clinical research together. She has a breadth of skills and experience ranging from project management, business development, and marketing in the corporate, not-for-profit and SME sectors. She has a mind for identifying customer-facing problems with a strong and passionate connection to the problem. In 2014, she founded and managed a digital patient recruitment agency, and has worked with local and international organisations advising and managing their patient recruitment requirements across a wide range of diseases and conditions. Charlotte is considered a subject matter expert in clinical trial patient recruitment and recently was a project lead for CT:IQ delivering industry recommendations for optimising clinical trial recruitment. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Studies (honours) and Diploma of Business. 

Image description: Headshot of Charlotte wearing a white collared shirt and navy blazer. She has shoulder length brown hair and is smiling. A blurry building outline is in the background.