Vintage aficionado and eco stylist Natalie Shehata is also the founder and editor-in-chief of tommie Magazine, an online platform for creative women with a conscience. As one of Australia’s leading voices on the topics of diversity, inclusivity and representation in fashion, Natalie uses her platform and community events to encourage and empower women from all walks of life, especially women of colour, and those who are marginalised or belong to a minority group. In the lead up to the EKO Mindful Boss Ladies Sydney brunch event held during Fashion Revolution Week, we interviewed this soul-centred purpose-driven founder to discuss her passion for second hand fashion, how rejection can be a blessing and why investing in personal development is crucial to her success.
EWP: Why do you do what you do?
Natalie Shehata: Change. For as long as I remember I’ve always been a seeker whether that is through challenging the status quo, looking for tools and resources for growth and self-improvement or for education to inspire and empower me into a different way of living that is kind, thoughtful and considered. Each day I wake up and I want to make change – long, lasting impactful change – for people and the planet. I want pre-loved fashion to gain mainstream attention and I do this through telling my own personal style stories over at tommie and through my own styling channels. I want change when it comes to visibility and inclusivity of all people, but specifically women of colour and minorities. tommie was one of the first Australian fashion platforms to bring this conversation to the forefront and open up a dialogue on these issues at our community gatherings and events. And it fills me with joy that the systemic issues surrounding representation in fashion, media and culture more broadly is now starting to filtrate Australia. We still have a lot of work to do though.
EWP: To launch a conscious business takes courage. How did you develop the mindset to do so?
NS: I think you’re definitely right, it does take courage – this is an attribute I’ve had from quite young though as adversity teaches you bravery, courage, resilience and tenacity. I’ve always wanted the freedom to lead a life of choice, so I vividly remember that feeling as a child of wanting to be an adult so I could create positive change in the world.
As humans we are often scared to step out of our comfort zone and I truly believe that to keep on the path of continual growth and consciousness, it requires us to always challenge our self and face the things we are most afraid of. A heart-centred business is really about the self, so if one doesn’t do the self-work – that authenticity and truth won’t shine through into your business.
I spent all of my 20s “doing the work” – instead of investing in property, possessions and things – I invested in me. I’ve invested time, money and emotional energy into mental and spiritual health; clinical psychology and counselling to deal with childhood traumas and to discover my true purpose and learn about my identity and how I wanted to be of service in this lifetime. Yoga and meditation really helped me crack open; I practised yoga for the first time at 24 and went to class about 4-5 days a week for several years after that. This really helped me not only connect to my divine purpose, but to learn to surrender and shed a lot of the trauma I was holding in my body from childhood experiences. This is all a part of your story, especially when pursuing heart-centred careers. I spent a lot of time reading books from many different disciplines; self-help, entrepreneurship and leadership, creativity, mental health and psychology, Buddhism text, fashion and history.
I constantly asked myself questions, dug deep and did the work – that looks different for everyone, but for me, it was an inward journey. I journaled, made five-year, 10-year and 15-year plans, I made personal mission statements, wrote morning pages, took myself on artist dates, listened to experts and read A LOT! And I never compromised – I completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of New South Wales and knew when I was at University that working in corporate wasn’t for me – most of my peers were driven by money and assets, but I knew that this wasn’t what I wanted my life to be centred around. We are the decisions we make, so I spent time figuring out what it was I wanted to which involved attending a fashion college at the same time as being at university, having two jobs, interning at magazines, studying and soon learning that I wanted to be a fashion stylist with a conscience. I wanted my strong to combine my ethics with style!
EWP: Can you share one time you’ve been rejected while launching your business? What happened? How did you overcome it?
NS: I think rejection or missed opportunity is one of the biggest drivers forward to change and growth. It’s actually also a sign that sometimes what we are pushing for, energetically actually isn’t aligned with our higher purpose. It can also be a lesson that we need to create opportunity from our obstacles. That’s how I’ve always seen rejection. When I was a freelance stylist submitting my fashion editorials to magazines, fashion magazines would either not reply – which isn’t uncommon at all – or would reply back to say that my styling skills were very good and my editorial story telling was great, but they couldn’t publish the editorial because they couldn’t monetise or advertise second hand clothing pieces that I used sourced from op shops, vintage stores and my own wardrobe. They required NEW fashion and brands so they could sell consumption. This didn’t align with what I believed in, how I dressed myself and it wasn’t how I wanted to communicate personal and individual style. So I used this ‘no’ to create a ‘yes’ – I knew I couldn’t have been the only one out there in the world who loved second hand clothes, vintage and thrifting and decided I’d create a destination specifically dedicated to this – which is how tommie was born.
EWP: On social media it can often appear that people have achieved instant success but as Mindful Boss Ladies we know there’s no such thing. What are some things you wish customers and followers knew about your journey that you rarely share on social?
NS: Things take time – it took me about five years to start tommie. I had the idea back in 2012, when I was 23-years-old and I came up with the name shortly after that. But, I felt I needed to delve deeper into myself to make sure I laid the foundations for what I really wanted to create and build with tommie. I started the platform because there was nothing like this back in 2012, or even in 2009, when I began my journey as a stylist. All I wanted to do was to promote vintage and second hand fashion, but there were no avenues, publications, ambassadors for this and so I thought – well, create it yourself. I always loved magazines and my dream was to work at one, so it’s so interesting to see how things come full circle.
I’ve always gotten compliments about the way I dressed, but people thought it was inaccessible, that there were rules surrounding fashion and they weren’t allowed to dress flamboyantly or creatively in their day-to-day. I really wanted to challenge this with tommie to prove that style is personal and that dressing is also about fun and playfulness and that we can give ourselves creative license and agency to dress the way we want at any given time – which is why I started the tommie shop. Through my personal styling experience, I also learnt that people didn’t know how to shop for preloved so I wanted to create an accessible digital space to do so through fun visuals and uniquely sourced pieces.
One of the other reasons for starting tommie, along with the need to want to prove that you don’t need to compromise style with second hand fashion, was to elevate the female voice and to embrace and provide a platform for all voices – especially women of colour and minorities. Working in the fashion industry, whether it be on fashion shoots, interning at magazines, attending industry events, fashion shows, discussion panels, visiting PR firms, or borrowing clothes from designers – I always seemed to be the most ethnically ‘diverse’ amongst the fashion scene. It didn’t really hold space for those who came from less privileged backgrounds like mine and it certainly didn’t celebrate or represent women of all ethnicities, races, ages, skin colour, shapes, sizes, gender, sexuality, ableism and skin texture. When it came to model casting, one type of woman was always cast, and I knew I had to be the person to change this, or at least one of the people to be brave enough to bring this agenda to the forefront.
EWP: Pursuing a purpose-driven business takes hard work and requires long hours. What do you do for self-care?
NS: It sure does and it can be really hard to pull yourself away from it because when you’re an ideas person and a person who likes to take action – it’s hard to see in the moment the upside of taking yourself away from your mission. This is one of the biggest challenges for me and learning curves, but I’ve found that I really need time away from technology and screens to re-charge. Because I live and work smack bang right in the middle of the city here in Sydney’s Inner West, it’s easy to get caught up in the noise and fast paced life of city living. I find one of the most powerful things for me is to get out of the city when I need a complete reset. I crave the stillness and simplicity of being in nature and it actually connects me to my purpose more than anything. The sound of the birds and the lack of street traffic, sirens and the isolation of people really helps me to focus on the beauty of the present moment – and not think too far ahead and my never ending ‘to-do list’.
EWP: Biggest business lesson you’ve learned so far?
NS: That developing your craft takes a lifetime, there is no moment where you say, ‘ah-ha I have it all figured out’. And that community and collaboration is everything. I take the time to interact with everyone I meet and share learnings, ideas and wisdom with all people. For me coming together in this way is really what it’s all about for me. One of things I really wanted to create with tommie is a safe space for Women to come together and ‘be’, without judgement; and to know they have a place they are welcome and belong to. We are all yearning for belonging as humans and it’s been so rewarding to discover that what I was seeking and created with tommie, others were looking for too. Businesses are about people, and they should not be seen as commodities – this to me is what authentic, purposeful business is about, not dollar signs.
To hear Natalie speak, discover how this conscious entrepreneur built a supportive community around her brand and learn her strategies for launching a business on a budget, grab your ticket to the EKO Mindful Boss Ladies brunch. We hope to see you there for a day of business inspiration, Instagrammable pics and memorable moments!
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Title image of Natalie Shehata taken by photographer Nicole Wong. All images supplied.