The Sunday Edition | A Conversation with Zeenat Wilkinson
We are delighted to introduce you to New Zealand-based freelance fashion creative and founder of SAUCE, Zeenat Wilkinson. Zeenat prefers to honour her journey as an ‘evolutionary process’, of which her experiences as fashion stylist and editor living between Mumbai and London in her former years, led her to fill an enormous gap in a saturated, click-bait digital space. The inception of her trailblazing digital platform, SAUCE, responded to an industry that failed to represent women of colour and differently-abled people in a real, relaxed and curated way.
Zeenat kindly shares with us the importance of cultural representation amongst her team of writers and contributors, how the broad and ever-changing role of motherhood has changed her from a deeper place, and why jewellery allows her to express the different identities and conflicting worlds that contribute to the women she is today.
In an increasingly digital era, you have successfully trailblazed the industry with the inception of SAUCE - an inclusive platform which houses inspiring stories, purposeful topics and truthful conversations with people of substance. Talk us through the story behind SAUCE, how did it all begin?
Thank you! People often ask me what my big break was but honestly it was an evolutionary process. After studying both fashion design and psychology, then spending some time working as a fashion stylist and editor in both London and Mumbai, I moved to New Zealand in 2012 and I worked with a handful of local titles for the first few years. During that time I had this realisation there was an enormous gap in the market for something more real but relaxed, digital but still curated. Websites and online magazines were either creating click-bait content or editors were re-working press releases. No one was creating curated and original content primarily for the digital space... This led to the inception and launch of Sauce in 2017.
How important is it for you to bring diversity to the content for your readers?
In some way, Sauce was my response to the fact that women of colour and differently-abled people just weren’t reflected in this broader media spectrum at the time.
Our contributors and writers from various backgrounds and cultural heritage made representation in our collective voices seamless from day one. It was important to not only have diversity in the content we produced but also in our team and the creatives we worked with.
You became a mother to your beautiful baby girl in July. Has motherhood changed or shaped you? If so, how?
I gave birth to Aaliyah but in some ways, she gave birth to me. There has definitely been a huge shift from who I was before I gave birth. The process of birthing in itself is mentally and physically traumatic. Going through that changes you in some way, deep down. But also every stage is unique from birthing to breastfeeding to the next. I am still the old me but I feel like I have this new layer too. Being a mother isn’t one thing – it's broad, ever-changing, constantly evolving. I have learned to lean in with my instincts and trust it.
She is, and will always be, my greatest achievement.
Do you think your upbringing in Mumbai has influenced the woman you are today?
I believe so. Mumbai is an extraordinarily gritty city and you have to learn to live with a lot of agility. I’ve seen and experienced so many things and a culmination of those understandings has in some way made me who I am today. I also learned self-reliance emotionally.
At NMJ, storytelling is at the heart of everything we do. Through our handmade approach, we are able to craft a piece totally reflective of a love story and the person it is intended for. How important is storytelling for you and within the work you do?
I often think of the underlying forces of who we are and how we manifest our ideas and our personal style. They are in fact an amalgamation of not only our background but also places we have been and our friends and family (people really close to us). All of it makes us so unique. Our stories are so important! After all, people do not buy things. They buy stories and magic. Although I don’t sell anything physical for people to buy, I strongly believe in the power of storytelling.
In every situation, we believe that love must go on and we will go on in love. In even the most trying of times, the glue that holds us together is kindness, empathy and love. 2020 has been the year of seismic shifts in so many aspects of human life. What do you think the world needs more of?
The purgatorial nature of 2020 has been challenging to say the least. Even in our time wrapping bubbles, I think we’ve learned to stop, pause and appreciate the little things. Lockdowns made us hyper-aware of little moments we (quite often) take for granted. We’ve also learned that positive change is possible with collective activism, as we have witnessed through the US elections recently. The world definitely needs more positive change in politics and leadership and hopefully, that spins the wheel in the direction of environmental conservation and equality too.
Jewellery to us is a form of storytelling, self-expression and individualism. What does jewellery mean to you?
Jewellery is where I can be creative at expressing my different identities but also the conflicting worlds that are a part of who I am. It makes me feel grounded but also lets me play with different identities.
What does your NMJ piece mean to you?
There is so much strength in softness and my NMJ pieces are soft and delicate but it’s a reminder of all the innate strength I carry as a woman and a mother.
Zeenat wears our Nuna Necklace and Nuna Charm Bracelet.
Captured by: Amanda Thomas Photography