In a period of time when we're inundated with what feels like consistent bad news, we wanted to put some emphasis on the positive. This is the another instalment in "Collective Conversations," a weekly series focusing on a woman we think is awesome + what she's all about. This week we're talking to founder of Tommie Mag, ecostylist, retail trainer and 'creative woman with a conscience,' Natalie Shehata. Tommie Mag is a multifaceted platform/publication that covers everything from women's issues, to news, to fashion and how to be a conscious consumer. Natalie created Tommie as a space to promote and collaborate with brands she believed in and celebrate women from all walks of life. Today, we get to celebrate her.
1. Describe yourself in three words?
Honest, empathetic, resilient.
2. What does heritage and tradition mean to you?
When I think about heritage and tradition, I immediately think about what a beautiful and diverse world we live in, where there is constant learning and a celebration that we are all so uniquely different. Our heritage and tradition really gives us an insight into our belief systems, our ancestors, the way we dress, the food we eat, what we value and how we tread on this earth. For me it’s about taking the guidance and direction of those before us, being curious about the practises that were so naturally inherent in their ways of life and honouring this. I am uniquely positioned in the sense that I have parents who are from different parts of the world. My father is from Egypt and my mother is from Greece, so my upbringing allowed me to really bask in different cultures, language, food and beliefs. I think more specifically though, growing up with different cultures really made me acutely aware of how identity and belonging can bring us together, but also separate us as we see in so many parts of the world – even right here in our own backyard. As a young person, given my multicultural background I often felt like I didn’t belong to a specific, defined group – but it is my ‘otherness’ that has driven my work and deeper purpose for all people to be seen, and it is this that has cultivated my deep respect for communities of colour who are often ‘othered’ or not seen as the majority, when in fact – it is BIPOC who are the mainstream. When we talk about heritage and tradition, for me it is also about yelling from the rooftops that POC are the original vanguards of sustainability, thoughtfulness and regenerative care for the land. Given I work in the sustainable fashion space, heritage and tradition for me also means there needs to be a collective acknowledgement and awareness of Ancestral and Indigenous wisdom, and that we need to respect and not exploit or appropriate rituals, icons or cultures.
3. Something that you’re passionate about?
Having worked in the fashion industry - with varying stakeholders - for the past 11 years, I’ve witnessed and experienced first-hand the oppressive systems in which fashion is built on, and wanted to be part of disrupting and dismantling this, and created a platform for BIWoC communities to be the curators of their own stories and take back their rightful space and position in the fashion and sustainability context. This is how tommie magazine was born, as a way to elevate the diverse voices that make up our country, and to also demonstrate the naturally, intuitive and sustainable ways of living, WOC encompass. I’m super passionate about redefining and decolonising sustainability in the fashion space and environmentalism more specifically, to centre Black, Indigenous and People of colour communities; the original pioneers and trailblazers of sustainability.
I’m also hugely passionate about second hand clothing and the way this offers us as individuals the opportunity to connect with our identity, the opportunity for self-expression and the celebration of difference and personal style. But also raising awareness and offering education into why it’s so important we support brands that are made ethically, locally, with artisanal traditions, use sustainable fibres etc. Wearing preloved clothing - and brands built with intention and social progress - is a way we can position our views on labour rights, Womxn’s rights and the welfare and rights of BIPOC around the world. Clothing is more than constructing an outfit to look aesthetically pleasing; what we choose to wear is a reflection of society, the inequities between races, the exploitative labour systems that still exist in the Global South, the land that was taken away from Black and Indigenous people and how colonialism is rooted in fashion. The way we dress is political when it comes to culture, heritage, identity and history – and can lead to radical change.
Another area I’m hugely passionate about is mobilising and activating local community, I think large scale change starts at your dinner table, and in your neighbourhood. Leading, running and organising events and gatherings in my local community has been so rewarding as I’ve seen how education and creativity really inspires change in people. And I love being an accessible bridge or pathway for people to access schools of thought, information or an understanding of systems they may have not known about.
4. Who do you most admire?
That’s a tricky question – it’s interesting because growing up I didn’t really have role models, or Women I admired. Now as an adult, there are so many Women in my life in whom I admire. Women like you both, who live their truth every day, who are navigating such important conversations through the medium of fashion. But if I had to choose a specific person, I’d say Oprah. She was able to bring some of the most ‘taboo’ and not talked about issues to a mainstream audience. She will always hold a special place in my heart, as it is her talk show where my mother learnt that being in a violent relationship is not OK. My Mum often references that episode as her introduction into learning about the patterns and viscous cycle of Domestic Violence, and I think Oprah has been able to touch so many people’s lives in accessible ways like this. My hope is that through my own work and advocacy I offer a space to talk about the ‘uncomfortable’ things, the things we as a society are too sacred to talk about, in a safe way without judgement or critique.
5. What is a weekly/monthly/fortnightly ritual or tradition you do for yourself?
Rituals and traditions aren’t the thing I’m great at – it’s actually probably my greatest weakness in that I’ve not learnt the art of carving time out for myself. But I’m slowly getting better at it. I find my calm and peace in cooking. I love the mediation in movement and the texture and colour of all the vegetables, herbs and spices I use. I’m vegan, so making delicious, nourishing and vibrant food is part of my self-care routine.
I’ve also just bought myself a tarot deck, ‘NEO TAROT’ by Jerico Mandybur and this kind of self-reflection has been very healing for me, but also very joyful!
Also, I don’t think we talk about it publically enough, but I go to therapy every week and have since my mid 20’s. I think attending therapy should be accessible to every single person; it has helped me work through child-hood trauma, and just the everyday grind life offers. This is a ritual I don’t ever compromise on, no matter how full or busy my weeks are, I never miss a session. We talk so much as a society about working out our bodies, but we don’t talk enough about exercising the mind. And I think that stigma needs to change.
One other thing I do for myself, is to dress however please – for me, not for anyone else. This means lots of colours and lots of pattern clashing!
6. What is something you’re proud of?
I think one of the things that I’m proudest of is my freedom – being able to escape an oppressive child-hood environment, and really being the architect of my own life. Creating every page, the way in which is most authentic to me; which in large part means being of service to WOC specifically. I want to offer a space and platform through tommie that really highlights and celebrates the voice of WOC, and the unique journey and stories we have. But also ensuring that WOC of all ages understand their worth. I’m proud that I’ve chosen a path where I can be a resource, bridge and even confidant for others. Change is really important to me – small and large scale – so to see how my actions or knowledge can help guide people, is really so fulfilling.
7. What's something you do to be kind to yourself?
I’m learning the art of saying, ‘no. I’m not very good at it yet, but I’m in my learning stages. Also, surrendering and accepting are ways I’m being kind to myself. So really embracing these principles as radical acts of kindness. And giving myself the permission to just ‘let go’. And affording myself the empathy and compassion I easily offer others.
8. What are some traditions that you’ve adopted from somewhere or someone else?
I think my real, deep appreciation for making do with what you have and really extending the life of things whether it’s food, clothes, products. I grew up in a very thrifty household where most of what we owned was second hand. This is definitely a tradition that has been handed down to me - this modern, western ideology of ‘sustainability’ was embedded in how I grew up. Being resourceful and getting the maximum value and use out of everything was really engrained in me from a young age.
And also, this idea of being principled and ethical. It’s interesting, my father was very flawed in many ways through his actions and often was quite limited in what he could demonstrate to me. But through his words, he taught me that honesty and having a high moral compass was so important in life. And I’ve really carried this through my life. Always seeking change and challenging mainstream systems is something that was also handed down – this idea of making sure we challenge the capitalist society we live in and seeing the exploitation in systems to create more equitable opportunities for people.
My mum handed down to me this beautiful, whimsical look on life – that there is joy in every moment, and that every moment is an opportunity for service, care and healing to others. I definitely get my ‘selflessness’ and nurturing side from my mum, always putting others first before thinking about myself.
9. How do you align and connect with your intuition?
I am a big believer in solo time as I believe this really allows the space for reflection. I think we all have access to our intuition, but I think in this busy fast-paced world we live in, we are often disconnected to our purpose, and are more concerned with ticking things off our ‘to do list’. These kinds of actions don’t ignite our intuition. I actually think as a society, especially in a western context, we feel we have a strong grasp and control on life – when we really don’t. I think life’s hurdles, struggles and pain really help you strengthen your gut feeling. I also feel when my gut or intuition is there to tell me something, if I don’t listen straight away, it appears in other representations. Our bodies generally react to what’s right or wrong if our mind hasn’t caught up, or it isn’t ready. So really feeling any sensory changes in your body. I know if I’m doing something I should have said, ‘no’ to, or something doesn’t feel right – I feel it in my body through physical pain immediately. Everyone has different ways they connect with their intuition, but there are signs – we just have to be open to listening. I have a real affinity to my intuition, and even to how others are feeling. I think a lot of it has to do with energy, and I’ve developed this over time as I’m really perceptive with people’s behaviours. I’m so curious about people, how they move, how they act – what we as humans do in general. And I think this sensitivity and curiosity develops your sense of self too.
10. What's an assumption others make about you?
That I am balanced and don’t stress out! This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I think it *may* look like it from the outside in, but I’m always wanting to do more, offer more to more people. Balance may not be possible or achievable, but I think it’s important to try to aim for it. But it’s definitely not something I have!
11. Is there an item you would like to see from Collective Closets in the future?
I absolutely love all that you do and what you stand for! My Collective Closets culottes are worn several times a week – and I always get compliments when I wear them! Thank you for using fashion as a powerful tool to communicate style, but also as a way to invite Women to share their journey and stories!