Model, curator and writer Sabina McKenna
Sabina wears our Sura A-line Dress.
At Collective Closets, we believe in individuality, authenticity, and celebrating the power of a woman. As businesswomen, we share the story of our influences and upbringing through our designs and the beautiful textiles we grew up with. We created Collective Conversations to spotlight the amazing women in our community and find out how they share their own stories. This series spotlights members of our tribe, gaining insight into their values, passions, and the drive behind what they do.
This month we're talking to Sabina McKenna, Melbourne-based curator, model, arts/culture writer and founder of Where are you from?, a project aimed to celebrate, educate and raise awareness about the Black/PoC experience.
Sabina greeted us into her Northern suburbs home on a foggy weekend morning, her elderly rescue dog Bubba planted firmly by her side. As dynamic, knowledgeable and beautiful as the work she so thoughtfully creates, Sabina was the perfect fit for our aptly named Wisdom collection.
With a creative passion close to our hearts, her projects exploring the themes of identity, belonging and diversity really resonated with the conversations we try to foster in our community. We took home a copy of her Hair zine (part of the WAYF project) and felt enormous pride in seeing the portraits of Naarm-based womxn we're lucky enough to know – and those we can't wait to meet.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Loyal, driven, ambitious.
What’s the best advice you’ve received and how has this impacted your life?
My mother left me a note on my bed after a bad day in high school years ago. It said: ‘I’m not going to like everyone and not everyone is going to like me. Love Mum.’ I will never forget that and how it gave me back my sense of control and power. I think it speaks so many important ideas – like not worrying about what is out of your control; worry about what is... learn to pick your battles etc. It is one of the many things I have learnt from her that has given me my rational mind and empowered me to be in control of my life and choices. And to let go of things that I can’t control.
How do you block out your fears?
I try to focus on doing and avoid overthinking. It usually helps to take myself to the worst case scenario (in a positive way if that makes sense) and say to myself - ‘So what if this fails? At least you tried and put it out there for yourself. Otherwise you would have never known the outcome. I’m always ‘talking’ to myself (haha).
What’s something you get to experience that you previously took for granted?
I LOVE that WAYF has become actual work! To see where it has taken me is incredible. It is now very much a job, when it was previously a passion project/ something I worked on from my bedroom as a very personal creative exercise. But it speaks to so many people who relate to its sentiment and it has led me to the most incredible places and opportunities. I pinch myself very often.
Which cause are you willing to fight for?
I’m willing to fight for everyone to feel like they can be a whole person no matter what race, or multiple-races or mix of cultures make them who they are. And of course no matter who they love, their ability or circumstances. I think fighting to be seen as whole is a big one for me, as being of mixed-race and culture I am displaced a lot by the way other people perceive me. I’ve learnt that I'm not alone in that experience. For a lot of people living here and in other predominantly white-colonised places, it's constant othering, no matter where you actually ‘belong’ or where you were born, or whose land you are settled on. We should be able to define our sense of identity for ourselves. Not be broken apart and compartmentalised in the way that we are.
What’s a hard lesson that you were grateful to learn?
I think it is important to take risks. Sometimes that means doing something that maybe you have been told to definitely not do (haha). But in order to find out what an opportunity or letting go of something that’s not serving you might bring, embracing vulnerability and trusting your gut is so important.
I often think back to when I returned home from living in New York. I came home to finish my Psychology degree, which I was resuming in my third year. I knew almost instantly that it wasn't right and had to make the very hard decision to drop out. It was terrifying, but I did it and I enrolled in writing pretty much immediately after that. It was the best thing I ever did.
Life in New York taught me that I was meant to create and even though that challenged everything I thought I knew about myself at the time, and everything I had planned for my future, it was the absolute truth. I would not be where I am today if I hadn't followed that instinct. To me there is nothing more important than going after what is most meaningful and exciting to you. That’s how I understand the very meaning of life!
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I can't remember! But I think probably a singer or something glam like that - I loved the Spice Girls... I wanted to be a witch at some stage... I still have moments of wanting to be a witch.
Do you feel like wisdom is something you gain with age, or through lived experiences?
Definitely experience. I do think wisdom is made up of a lot of things... And that’s not to say that age can’t equal wisdom - to a degree. But as we age, it is inevitable that we will have more experiences that will make us wiser, but I think the type of lived experiences we have has much more of a profound impact on how evolved we are; our emotional intelligence, our foresight, our perspective and so on.
There are many people older than me who are wiser, yes but they are also very lacking in some of the above things I mentioned, which I believe I have been able to develop through lived experience. And also by having the self awareness to reflect and learn from those experiences. So I guess it is a bit of both - lived experiences = wisdom, but not without introspection and doing the work on ourselves to evolve too.
What advice would you give to yourself 7 years ago?
You’re doing a good job and there is plenty of time :)
What drives you?
Things that excite me - art, passion, creativity, learning about and experiencing other cultures. My desire to create things that move people and validate people or challenge what they believe.
What’s your favourite piece from our Wisdom collection and how would you style it?
I love the Amani culottes! I’ve been wearing them with my oversized white jumper and boots. It’s comfy and casual but still something I can wear out for a coffee or walk or dress up for an evening out.