I admire people who aim high; so it’s no wonder that Zeenat Wilkinson and I hit it off.
We had been mutually following one another on Instagram for a little while before sliding into one another’s DM’s, me as ‘The Residents’ and she as ‘Sauce’, the online resource for the worldly woman who loves everything that’s beautiful. I resonated with Zeenat’s understated taste, focus on cult skincare products and positive pieces about female role models. In an Instagram Universe, where fast-fashion is the norm and make-up can verge on drag-like, her diversity, natural beauty and inclusive focus is on-point: Zeenat is re-imagining the face of ‘The New Zealand Woman’.
After messaging a few times, and checking out the website, www.saucemag.co.nz, I have found myself a regular Sauce reader, and a fan of Zeenat’s. Based in Auckland, Zeenat has chosen to make creating content and editing an online platform and community her primary focus, topped up with freelance styling work and being a respected gal-about-town. When I visited Auckland to partake in a photoshoot, we made time to get together so I could finally ask her all my burning questions, on the record.
Lucy Revill: The first question I ask everybody, Zeenat, is where were you born?
Zeenat Wilkinson: I was born in Mumbai – easy.
LR: What did your parents do?
ZW: My mum, she has had a job but she was really busy with us: me and my brother. My dad, he works in property and we have an ice cream factory.
LR: Wow! That’s cool. Did you eat a lot of ice cream as a little girl?
ZW: Yeah and actually, now I think, over the last 20 years I probably haven’t had much, because I think I got over it in my first ten years.
LR: Did other people think you were very lucky to have an ice cream factory?
ZW: Yes. I also got teased a lot about it at school.
LR: Where did you go to school while you were growing up?
ZW: Mumbai – probably wouldn’t know the school. I did school there, but I did actually come to New Zealand when I was 13 and did like a summer school sort of thing here for a few months, and I totally fell in love with New Zealand back then. Then I went back and studied a bit more in Mumbai, and then I ended up in London doing university for some time.
LR: What was it that made you move to London, to England?
ZW: Well, I wanted to come back to New Zealand, to be honest, and I wanted to study fashion here because I was obsessed with this country. I was just obsessed with New Zealand, the nature and its beauty, and I wanted to come back here, but my dad thought it was a bad idea to come to New Zealand to study fashion, so he gave me the option of either sending me to New York, Paris, or London, and I just thought London would be a great place for fashion.
LR: What was it like living in London?
ZW: It was incredible. It was probably the best time of my life. I still have like the fondest memories of being there, and being in this creative environment. Like, Saint Martins is just the best place to study fashion because it has real creators and artists from all walks of life, whether it's like visual art, or exploring fashion through art, or through the artistic eye. I think it was a really eye-opening experience: being there, studying there, and working there.
LR: Where were your favourite places to visit or to shop when you lived in London?
ZW: I always ended up getting different things from different places. Like, I would love going to Knightsbridge area to look at vintage shops with lots of beautiful expensive jewellery, or just in the shop at Harrods, but only end up having like a crispy crumb donut at the end, and going back. I would end up shopping a lot in a lot of the vintage shops. There were a few vintage shops in East London, and then also where I used to live, in Camden, there were heaps of vintage shops as well. That was my entire wardrobe really, from there, and Topshop back then.
LR: What did you study while you were at Central Saint Martins?
ZW: I studied the Foundation in Fashion, then I did a bunch of other courses which were more focused on certain areas of fashion. I did a course in trend in fashion forecast, and then I did retail industry studies, then a bit on business fashion.
LR: You’ve said you wanted to work in the industry, so did you do internships while you were living there as well?
ZW: Yeah, I did a whole lot of internships. I worked with an agency called Glow that managed a lot of the designers from Fashion Week. I thought that was an incredible experience because I was there from morning till night, all throughout fashion week, meeting designers and meeting editors. That is such a wonderful experience, being able to do that, when you’re just dipping your feet into the industry. I worked with a few stylists as well, I assisted them and that was quite fun, just trying out different areas of the industry and then trying to figure out what I liked and did not like, and which direction I kind of wanted to steer into.
LR: What was the first job you had that you were really excited about?
ZW: The first job that I was really excited about, I think my first proper job, was as the fashion stylist for Grazia and working with BBC. That was incredibly exciting because I was the first person employed for the fashion department, which means that I was doing everything from cover shoots to the big spreads and working with celebrities, and all of that. That was really exciting to be able to do what I love.
LR: What happened after you got the job there?
ZW: I got burnt-out after one year, as you do. I was working like 24/7 and I just got to a point where I needed a break from it, so I decided to go freelance. I still continued working with them on a monthly-contributing basis, so I did a set of shoots and stories for them each month, which, I think, was a much nicer way to work because I was still getting to do all the stuff that I loved, but I could do it from my home, which was fabulous.
LR: What led to Grazia being set up in India?
ZW: I think we had quite strict guidelines from the Italian team. I would work quite closely with the editor to really create a look and a feel of Grazia. Grazia is almost like a premium mass publication, so it's still very premium in terms of the quality of the content, but you’re still trying to reach a bigger audience. When I would source for the shoots, 70 per cent of it would be designers and luxury labels, but we would always have 30 per cent of content from high-street brands, and brands that are a little bit more affordable. I don’t know if that answered the question.
LR: So they wanted to set up a version of Grazia for India, and you were an appropriate person to do that. Did it go well? Did it work?
ZW: Yeah, it's still going. I think it's been going for over ten years now. They’re doing really well. I still like what they’re doing in terms of the quality of the content. It's not as much of a tabloid issue as it is in London and some places. I think the Indian one is a little bit more like an Elle or a Marie Claire.
LR: What led to you moving to New Zealand?
ZW: Like I said, I came here when I was 13 and I was in love with New Zealand: the landscape, the people and all of that. I wanted to come back, but it just didn’t happen. Then I did come here for a holiday, and I think it was like fate brought me to Luke, and then we did long distance for a long time. So I’m really here because of him.
LR: So, you had an amazing whirlwind holiday to New Zealand and then you fell in love?
ZW: Yeah, that’s right. Well, not right away, but yeah I did meet him and it was the start of this.
LR: What does Luke do?
ZW: He works in finance.
LR: What was it that made you decide to come to New Zealand for good, and then start Sauce?
ZW: Well, it was either Luke moving to Mumbai, or it was me coming here, or us both going somewhere else like Dubai, Singapore or something. I think that he had a really good job and I thought, maybe I could sacrifice what I had going on, and just see if I could live here and work here, and see how that went – and so I did that. I always remind him of that, that I sacrificed. ‘I came here for you.’
LR: Then you started working with some New Zealand publications?
ZW: Yes, I did a bunch of work. I worked with a whole lot of them. I did Remix Magazine, a lot of work for Fashion Quarterly. I did some stuff for Viva and The New Zealand Herald, and lots of amazing work with Rachel and Grant at that magazine.
LR: That made you decide to go and set up Sauce on your own?
ZW: I sort of noticed there was a real lack of diversity in media, like in terms of voices as well as the people that were being featured and being photographed for shoots. I really wanted to make sure that there is that diversity celebrated. Sauce really came about with having that objective in mind, really using my experience and my background in fashion. It's like an underpinning or like an undercurrent of everything we do. I have always been really passionate about beauty, and a lot of YouTubers were doing amazing things, but I couldn’t figure out why they were using like 200 products to create a look. Like, it was too much, and I really wanted to create a platform where you can simplify beauty so it's a lot more approachable and easy.
LR: What did you like about the name Sauce? Where did that come from?
ZW: We were just using words like, the imagery should be saucy and it should be kind of like fun and fresh. We thought of a few names. I don’t know if it was a good idea to call it Sauce because then I looked it up and there’s actually a publication called ‘Sauce’ in America. There are also a few agencies in New Zealand that have the name already, but we were stuck on it and we wanted to do it.
LR: What’s been one of the hardest parts of having your own online platform and being editor, and the responsibility that that entails?
ZW: One of the hardest things, I find, is managing creative content as well as managing the social media side of things. I think that aspect is actually quite awesome, especially with stories now. There’s a lot to think about. I don’t like to just post about anything and everything; I like to curate content. So I feel like that’s another entire job on its own. I think that’s the hardest thing: managing, creating really good content, and also doing all of the social media side of things.
LR: What’s your favourite part of your business?
ZW: My favourite part of the business is definitely working with all the industry creatives when we do our photo shoots. So, when there is either an interview, or a beauty shoot, or a fashion shoot, we work with all of my favourite photographers or some of their new models or emerging faces, and makeup artists and hair stylists, and we all kind of like get together and have a really good time. So I love that part of the business.
LR: Now you’re a Kiwi?
ZW: I don’t know, am I?
LR: Maybe; maybe not. But how important do you think it is to bring diversity to the content for New Zealanders?
ZW: It's so important because you walk around in the city and you walk on, like, Queen Street, or if you go to Ponsonby, or anywhere in the city, and you see there are all sorts of people, and so why is it that in media you don’t see that same diversity that you see on the streets. So I think it's incredibly important to have all voices, that kind of diversity in voices as well as in photos and imagery.
LR: Finally, why do you love living in New Zealand?
ZW: It is incredibly beautiful, and the people are really lovely: some of the best people in the world.