I was born in 1991, at the start of the Sierra Leone civil war. My mother originates from Senegal and my father from Mali. I grew up in Sierra Leone until the age of 12 when I migrated to Australia as a child refugee on a humanitarian visa.
On her work
After completing high school in Greater Western Sydney I did a few TAFE courses before going on to complete a Bachelor of Social Work, which is the area in which I’ve built my career. I’m passionate about social justice and community welfare, particularly the plight of refugees and marginalised populations. I’m also a staunch advocate, unapologetically raising my voice and sharing my survival story to bring an end to female genital mutilation (FGM).
What I love about my work is that each day presents new challenges and opportunities to use my knowledge, training and personal experience to positively influence clients from a vast array of backgrounds, who are facing myriad challenges in life. To effect real and positive change in people’s lives is highly rewarding.
On self care
I’m not big on gyms, I prefer incidental exercise, like riding my bike when I get the chance. I love coastal walks or hiking through a national park with friends. I find just being outdoors is good for my physical and mental wellbeing.
I love to jump in my dream car - my MINI - and take a road trip to escape the city whenever possible. I’ll book an AirBnB and try to unwind; meander the streets and explore local markets and artisan stores. This year I’ve already booked two road trips to Kangaroo Valley and the Blue Mountains, which I’m so looking forward to.
Cooking is a passion of mine and something that I find very therapeutic. Being of African descent I love my spicy food. I’ll often take a trip to the Camden farmers market on a Saturday morning to gather fresh produce and I love to entertain friends by sharing a home cooked meal.
Work-life balance is key. Outside of my professional life I try my best to strike a balance between ‘me time’ and staying connected socially. I enjoy going out with friends—celebrations can be big or small, but in life I have learnt the importance of solid and non-toxic friendships. With my family overseas, I have come to consider my sisterhood of friends my second family.
There’s one habit I need to keep in check; online shopping—one of my fave things to do. Even when I’m broke, there is Afterpay! Trying my hardest to stay away from it but the struggle is real, right? What I love about it most is that I don’t have to look for parking, talk to anyone or bump into people I know!
My biggest inspiration is Africa—my motherland. Africa taught me to be strong, outspoken and maintain a sense of humour, no matter your hardships or blessings. Laughter is the best medicine. No matter how long it is between trips, I feel at home when I’m in Africa.
Travelling through Europe positively influenced me, there is so much diversity in some parts of Europe and I found the atmosphere very calm, I was challenged outside my comfort zone to connect and converse linguistically from place to place. Europe also influenced my personal style, the fashion, the culture, the cityscape of European cities is diverse, yet consistently elegant.
I prefer the pace of a vibrant city. I’d choose London, New York or Paris over a tropical or resort style holiday anytime. I was in Bali in 2017 and after 5 days I was ready to go home!
On rituals and routine
The shower is my haven. It does wonders, seriously. The most important part of my self-care routine is savouring my hot, steamy shower in the morning and at night, I like to incorporate essential aromatherapy oils, citrus to invigorate me first thing in the morning and a calming blend to help me unwind of an evening. This daily ritual also helps me relieve my migraine headaches. I use shea butter religiously to nourish my skin as well as pressed coconut oil to keep my skin silky smooth and hydrated. I spritz my face with Mario Badescu Aloe, Herbs and Rosewater, which leaves me feeling refreshed. Treating myself to a regular pedicure and manicure and maintaining stylish hair is part of my ongoing self-care routine to feel good and look good too.
My mother is a fabric designer, like African bazin fabric and high end African fashion, creating bold, bright and fearless patterns. She creates outfits for special occasions too, so I would say from a young age my mother’s and grandmother’s sense of style and design influenced my appreciation for quality fabrics and designs. Migrating to Australia, I began to have more freedom to express myself with fashion, so I blend Western and African fashion to give a unique edge to my style.
It’s very important to me to showcase my heritage through the way I style clothes, using bright colours and patterns. My fashion is vintage-inspired; soft, feminine and comfortable. Fashion lets you be whoever you want to be and allows you to connect with people who share your taste. As a dark-skinned woman it makes me feel so happy to have the power to express my creativity through this medium.
On her favourite reads
Desert Flower by Cathleen Miller and Waris Dirie — I’m sure most people have read this fantastic book already. It’s so inspiring. After high school, Desert Flower was the first book I picked up and read and I remember telling myself “wow, I’m not alone - this woman went through exactly what I went through at the age of 6”. That’s when I started to share my story about FGM.
Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave is another book I love. It tells the real-life love story of a gay couple living in Australia in the 1970s, whose love and commitment to one another wins out at a time when there was a raging homophobic culture pervading society
On her favourite podcasts and music
I’m secretly obsessed with true crime podcasts, I get engrossed in Casefile.
To amuse myself and switch off after an intense work day I enjoy a bit of trashy reality TV like Love Island UK or Married at First Sight. Watching African movies or shows takes me back to my roots and often has me in stitches.
My favourite artists at the moment are Summer Walker and Snoh Aalegra—ugh, those feels again! I want to make love to Summer Walker’s whole album “Over It”; is that too much? I don’t think so.
On her fave people to follow on social
People that inspire me that have powerful and inspirational stories, especially those fighting for a just cause, art, fashion, news pages and entertaining memes pages.
Where can we follow you?
Instagram or any other platforms: @Fatu_Zillah