In time, I started to look forward, seeing her new articles and I loved seeing “Leiden” magazine growing into a social platform with close to 2000 followers.
For about three years, I was fascinated from afar by her boldness and nonchalance. Then a common friend introduced us to each other.
I knew I was going to meet a strong, determined woman. But the truly unexpected thing about Emma is her voice. It’s got the sound of a silver bell; and it’s the first hint of her warm, delightful personality. We hit it off instantly, talking about fashion, journalism, ethical research and many other things.
The first book you loved as a child?
The first book I loved as a young child was “Old Pig”. It reminded me of my Nan - pigs are her favourite animals. The illustrations are beautiful and when the old pig dies, I cry every time. I also loved a book called “Six Dinner Sid” which was about a cat who charmed multiple dinners out of everyone in his street.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a medical examiner, doing autopsies. I was always a good reader as a child and would often read my mums books. She loves reading murder mysteries and one series I picked up featured a medical examiner as the main character. I was about 10 years old, I think, when I first started reading those books and decided I’d like to be that person, examining the bodies.
My father is a mathematician and a physicist, which is likely what kick started my love of science. When I won the science award in Year 10 at high school, I remember being surprised but proud. When I got to college, I studied double maths, physics, chemistry, biology and English - I was doing everything in my power to be on the right path to study medicine.
I was also very creative as a child dancing, painting and drawing. It was through dance and costume that I first learnt to experiment with clothing. My mum also worked in fashion, which further nurtured this love. As I got older, I briefly thought about pursuing dance as a career like my brother, but decided to continue on in pursuit of medicine. After a gap year dancing and travelling, I studied a Bachelor of Medical Science at the ANU. I continued to dance and perform throughout university and worked two part time jobs to fund my travel and clothing habits. I sat the entrance test to study post-graduate medicine twice but didn’t do very well, I was so busy with everything else I was doing I didn’t really study hard enough. I got a couple of interviews at different medical schools but I didn’t get in.
After another gap year dancing and travelling, and at a loss for what else to do, I came back to complete an Honours year in Immunology at the John Curtin School of Medical Research. I never felt like I fit in there, it was a definite case of imposter syndrome. I had forgotten most of what I had learned in my degree and felt like I was always playing catch up.
Most of my colleagues were so focused; they would work late and come in on the weekends. They lived for their work. I was still dancing; I had two jobs. My heart was not fully in what I was doing there. The environment wasn’t very supportive; it was mainly men with the women I encountered sharing negative experiences. I wasn’t sleeping or eating regularly and there was nearly always a knot in my stomach.
As I finished my Honours I knew I didn’t want to work in science anymore but I didn't really know what else I could do. I was 24 or 25 years old back then. I took yet another gap year to work, dance and travel but with no clear plan for the future.
At the end of that year, by chance, I ended up writing about FASHFEST for my boyfriend’s mum’s boyfriend’s media publication “This is Canberra”. I stayed up all night writing my piece after the show and I loved it. I had always devoured fashion content and was interested in the anthropological dimension of fashion so when I had the opportunity to write about it in the way I wanted without restriction, I was really excited.
I continued to write for “This is Canberra” after that but I had so many ideas that didn’t quite fit there. Then one day, I was planning a photo shoot with two of my very talented friends, and we got to talking about creating more opportunities for working creatively and collaboratively in Canberra and the idea for Leiden was sparked.
I went home and I thought about it a lot. I couldn’t get the idea of starting my own publication out of my head. So, very naively, I started the magazine and it’s all snow balled from there. Looking back now, my naivety was a good thing, because if I had none the scope of what I had to do and the commitment it requires, I might have been too scared to begin. It's been so rewarding to build something from scratch and to work with so many incredible people.
During the week I work full time at the Centre for Australian Ethical Research (CAER) and the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR). It's very interesting and important work and I really enjoy it – I learn so much every day.
Who I am now?
I am a writer and an editor, although I still feel like a bit of an imposter to identify myself as such. I have always valued education and academic achievement so to work in a field where I have not completed any relevant qualifications, makes me concerned that I won’t be perceived as having a right to be that space. Strangely though I have never doubted my abilities to actually do what I do, I just worry too much about having to prove myself.
What is your innermost dream?
My innermost dream is to run the magazine full time and to build it into a successful social enterprise. I have so many ideas of how it could work and can envision the sort of corporate environment I would like to create. I see our role as a storyteller, thought leader and connector.
So much of what we do with the magazine is about working with writers and other creatives to help them express themselves and I dream of developing more programs to further facilitate this. We work with so many different people of all different skills and backgrounds and it is both humbling and rewarding to be able to help them build their skills as communicators in whatever medium they are interested in exploring.
A dream I wouldn’t confess to anyone?
When I was younger, I think I always wanted to do something in fashion but never could admit it, even to myself. I always felt that I should do something more traditionally academic, and to get a ‘proper job’, which is part of the reason, I never pursued dance. Now that I am living that dream, I am more comfortable talking about it openly.
How do you stay motivated?
I work very hard; but the reward is worth it. I love it when I get emails or messages from people about stories that we run; I love hearing what a difference they can make. We have run a series on endometriosis two years in a row now and the responses we received were overwhelming. Another thing that makes me so happy is being able to help others follow their dreams through the magazine whether it is giving them a platform or opportunity, helping them develop their skills or connecting them with others.
I have always been a busy person; I always need to be doing something and I am horrible at relaxing. I am also happiest when I am busy. Because I am so busy, I find I have no choice but to remain motivated comes from the fact that I feel like I can't just leave it, that there will be more things to do in the end.
I am not very good however at preventing burnout. In the beginning when the magazine first started, I didn't sleep much, and the few times I tried to take a break, I couldn't. Every couple of months I would have a mini breakdown, have a big cry, and then be ready to go again. I know it's not particularly healthy so I try structure my breaks now.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I'd like to think that in 3 years time I will be running “Leiden” full-time. I feel like I am trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of creating a business model for media. I am less interested in working with brands and selling product, and am more interested in asking questions, sparking ideas and conversations, and exploring the role media plays in holding broader society to account. Our integrity and independence as a publication are important; we want to write what we like and what is important to us. This makes it difficult to monetise what we do in a traditional way but I know I’ll think of something.
How would you use 15 minutes of fame?
It's a hard question as fame is not something I am particularly interested in or seek out. I think more than anything I would like to be known and respected for my work.
I try to make the magazine about all of us, not just me. So if I were to have 15 minutes of fame I would try not to let it go to my head and would use the opportunity to shine a spotlight on all of the amazing people who make Leiden possible.
Who is your role model?
I wouldn’t say I have ever had a role model. I am more inspired by everyone and everything rather than any particular individual. I pick and choose what I admire in others and cobble it together while trying to maintain a strong sense of self.
My favourite movie is “About Time” by Richard Curtis; It’s about a young man who is able to travel in time, but who learns to value the present. I really like that message. I am generally a sucker for anything British and anything by Richard Curtis in general. I love movies that I can watch over and over again like Legally Blonde and Clueless.
I read so many books and I have so many favourites that it is very hard to choose just one. All time favourites of mine are the works of Austen and Harry Potter. I also love “Watership Down” by Richard Adams. Lately I have been very intrigued by “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. It is an incredible book that essentially discusses philosophy through a narrative on architecture. It's very thought- provoking; I haven’t read anything like it before and even though I finished it nearly a year ago I still think about it a lot.
Do you have any regrets?
My only regret is taking so long to realise what I wanted to do in life but in the end, I don't really regret it, because all of that contributed to me being me.
Where are you happiest?
I am the happiest at home, I think, its wear I am truly myself. When I was living with my mum, it was in my room with all my things. Now it's in my home with all my things. As soon as I get home, I strip everything off and put on my dressing gown. As much as I love clothes and getting dressed, it is part of a performance and creating a character that give me what I need to face the world. But when I am at home I can leave that all behind and just be me.
What does fashion mean to you?
I use clothes to express myself; they allow me to show people who I am without having to say anything. I find it difficult to approach and talk to strangers, but an extravagant outfit can help break the ice. So in that way I use clothes as conversation starters. The way I dress, definitely affects my mood and confidence. I feel happiest when I am colourful and textured and my energy is low when I dress simply.
I'm a very bad everyday dresser; I tend to be overdressed all the time. I am also not a uniform dresser; I find them repressive and restrictive. I like the fun of experimenting, creating different looks and pushing the boundaries of my style. For that reason I would say my style is quite eclectic.
I love beautiful things that are exceptionally well made. It gives me pleasure to own and wear pieces that are like works of art.
Define yourself in one word
If I had to choose one word to define myself, it would be “driven”.