As one of the original Australian fashion bloggers, Nicole Warne has always been at the forefront of fashion, style, and creating content. Operating under the nom de plume Gary Pepper Vintage, Nicole was an influencer before there was such a thing as influencing, and with more than two million Instagram followers — not to mention partnerships with luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel — she’s cemented herself as one the leading faces in Australian (and international) fashion. In other words, Nicole gets clothes.
But when she gave birth to her daughter Sakura (better known as Suki), in 2019, baby clothes were an entirely different ballgame.
“Before I had a child, I was like, I’m gonna style them in these really cute outfits and go out and take photos with her, and create these beautiful visual moments with her that I can remember forever,” Nicole tells marie claire Australia.
“But as soon as I had Suki — at least the first couple weeks, we didn’t leave the house. I realised quite quickly that I’d bought all these really cute outfits and I barely had energy to change her into any of them.”
Nicole and her husband, Luke Shadbolt, were some of the last in their friendship group to have kids. Friends had told them that with a newborn, all you really needed was growsuits, singlets and burp cloths. (Parents will know exactly what I’m talking about, but for the uninitiated: a growsuit is basically a onesie.)
Suki is now two years old, and is an old soul. “She’s very reserved, very quiet. She’s an observer,” Nicole says. “It’s like I birthed my mother.” It’s not unusual for babies to bear a resemblance to their grandparents (see Princess Charlotte and Queen Elizabeth II), but it’s slightly unusual in Suki’s case. You see, Nicole was adopted at five months old.
“It’s very, very strange because my mum is Australian, and my daughter is half Australian, a quarter Korean, a quarter Japanese, and she’s come out not only looking like my mum, but also has the same personality,” Nicole says.
Nicole was adopted from South Korea to parents Robyn and Ian Warne, who had one biological son already but always knew they wanted more children.
“It was based on health reasons,” she says. “Both my mum and dad couldn’t have more biological children after they had my older brother. And we had adoption already in my family, my mom’s sister had adopted my cousin from Indonesia. Adoption was just a very open conversation in our house.”
Her parents chose South Korea because it was a faster process than adopting inside Australia, taking an average of one to three years rather than a decade. “My parents found the process worthwhile, but tedious. You have to be prepared to have a lot of emotional strength and bandwidth, because it’s quite a long process. But for them, there was no question. They wanted to have more children, and they wanted to help all these children who were in the foster system.”
This connection to the adoption process (her younger sister was also adopted from South Korea) is while Nicole works so closely with Adopt Change. It’s an organisation working to help make adoption faster in Australia at a legislative level, and improve the lives of the 43,000 kids — the majority of them under four years old — in the foster care system at a frontline level.
“Most kids go from foster home to foster home with a garbage bag of very limited belongings,” Nicole said. “So Adopt Change has an initiative called My Pack, where money raised can buy toothbrushes, underpants, a blanket — you know, just very essential items that we take for granted everyday, but these kids don’t have access to.”
She continued: “We know from the science that the first 1000 days of these children’s lives is when 80% of their mental development and personality is established. So when you think about these babies not being breastfed, not having skin to skin contact with their biological parents, just going straight into foster care, it just shapes them from the very first day.”
To support the work Adopt Change does — which includes providing support and education to the foster parents themselves — Nicole designed a nine-piece unisex collection of clothes for Purebaby, with 100% of net profits going to the organisation. It’s based around the exact items Nicole herself found she was buying when she had Suki.
“I definitely learned quickly that investing in beautifully made, quality clothes like a growsuit that I could wash multiple times a day was really beneficial to me,” she said.
“And then when she was sitting up, I had to make sure that I was okay with her vomiting in the growsuit. And then I had to make sure she was in thicker pants because she would always get her knees dirty and climb everything. So when it came to designing the collection, I immediately knew that I wanted overalls and tracksuits, because they were all the things I would personally buy.”
Nicole has never met her birth mother. Despite the negative (and often, Hollywood-driven) connotations of adoption, she had a happy, wholesome and fulfilled childhood. She had no desire to meet her birth mother – until she gave birth to Suki.
“I realised that as a mother, no matter your path, there wouldn’t be moments in your life that you would think and question, ‘I wonder what happened to them?'” Nicole said.
“That was a turning point for me where I thought, perhaps, when I’m ready, I could reach out and find out more. But I would definitely have to be in a place of being open and confident in knowing that there might not be a happy ending to the story. That’s probably the saddest part I found meeting with other adoptees, is that a lot of them have said, I wish I never reached out to my biological parents. That’s how it is with adoption. Everyone has such different stories, I’m not quite ready to explore that.”
For now, she has her hands full with a curious two-year-old. But in the future, adoption is definitely something she wants to explore as she expands her family.
“It was always a dream of mine,” she said. “It was something I said to [my husband] in the early days of our relationship, because I wanted to make sure that whoever I spent my life with was aware of that. And he has always been so supportive and has the same belief.”
She continued: “If it’s not adoption, it will be foster care. I think if you have the resources, it’s just such an amazing opportunity and such a gift. I think the biggest gift you can give another human is safety and love.”