Born in South Korea, she was adopted and raised in Australia, and now has a global audience of 2.3 million people.
Sweet & Stylish
“To be able to use my platforms to help raise awareness and action for a cause so deeply connected to my story is the greatest gift social media has given me”
When social media was still in its infancy, when it was still nothing more than a mix of photo albums and long-lost friends, a few visionaries began to venture through these websites and create their own virtual businesses. Many vanished without a trace, but, as always, the truly special ones survived. This was the case for Nicole Warne, a true digital influencer hailing from Australia. Born in South Korea, she was adopted and raised in Australia, and now has a global audience of 2.3 million people. Her tasteful style became the trademark of an online vintage clothing store called Gary Pepper.
Social media allowed her to spread the virtual store’s influence and functioned as a window for Nicole’s work, who, though barely twenty years old, was soon being hired as a digital media consultant and strategist for brands like Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, and Cartier. Her early exposure to social media was the first step in her realizing that her personal life, her day to day clothing choices, could be more interesting than the products she sold. Her name became more and more prominent, eventually leading to her inclusion in Forbes Asia’s “30 under 30” list in 2016.
Since then, she has been printed in various magazines and has become a lifestyle reference. Extremely professional and always willing to go for the best with her work, she is beloved by all who know her. How this woman can move so deftly through the fashion world, have a wedding straight out of the movies – last year she married her long-time partner Luke Shadbolt in Wanaka, New Zealand – and continue to be a truly humble and caring person, you’ll find out in our exclusive interview.
“I always aspired to have a global brand, but I didn’t have a clue that it would be by using social media. I recognize I was in the right place at the right time – and that I wouldn’t be where I am today without social media“
What’s your audience now?
When I started my business, I was 20 years old and my audience was the same age. 10 years later and my audience has watched me grow and have naturally evolved with me from teenagers to adults, but with the same interests in photography, travel, fashion, and beauty. I’m quite a private person, so as I’ve grown up I’ve learned to share more of my personal life and interests like my values, my charity work, family and friends, fitness, and health, and my followers have loved seeing more inside my everyday life because it’s not as polished. I went from going to the ends of the earth to compose the perfect photo, to consciously trying to ensure my community realized that not everything is perfect; life isn’t perfect; no one is perfect, you’re not perfect, and that’s okay. I hate that social media has created so much social pressure for young teens, so it’s important to me to share more real and candid insights into my life. I know as I keep evolving as a human, a woman, and as a business, my audience will continue to change and grow with me, and that is the most rewarding thing in the world.
How do you see the Gary Pepper brand now?
Gary Pepper was originally an online vintage store back in 2009. It feels crazy to look back and see how much has changed, for both myself and the digital and social industry, which was in its infancy when I started. Once I closed my store, I shifted from selling physical products to being able to market my personal skillset to clients. It gave me a unique opportunity to explore and express my creativity again, which led to consulting or producing digital editorials and campaigns for luxury brands I grew up idolizing like Chanel, Dior, Valentino and Cartier, to name a few. I still see my business as a lifestyle brand which is centered around my community and creativity, but behind the scenes, my team and I, operate as a digital and creative agency.
Did you ever imagine that it could reach this size?
Absolutely not. Social media was a different tool when I was in high school or it just didn’t exist yet; Instagram, Facebook, Twitter were all launched after I had graduated, so it was impossible for me to grasp just how large the global reach would be and how quickly the business, and my following, would expand using these platforms. I always aspired to have a global brand, but I didn’t have a clue that it would be by using social media. I recognize I was in the right place at the right time – and that I wouldn’t be where I am today without social media.
How do you deal with the names Gary Pepper and Nicole Warne? Are they something separate or both important brands for you?
Last year I changed my Instagram handle from @garypeppergirl to my name @nicolewarne and it was so liberating. I wanted to do it for years but to be honest I was terrified of shifting from my brand name to my personal name because it felt like I was losing such an important chapter of my life and I didn’t want to lose a part of me that was so integral to where I am today. I started my social media the same day I launched my online vintage store, so my platforms were used for my business, and as things began to shift I always struggled with accepting the weird and wild reality that people were actually interested in me and my life rather than just my products. Once I realized my community will support me through anything it gave me such beautiful confidence in moving forward. Now, Gary Pepper is more of an aesthetic, so I still share content and collaborations through the Gary Pepper lens. At the end of the day, my hope is that everything I share can inspire and cultivate positive change, which is what I have always wanted to use my platforms for.
You are a vegan now. Is this something that changed your life?
Yes, I’ve been on a plant-based diet for three and a half years now. I used to eat meat in every meal, three times a day, but I always wanted to explore being vegetarian or vegan to support animal rights and to help the environment but I had the common excuse of saying “But I could never give up cheese!” or “But I love eggs too much”. It wasn’t until my Mum, who is vegan, gave me a book called ‘The China Study’, which is the largest case study on nutrition ever conducted, that everything shifted. It was like someone flicked a switch in my brain. I couldn’t view food the same way as before. I just woke up one morning and the sight of meat repulsed me, so I said I was going to try being vegan for one week, which turned into one month, then one year, and so on. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I have never felt healthier.
What are your favorite vegan dishes? The same as before?
I’ve always eaten clean, so going on a plant-based diet wasn’t too much of a shift. I love ‘eating the rainbow’ and will cook with fresh vegetables and some sort of protein every single night. I generally make roast vegetables, protein bowls, smoothies or anything Mexican. I love making vegan cookies and cakes when I’m stressed. It’s so easy to substitute ingredients for vegan alternatives when you’re cooking or baking now so I still get to eat all the fun (and bad) things like pizza, pasta, cookies, etc.
You are living in New York now, right? How is your life as a New Yorker?
Yes, I am. I moved last August and it’s been the fastest year of my life. My life in New York could not be more of a contrast to my life in Australia. I have a house in my hometown back in Australia, where it’s quiet, isolated and incredibly sheltered. There isn’t much to do besides enjoying time outside in nature with family and friends. It’s an oasis. Whereas in New York there’s hardly any nature, the city and the people never stop moving and you can basically get anything you want, as late as you want. I never hear the sound of the trees moving in the wind or birds and bees during Spring, but my time in New York has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life and we feel very lucky to experience both worlds. It’s confronting, it’s hard, it’s unforgiving, but it’s pushed me further than anything ever has, and I absolutely love it. There is no place in the world quite like New York.
What do you like best in town?
I love Central Park and could spend hours there. I love exploring the city by bike. I love Domino Park in Williamsburg. I love dedicating a day to seeing the new exhibitions at the art galleries in Chelsea or museums. I love going to Broadway by myself. I love vegan places like ABCV in Flatiron, Jajaja in LES and Modern Love in Brooklyn. Tracey Anderson is one of my favorite workouts ever. You can actually find any form of exercise in this city – the options are endless. The city is constantly changing so there’s always so much to explore.
You are a very engaged person, with lots of social projects. On your website, you suggest a connection with being adopted. That’s a special subject for you?
I work with Adopt Change, a not-for-profit organization founded by Deborah-Lee Furness which advocates for making adoption and foster care easier within Australia, and the work we do together has given me so much fulfillment and joy. I’ve always been very open about being adopted and have wanted to work with Adopt Change for years. To be able to use my platforms to help raise awareness and action for a cause so deeply connected to my story is the greatest gift social media has given me. To know my platforms are helping to improve the quality of life for anyone – there is no better feeling.
A natural question after such a beautiful wedding, do you plan to have kids?
This is the million-dollar question right now! I’ve always wanted children and it’s something my husband and I want in the near future. We’re just enjoying each other and being married for a moment before moving onto the next chapter.
And what are your plans for the future?
Right now, I’m still in a relationship with New York and trying to spend as much time there as possible when I’m not traveling for work. My husband and I are working on a book together which will be out next year, as well as a few other projects. I’m excited to continue my work as an Ambassador for Adopt Change and to help raise awareness for more charities I’m passionate about, like ‘Take 3 for The Sea’ and ‘WWF’. I’m trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle which I want to share more of this year.
Nicole Warne wears Dior at The Edition Hotel New York
Photographer: Remi Pyrdol
Creative Direction: Claudia Ribeiro Bernstein
Styling: C. Otts
Beauty: Sandrine VanSlee
Hair: Yukiko Tajima