She stepped away from a career in fashion mags to launch The Grace Tales, an online publication that soon gathered a global community of women navigating motherhood. Here, the inspiring Georgie Abay talks about her polar-opposite daughters (and the day she realised she’d jump in front of a bus for them), the challenges of having no ‘off switch’, and how The Grace Tales is set for an exciting new shake-up.
A true Sydneysider since birth, you call the treelined terraced suburb of Paddington home with your husband and little girls, Arabella & Lottie. Paddington is one of those dream locations where everything is at your fingertips. Do you find sometimes you never leave?
I have to say, I do tend to stay close to home. Getting in the car with the kids always seems to be stressful – they fight a lot in the car. My daughter started school this year and it’s walking distance from our home so on the days when I’m at home with my four-year-old, we often don’t get in the car. I love the village atmosphere of where we live. I love looking at all the different terrace houses – they’re all so charming. I guess that’s what I love most about where we live – the sense of charm and all the character of the homes. We’re close enough to the beach and can walk into the city. I adore all of Sydney – we’re very lucky to live here. I spent time living in London and then later, in Dubai, but I always knew I’d come home to Sydney to settle down. Who could give up these beautiful blue skies?
The Grace Tales came about when you realised juggling the corporate world and motherhood was no easy act. We imagine that making the decision to leave a career with Voguewould have come with great contemplation. Ultimately, you triumphed and created a platform which is today a constant source of informative content for women globally. Tell us, how did the process unfold for you, and was it an easy decision?
I remember when I told my dad I was going to resign and he said to me: “it’d be a shame to throw it all away.” I knew he was worried I’d regret walking about from a career I’d spent years and years building. But I never saw it like that – I’d had a great time working in magazines. I’d travelled around the world, I’d interviewed some phenomenal people from Diane Von Furstenberg to Christopher Bailey, I’d become the deputy editor of my favourite magazine – I felt content. It was the right time to step away. I’d tried to make it work after my first daughter Arabella arrived and went back to Vogue part time, but when my second daughter Lottie arrived, I knew I couldn’t go back. I’d also had a challenging time bringing Lottie into the world – it gave me a lot of perspective. As it happened, falling into digital media was a happy accident. I worked solely on the print part of Vogue, not digital. If I had of stayed, I would never have upskilled. I now run a multi-platform digital brand – I feel grateful I’m not still working in print magazines. I actually now have moments where I wonder if going back to a corporate job would be easier than running my own company – there’s never an off switch. It can get pretty overwhelming at times (I find the relentlessness of social media the most challenging!). But I think when you’re a mother – full-time or working – that’s just life, right?
What has been the most surprising outcome from creating The Grace Tales?
The wonderful friendships I’ve made. I work with some incredible women who are now dear friends. They’re smart, funny, creative, honest and I just adore them.
Recent years have seen the typical work paradigm shift dramatically with more and more people working remotely or flexible hours. What does a typical ‘working week’ look like for you?
I’m constantly tweaking my routine depending on what’s going on – sometimes I need more exercise to manage anxiety or need to get up at 5am to get ahead of my workload because the girls need me more during the day. I am grateful for the flexibility I have. I work harder than I ever have, but I dictate the hours. Both girls are in daycare/school four days a week. Monday-Wednesday I try and power through as much as I can. I’ll often work at night as well or get up at 5am as there’s always a mountain of work to do at the beginning of the week. I also have a call every Tuesday with our editor-at-large Emily Armstrong who lives in Singapore. On Thursday, Lottie and I spend the day together. Ballet class, swimming lessons… and lots of “hanging out” as she calls it. I’ll usually put some TV on for her in the afternoon so I can get through any urgent emails or deadlines. On Friday, I’ll mix work with self-care – a trip to the gym will always sort me out. Like a lot of mothers, I tend to get pretty anxious and overwhelmed, and a session at the gym will always sort me out. I love Pilates, Barre, Power Plate, yoga. I’m trying to not work at night as much and slow down a bit… I’ll see how that goes!
Has becoming your own boss made the art of juggling work & family life any easier, or just different?
Definitely easier. The week is organised around my kids. I couldn’t do that if I had a boss to answer to or worked for a company that required me to work the traditional 9-5 hours. There are certainly pros and cons to both – flexibility is a pro but having a mass of overheads to cover each month and managing cash flow can get very stressful. I miss having an IT department and the support that a corporate company gives you. But I love being my own boss. If we want to do something, we action it quickly. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, we move on quickly. I do feel like I work a lot, and it’s something I’d like to manage better but on a whole, running my own business works best for our family.
What’s next for you, and for The Grace Tales?
Right now, I’m tearing my hair out trying to get our new membership platform GRACE COLLECTIVE live – ha! There’s a lot of development that’s gone into it – but we’re almost there. We’re moving to a subscription model. Dramatically shaking up your business model is nerve-wracking. Change is scary. We’re all creatures of habit and it’s often easier to keep things just as they are. But we can’t, simply because in the current media landscape, it’s not a sustainable business model. Moving to a subscription model will protect our future. It will mean we are here for many more years. It means we won’t have to one day announce that we’re closing our doors as other publications have over the last year. I’m not alone in shaking things up. Publishers around the world are rethinking the future of digital media. The New York Times and Washington Post have lead the way in the world of charging for quality news content. And now fashion and lifestyle publications are following. Vanity Fair put up a paywall earlier this year. We’re not conditioned to pay for digital content – it’s a mindset shift for us all. It will take time. But my prediction is this: in 10 years, your favourite online publications will not be free to read. The numbers just don’t add up. And I know that for The Grace Tales, if we are to continue creating the quality content we create for you every single week, we can’t continue to give it away for free. Just like we pay a small amount for the magazines we love, we need to invest in the websites we value, as otherwise they won’t thrive – we all have a role in the future of our favourite online publications. We’ve called our new membership community GRACE COLLECTIVE and we’ll be launching in the coming weeks. For us, our global community is everything. Our goal? That we can continue to thrive in this market and continue to produce a brand loved and valued by our readers. A brand that helps us all navigate motherhood together, as a community.
We’re also on deadline for a book we’re working on – but more on that early next year!
You’re an influencer in an industry where you are fortunate to be surrounded by so many inspiring women. Who is it that most inspires & influences you in everyday life?
My mum. She’s strong, determined, down-to-earth, funny and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. When I get worked up about something, she’ll always make me see the bigger picture. Ultimately, work doesn’t matter. It’s the relationships you have with your friends and family that matters the most in life. We tend to bury ourselves in work and sometimes forget what is really important.
Tell us more about Arabella and Lottie, kindred spirits or polar opposites?
Well, they fight non-stop. It’s probably the one thing that tips me over the edge. They can also be ridiculously cute and sweet together and sometimes they’ll play happily together for hours. But there’s a lot of fighting. They’re polar opposites – Lottie is more emotional and sensitive (like me) but she’s also very funny like her dad. And confident like her dad. Arabella is calm and patient (like her dad) but shy like me. I love watching their little personalities develop.
For you, what’s the most scared part of motherhood?
The love you have for your children is like nothing else. I’d do anything for them. We had a close encounter the other week at the traffic lights. It went green and Arabella ran across the road but a car kept driving – I could see it happening in slow motion and lunged in front of the car to get it to stop, which thankfully it did. I didn’t see her as she’s so small. You really would jump in front of a bus for your children.
What’s your parenting style, and what’s your saving grace when it all seems to get a little too much?
I’m a bit of an organiser. I like everything to be organised and ready as otherwise I find mornings and nights just get super stressful (it’s probably my way of trying to control things – as we all know, you can’t control kids!). We love a routine and for the most part, our weeks are very similar. The daily grind of course gets boring from time to time particularly in winter when it’s hard to mix things up as you just want to be inside where it’s warm, but kids thrive off routines and so do I.
What’s your beauty philosophy and what do you hope to teach Arabella and Lottie about beauty?
Photographer Julie Adams and I recently launched a project called THIS IS ME. What’s it all about? It’s about self-acceptance. It’s about perspective. It’s about celebrating being a woman. It's about reminding ourselves that everybody is born with imperfections... We all develop wrinkles and stretch marks. It’s natural and it’s normal. What’s unnatural is how much we have come to conceal our flaws with editing programs. We rarely retouch our images on The Grace Tales. I prefer not to do it unless it’s requested – and in this case, it’s the bare minimum. The more retouched, the harder I find it to relate to the story. The harder I find it to connect. Because if I’m sure of one thing, it’s that no one is perfect.Julie asked women and children to come into her studio and be photographed in their swimsuits. No retouching. Just raw imagery. It made women confront their body issues. It made them be brave. We’ll be sharing the portraits and the personal stories behind each image with you on @thisismeseries. It’s a positive space with a simple message: THIS IS ME. It’s about opening up a conversation about what real bodies look like and learning to accept yourself – perceived flaws and all.
For me personally, I don’t wear a lot of makeup (mostly because I’m terrible at applying it – my foundation is usually smeared on at my desk or in the carpark) but do like to take care of myself and try to focus on good grooming. When you take care of yourself, inside and out, you feel good. I get my hair done every six weeks at Prema hair, I get my eyebrows done at Kristin Fisher Brows (feathering is the best beauty treatment I’ve ever had!), I get spray tans every other week in summer.
For our own curiosity, and as an on-going source of inspiration, we always like to find out as much as we can about our featured guests, can you humour us with the first thing that comes to mind for each the below?
Where we can find you:
At home:Right now, ideally in bed with my electric blanket on.
Sri Lanka – my girls are a quarter Sri Lankan and I can’t wait to take them there this summer.
Mango – seriously the best!
The leopard print Réalistation Par skirt that keeps seeing out!
Paris with my girls. When they’re 12, I’ll take them! my mum and nan took me when I was 12. I still remember that trip.
My girls when they were babies. But just for a minute, I’d never go back to those newborn days!
South America. I’ve never been and am dying to go!
Cook, eat out or order in?
My husband cooks in our house. I clean, he cooks.
Last podcast listened to?
Last movie watched?
I’m too embarrassed to say…but let’s just say I needed something silly that would make me laugh.
Chocolate. Actually anything sugar filled – I have a big sweet tooth.