When I think of Sierra Leone, I think of Diamonds. This must have a lot to do with the movie 'Blood Diamond', which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and was set in the era of the country's civil war, as one of the countries greatest natural resource was mined illegally and used to finance wars to the profit of diamond companies around the world. I don't remember much of the movie, but I remember not being happy that yet again, another African country was being exploited.
My chat with Sonia, originally from Sierra Leone, might be the closest I've come to getting a better glimpse of Sierra Leone (and that's why we love this series!).
Sonia is a blogger and creator of Sonish Space - a blog where she shares her love for fashion, writing and inspiring others to look their best without breaking the bank. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband, son and a fur baby called Tyson. She has a Bachelor of Business majoring in Accounting Degree and currently works as a Compliance and Commercial Officer at a stockbroking firm. Reading, writing, shopping and travelling are some of her favourite activities and in her words "I’m a fashion enthusiast and a big bargain hunter, a trait I inherited from my Mother!".
Fun fact about her? : She loves Op shopping! (Don't worry I had to google what that means - it seems like Australia lingua for thrift shopping. You're welcome!). Enjoy.
When you think of Sierra Leone, what are the first three things that come to your mind?
- Food, Culture and History!
If I was to explore Sierra Leone for 3 days, where should I go and why?
- It has to be Freetown (the capital city) because that’s where I was born and I think I know well enough. You can visit the Sierra Leone Museum to learn the history of the 'Lion Mountain' Sierra Leone, the River Number 2 beach - such a beautiful beach to relax and have great entertainment and Leicester Peak, for a breathtaking view of Freetown. You can also explore the city centre for some shopping therapy.
As Jollof Rice is (arguably) to Nigerians, so __________ is to Sierra Leoneans?
- Cassava Leaves! People have different ways to prepare it, depending on your ethnic background and how you like it, but it will still taste delicious. I have my own Aussie way of doing it so I really don't want to ruin the traditional recipe.
How many ethnic groups and languages are in Sierra Leone?
- I called my mom who still resides in Sierra Leone to confirm this, but unfortunately she didn't pick up, so I goggled it and google says 15. I can only speak (Krio/Creole) which is my tribe and most people speak it too (it's like the Nigerian pidgin English).
If you had the power, what two things would you seek to change about your birth country?
- The leadership and the standard of living of my people. I went back home after 14 years in December 2016 and things have deteriorated so bad from what I remembered - it was just heart breaking to see.
How would you honestly describe the people of Sierra Leone? In 5 words.
- Friendly, Fun, Hardworking, Courageous & Fashionable
When & why did you move to Australia? What do you miss the most about home?
- I moved to Australia back in 2002, with my dad and siblings. We were given asylum through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement program due to the civil war that was in Sierra Leone. It could take about 72 hours travel time from Australia to Sierra Leone, but I was last home in December 2016. I miss my mother, the food and the entertainment.
Australia is one of those places that seem to be at the ends of the earth. From your experience, why is it a place worth living?
- For me personally it’s the standard of living and the endless opportunities that’s available to you. It’s such a young and growing country and knowing you are part of it all is just amazing. I'm glad my son and unborn children (to be precise I only want one more) will be born in such a great country.
How does Sierra Leonean fashion differ from the fashion in Australia?
Australian fashion is just casual, while Sierra Leoneans like to look over the top at all times. I fit in to the equation perfectly as most times I am casual and I can rise to the occasion when I want to!
Of the 4 seasons in Australia, what's your favourite? What 5 staples do you recommend to survive this particular season?
- I really love winter, I love the layering aspect of it. I’m usually always cold, I have the flu in summer - (don’t laugh!) how my body works amazes. For me all you need is one nude coat, one black leather jacket, a pair of knee high boots & ankle boots and nice winter accessories like a scarf, a beanie etc. Seriously with these items you will be looking chic in winter even though you might be wearing many items to stay warm.
What celebrity do you think you could swap wardrobes with & no one would tell the difference?
- Seriously, none. My style is a mixture of different celebrities who have inspired me one way or the other.
What's the best fashion item you've got for a man and who was it for?
- I wouldn’t really say it’s the best because I normally just get a nice shirt or a tee for my husband and he doesn’t have a choice but to wear it (haha!). But yeah, maybe I need to put more effort into getting him presents.
What's your favourite holiday destination and why.
- This will change soon, after I travel the world a bit more, but I love London. I love the rich history and how the transport system is just fab and it reminds me so much of home. My goal is to live there for a year or two in the not so distant future.
What fashion items/ accessories do you always take on your holidays to add that extra oomph?
- You are going to laugh, but this item that I really love and have taken on all my trips is a beach coverup / resort dress that belongs to my sister. Now every time I'm going away she just knows I am going to ask for this item. I have gotten so many compliments wearing it and sadly it’s not mine. I've looked for it online and in stores still no luck. It’s that one item I will be borrowing from my sister for a while.
If you only had to wear items from one particular brand for a whole month, which will it be?
- This has to be a tie between Zara & H&M. Both brands are stylish and doesn’t break the bank.
You look amazing with your hair short. Have you always worn a low cut and if I considered cutting my hair, what one tip would you give?
- I haven't always had my hair short, I decided to go natural last year after my visit to London and was really tired of all the chemicals in my hair and my hair was breaking too much. So, I bought all the products I needed in London and couriered them to Australia which has made the transition so much easier - Australia is behind with black hair products. One thing I will say is just own it and rock it your way!
What are you likely to be caught wearing when you're at home, comfy and chilling?
- I have to be true to myself to say I don’t look sexy or fashionable when I'm at home and surely my husband can testify to this - but I have improved during the years. You can catch me wearing two different pairs of PJs top and bottom, a long socks, or I'm usually in my robe. Don't judge a sister, I'm just trying to be comfortable!
Most expensive fashion item you ever bought?
- My Christian Louboutin So Kate heels.
Most repeated item in your wardrobe & the different ways you'd wear it
- My nude Tony Bianco heels - that’s my go to magic tool. Whenever I want to make an outfit look chic effortlessly I just add my nude heels. I can throw on my usual jeans and basic tee and these shoes will just make it work. Funny story, I lost a pair last year at a club in London during the transition from heels to flats as the night was ending (you know the struggle!) ...and I blamed it on my husband that it was his fault - so he bought me the same pair!
Luxury items you think every woman should invest in?
A nice black/nude heels it can be from Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin or whatever else you like, a classic handbag and a wrist watch watch/sun-glasses whichever you prefer.
One Fashion / Style icon from Sierra Leone that fascinates you.
My Mother - she is my fashion icon from Sierra Leone, but I do love Sia Sankoh as well.
One fashion faux par you've committed recently
- I still can’t say the word "culottes" - please don’t judge me on that one! I said it once and no one in the shop understood what I was talking about. It was just embarrassing.
How would you describe your style?
- I describe my style as 'Discovery'. I like to discover myself with the clothes I choose to wear. I love being playful, daring, stylish, modern, effortless, chic, street and experimenting different things. I just want each outfit I create to reflect a piece of my many personalities.
Your fave hack to look stylish?
- Just add heels. The look could go from 0 to a million!
One item from your childhood you wish you could still wear now?
- This is a hard one, because I just can't remember.
What's your mantra or favourite quote to survive the cloudy grey days - when good clothes can't even help.
I can do all things...
through Christ who strengthens me!
And just like that, we've been to Sierra Leone, Australia and hung out with Sonia! I can totally see myself picking some items from her wardrobe. And doesn't she just look gorgeous and happy in that mustard outfit above. No doubt, the accompanying quote and mantra must have a lot to do with it!
I hope you enjoyed this one - although it did make me feel a bit sad about Sierra Leone, and bits and pieces of the African continent. But nothing can take away our joy - and I hope we get it right sooner than later.
On a lighter note, I had a laugh when she spoke about pronouncing Culottes - as Tee and I have formed our own pronunciation for it - which we are sure is so incorrect!
Share your thoughts on this one people. We'd love to hear.
ppS: Get in touch if you or anyone else would be a great fit for this column.