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Nicole Warne was adopted when she was just five months old. Here's what she wants you to know.

Nicole Warne was an influencer before influencers were a thing. Before Instagram was even a thing, in fact. Sitting alongside some of fashion's royalty, Warne is one of the true OGs of street style.

Back in 2009, the fashion blogger built her own digital empire, launching a wildly popular online brand called Gary Pepper, where she sold carefully curated vintage threads. 

She became one of fashion's first digital style stars, and the first blogger in the world to be signed to IMG. 

With 1.9 million followers and a global online audience of over 2.3 million, she's now one of Australia’s most influential voices. 

Hailing from the Central Coast in NSW, the half-Japanese and half-Korean model has graced the cover of almost every glossy, ever - think US Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, InStyle, Elle, just to name a few. 

She's every bit a self-made woman. 

Warne has been recognised in the Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ and Business of Fashion’s ‘The 500 People Shaping the Global Industry’ lists, among a string of others.

Watch: At 30, Sophie Cachia turned her 'perfect' life upside down. Here, she sits down with Mia Freedman on No Filter. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

We've not only watched her entrepreneurial triumphs play out on social media, but also her personal milestones - from her picturesque wedding to photographer Luke Shadbolt to the birth of her daughter, Suki.

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When it comes to her personal life, however, what you might not know is that Warne is also an adoptee.

Here, Mamamia sat down with the 31-year-old Adopt Change ambassador to discuss her colourful life - from her roots in South Korea to her upbringing in NSW's Central Coast, and finding her way back to her second home in New York.

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Nicole Warne on being an adoptee.

Warne was only five months old when she was adopted. "My biological mother was a single parent, which at the time, was quite frowned upon," Warne explains to Mamamia. 

"I was told she wanted a better life for me, as she just didn't have the means of support to raise a child, which was very, very common in the late 90s."

After being put into foster care, Warne's parents Robyn and Ian Warne flew from Australia to South Korea to adopt her.

"My mum actually got to meet my foster carer which she said was such a profound and beautiful moment for her. One thing that really stuck with me from that story was how she said that she could feel so much love in the room.

"There's so much love involved with adoption, despite the stigma surrounding it."

Warne has a younger sister who was also adopted from South Korea, as well as an older brother - her parent’s biological son. 

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"What these parents go through to be able to adopt a child is just so intense. I think that's what people may overlook - when they meet me, or if they meet other adoptees, they often feel a sympathy - and you can sense it straightaway.

"I always turn around and I say to them, 'No, I am so fulfilled. I'm so happy because I know how much my parents fought for me.'

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"It's more of a beautiful story rather than it being negative or sad."

For Warne, adoption has always been an integral part of her family and upbringing - she also has two cousins who were adopted from the Philippines and Thailand.

"I can't even remember when my parents told me I was adopted. I've just always known and my parents had a really honest and open dialogue about this in our house, which, now as a parent, I can understand the gravity of the topic and how daunting it can feel trying to navigate it with your children."

It's obvious that Warne's upbringing is something she genuinely cherishes, as she looks back and reminisces on growing up.

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"My parents just created such a safe space that my sister and I never felt like there were any negative connotations attached to our adoptions. I think that's why growing up, we were always so open about it, because we were never made to feel any different," she tells Mamamia

"In terms of my childhood, it was, I use the word 'normal' in the sense that I just felt like any other kid. I didn't feel any different. I knew adoption was part of my story. But I never felt like it defined who I am."

Warne has teamed up with Adopt Change to help raise awareness, education, funds, and ultimately help create change for the thousands of Australian kids who need permanent homes.

"Between 2019 and 2020 there were only 334 adoptions in Australia. There are currently 46,000 kids in foster care systems. Those numbers are just staggering," she says. 

"There are currently two ways to adopt domestically. You can do that through local adoption or via the out-of-home care system. Many people I've spoken to don't actually know that foster care is a wonderful pathway to permanency." 

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While not everyone can provide full-time permanency, there are other ways you can help - such as volunteering for short-term or even emergency care. 

"So that can be a few days or a few weeks until a permanent care option is arranged. Or you can do part-time care where you become part of a child's extended support network for a weekend or a month, or even just part of the school holidays," she explains. 

"I think there are really wonderful ways to help all the kids in our foster care system. Truthfully, we just need as many carers as possible. So whatever time you have to help foster care, it really just goes such a long way for these kids."

For Warne, her drive to do as much as she can in this space is something she said can be, at times, overwhelming.

"You just want to do as much as you can as quickly as possible. Especially when you become a mother - you just want to help as many children as possible."

What makes it harder is the actual process of adopting a child in Australia - it's a stringent system that differs between states, and is undoubtedly a barrier to helping kids in need.

"The thing with adoption in Australia is that it's such a long and slow process trying to change the legislation - state by state. Hopefully, the federal government has one adoption policy for the whole of Australia, because I just think that would make it easier for everyone.

"To think that a lot of families can't adopt locally is heartbreaking. So they go to inter-country adoptions - which is great, because obviously a child is getting a nurturing home. But at the same time, there are so many children within Australia that also need home. I just wish it was a little bit easier for the parents."

To celebrate November being National Adoption and Permanency Awareness Month, Adopt Change is asking Australians to turn November into 'Yesvember', by saying yes to a home for every child. 

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The goal is to help raise awareness for ensuring permanent and safe homes for the children living in our foster care system.

And there are many different ways you can do your bit.

"This is really special to me. I helped design hats and tote bags for Adopt Change, where 100 per cent of the proceeds go towards helping these children, which has been a real full circle moment," says Warne.

"We're also aware that not everyone's in a position to buy a hat or bag or to donate money. But there are other ways you can help. You could donate your time to the 'Changemaker' program that Adopt Change runs, or you can knit a blanket for the 'My Pack' initiative, which is a personal favourite of mine.

"All the blankets go to the kids entering their first night in foster care, which can be quite a daunting experience. Just having that familiar keepsake that they get to take between homes - something that we take for granted - is such a beautiful gesture. These little things can really change someone's life."

Nicole Warne on her biggest achievements.

Beginning her journey with an online store and blog, it's no secret that Warne's professional achievements are aspirational. Her list of career accomplishments is mighty. 

She's won awards from InStyle and Elle Australia, served as a guest judge for The International Woolmark Prize Australia, The Australian Fashion Film Awards and The Australian BT Emerging Designer Award. Her face has graced some of the world's biggest and most influential glossy magazines.

Yet, when asked for some of her biggest wins, Warne is refreshingly humble - almost embarrassed - to rattle off some of her most noteworthy achievements.

"I'm so grateful for my career. My highlights, I think, professionally, the one of the biggest was when I made the Forbes 30 under 30 list."

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"I grew up in a very entrepreneurial house - my parents always had these random little small businesses running on the side and, or even full-time. I always saw how hard my parents worked, but also just the possibilities of working for yourself. For me was just a big dream growing up."

Warne has also been a judge for the Forbes Asia list a few times now. "It's really rewarding to kind of be able to pay that forward," she notes.

Warne was also a judge for Asia's Next Top Model.

"I think, for me, I really feel the most fulfilled - I know this sounds really cliche - when I'm paying it forward or supporting and advocating for others. So, I found the process of Asia's Next Top Model just so rewarding because for these girls, it's so important who they surround themselves with and what kind of advice they carry throughout their careers. And so that was really rewarding for me."

On a personal highlight, Warne said Paulo Piccoli designing her Valentino Couture dress for her wedding is something that will always stick out for her.

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"If I didn't have the photos, I wouldn't believe it happened. I had a fitting with him in Rome at the Valentino Atelier, and honestly, I just felt like I had left my body the whole time. It was very surreal. I acknowledge that it's just never going to happen again. So it's something that I'm going to carry with me forever."

Nicole Warne on the changes she's noticed in the industry.

The digital landscape is ever-evolving, and after 12 years in the industry, Warne is someone who has experienced every shift, every movement, first-hand.

"Across the board, there's just so much acceptance now - not just aimed towards influences, but towards like people of colour, plus-size models, LGBTQ community.

"I know these are things people have always been advocating for, but I think over the past decade, the power of social media and the shift towards inclusivity has just been astounding to witness.

"To have the first-hand experience and being part of it and how much things have shifted is incredible. From simple things such as going to an event when I first started out, there was quite a lot of hostility. And now, I just feel like there's just so much acceptance, and then also just so much celebration around." 

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Over the past decade, Warne said people have become more aware of just how powerful social media really is. 

"If you have that entrepreneurial spirit, you can really build a personal brand - and that the crosses over to fashion designers, models, stylists. I think now everyone is having their own moment. I think that was frowned upon before.

"For me, I think it's such a beautiful thing, because it's really creating more opportunities for everyone. And in the end, it's just propelling the fashion industry forward. And also just the human experience. I think people are more connected now. They feel more accepted. And I feel like we've finally turned a corner."

"The definition of beauty has very much changed - I just think it's about time. Even just being Asian, there are more opportunities, there's more representation within the industry. So I think it's something that people have been advocating for so long - and it's amazing that people are finally being heard. But there's always room for improvement," she adds. 

Nicole Warne on becoming one of the world's most influential people.

For Warne, her professional success and achievements - and where she is now - is something she says she had never expected. 

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"I couldn't have imagined this. I mean, I started as a fashion intern, before Instagram even existed might I add, so I don't think anyone could have foreseen this."

So, what's a day in the life of Nicole Warne actually like? 

"My life right now, besides everything that we've gone through, collectively, for the past 20 months, it's, funnily enough busy - but in a different way," she said.

"I think since having my daughter and constantly chasing the work-life mum balance - and from what I gathered from speaking to everyone is it doesn't exist.

"Honestly, I'm just I am just grateful that my family and friends are safe and that we're finally together and all just surviving this pandemic.

"It might sound cliche, but I think everyone right now is feeling the same thing where you're just so grateful to be able to hug people."

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Nicole Warne on what's next.

Since being back in Australia and being in lockdown, Warne (like many others) said she's had more time to focus on some exciting upcoming projects. 

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"Next year, I've actually got collaboration coming out with a brand that I've designed a collection for - it's actually a brand that I think it's going to be very much aligned with your [Mamamia] community, if that's a little hidden.

"I also have some, some really exciting announcements coming out with a few luxury brands that I've worked with for years."

On a personal level, she said can't wait for the day she returns to New York - a city she describes as having "magic on every corner".

"We left just before the pandemic, and I came home for the birth. So we just put everything in storage, walked out of our apartment thinking we were gonna be back in six months. So, I feel like I haven't had any closure, and that chapter is still hanging open.

"I just can't wait to get back there and to take my daughter and to have a new adventure with her. And yeah, just experience what living in New York with a child is like!"

Feature image: Instagram @nicolewarne

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