A letter to my 20 years old self

Ashka Shen at her home office | Xssat

Right now I’m chilling in Tulum on the coast of Mexico with my American beau and on Sunday I’ll be turning the BIG three zero, that’s right, ladies and gents, I’m almost 30 years old. For the longest time 30 was a foreign concept, something that will happen one day and then before you know it, that one day is here. It’s no big deal, because it shouldn’t be, it’s just another age, but at the same time, this is a chance to pause, look back and see life for the amazing winding path that it is and appreciate its pros, cons and embrace all of its beautiful flaws.

So here’s an open letter to my 20 years old self, I hope you too, no matter your age, whether you agree with what I have to say or not, will take a little something away from this too.

Dear Ashka,

Your 20s is a beautiful age to be, relax a little, take it easier a little, enjoy life and be young. I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard and reach for more, you absolutely should, both in terms of career and personal life, but don’t shoulder too much, don’t stress too much, growth will come, in time.

Have a life plan, but feel free to stray from it, because mostly likely you will, intentionally or not. Life isn’t a straight narrow path, nor should it be, cos that would be too damn boring, have an open mind, be adventurous and brave enough to go off the beaten track, to back track, to make a new track.

Don’t worry too much about what others make or think of you, I know this is a hard one, even for a 30 years old, but it’s your life and you only live once, listen to your heart, trust your gut instinct and do what you know is best for you. If that means you’ll hurt someone close to you, or even yourself, so be it, life isn’t full of glitter and rainbow, life can also be painful and sometimes that’s the best way to learn.

Love hard, fall harder and don’t be scared. Know that you deserve nothing except for the best, know that you need to be comfortable in your own skin, comfortable enough to let your guard down and let others in.

Take care of your health, your body, your mind. Life balance is whatever you make it and there’s always a choice, you just have to find a way to make it work for you. Travel and travel some more. Read and read widely. Meet new people, keep old friends, reach out a little more, an email, a call, a text, every little bit counts.

Most of all, be yourself, learn that being vulnerable is ok, to have disagreements is ok, but to follow blindly is not ok.

Enjoy the next 10 years of your life, I can’t say for sure they will be the best 10 years of your life, but they will be full of ups and downs and all kinds of amazing.

Sincerely,
Ashka

New York Guides – Williamsburg

In collaboration with Papillionaire Bicycles

Ever since the first time I visited New York almost 6 years ago, Williamsburg has been a big part of each and every single visit. My friends lived there, colleagues recommended boutiques to shop at there, the coolest bars were there and on my last trip, I airbnbed there. Now that I call New York home, I spend more time than ever in Williamsburg, sure it’s partly because my American beau lives there, but despite all the gentrification talk, Williamsburg is a pretty damn amazing hood.

To guide you through this hood that’s jammed packed with shops, restaurants, bars and things to do, I found the perfect couple, Abby and Mike. Abby is the digital editor at Paper Magazine and she’s lived in Williamsburg for nearly 4 years. Her boyfriend Mike works at a tech start up, plays bass in Soaker and helps run Band Seed and he’s also lived in Williamsburg for 4 years. These are their favourite places, places that aren’t the “must do”s in guide books, places that are simply, local and good.

1 – Blind Barber
A cafe at the front and barber shop at the back, this place serves great coffee and a small selections of donuts and pastries and if you pop in later in the day, just go straight for the draft beers and cocktails. Mike says great things about the haircuts too.

Abby: “We like to grab coffee and breakfast sandwiches in the morning, they have some of the best in the city – try their bacon, egg and cheese or their egg whites, pesto and kale on the toasted brioche.”

New York Williamsburg guide - The Blind Barber cafe | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat

New York Williamsburg guide - The Blind Barber cafe | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat

New York Williamsburg guide - The Blind Barber cafe | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat

2 – 10 Ft. Single by Stella
This is one of the shops I loved on my first ever trip to New York and I still love it, it seems small from the outside, but step in and you are in a treasure trove of vintage goodness. The selection of clothes, shoes and accessories are highly curated and always on point, the stock is regularly rotated too, so you’ll always find something new.

Mike: “I’ve sourced life long items like Wall Street-worthy Allen Edmonds shoes, black gloves that look like they were a prop from a Rossellini film, and once scored an impeccably broken-in Schott Perfecto jacket, and that’s just my leather finds.”

New York Williamsburg guide - 10 Ft. Single by Stella, vintage clothes shop | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat

New York Williamsburg guide - 10 Ft. Single by Stella, vintage clothes shop | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat

New York Williamsburg guide - 10 Ft. Single by Stella, vintage clothes shop | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat

3 – Campbell Cheese
This what a food lover’s dream bodega looks like, they have an amazing selection of groceries, cheese, meats and yes like a bodega, they serve sandwiches too, but trust me, they are nothing like a bodega sandwich, these are simply divine.

Abby: “They have amazing varieties of cheese, locally-made jams, oils, vinegars, chocolates and charcuterie-style meat.”

New York Williamsburg guide - Campbell Cheese | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat

New York Williamsburg guide - Campbell Cheese | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat

New York Williamsburg guide - Campbell Cheese | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat

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Sydney Guides – Redfern

In collaboration with Papillionaire Bicycles

I first lived in Sydney’s surburb of Redfern many years ago with my parents when I was in high school, Redfern has had its fair share of ups and mostly downs over the years and back then it wasn’t exactly pretty either. Over the last 10 years, young creatives and professionals have been drawn to the area for its affordability and proximity to the CBD, calling Redfern revitalised is an understatement, Redfern and its surrounding surburbs are now wonderful places to live and spend your weekends.

To show you the best of Redfern, I roped in my friends Karen & Josh, these 2 newly wed lovebirds work as creatives in advertising, they actually live in Surry Hills, but are finding themselves spending more of their time in and around Redfern these days, so I third wheeled 1 Saturday and here are some of their favourite spots and to dos.

1 – Eveleigh Farmers Market
A weekly farmers market held every Saturday in Carriageworks, a disused train yard that now houses theater, art and is home to the Australian Fashion Week. Eveleigh Market has a great selection of vendors that sell everything from fresh flowers, organic vegetables and fruits, farm fresh meat and poultry, artisan bread, olive oil and wine. There are also some great breakfast stands in the market selling pastries, crepes, the good old bacon egg roll and of course coffee.

Karen: Make sure to get some flowers, they are always really fresh, my favourites are the Australian natives.

Eveleigh Markets | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Eveleigh Markets | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Eveleigh Markets | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Eveleigh Markets | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Eveleigh Markets | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Eveleigh Markets | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Eveleigh Markets | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

2 – Brickfields
This is also one of my personal favourite bakery/cafes in Sydney. Get anything on the menu, they are all good. Sourdoughs, pastries, cakes are a must, but their kitchen menu of salads, grilled sardines and egg dishes are seasonal, forever changing, but always delicious.

Josh: I love their seeded rolls, just the right amount of crusty and chewy. We usually grab a few to take home and make sandwiches during the week.

Brickfields Cafe | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Brickfields pasteries | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

3 – Bike Lanes
Sydney’s inner city suburbs now have a great network of bike lanes, making it safer for just about everyone on the roads, Karen and Josh use these lanes whenever they can, they make for a nicer ride anyway as the lanes are usually on smaller quieter streets.

Sydney bike lanes | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

4 – Oscar & Friends Booksellers
The local book store is a fast disappearing thing, but fortunately they are slowly but surely starting to pop back up into Sydney suburbs, they still very much need our business and support though, so make it part of your weekend routine and stop in on one. Oscar & Friends has a book club and meets the first Monday of every month, a great way to keep up your reading quota and also get to know your community.

Karen: They have a cute selection of greeting cards here, much better than your usual newsagency Hallmark variety.

Oscar & Friends Booksellers | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Oscar & Friends Booksellers | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

5 – Seasonal Concepts
From fresh flowers to vintage and salvaged furniture to amazing decor pieces and gorgeous knick knacks, Seasonal Concepts has something for everyone. There’s always so much to look at and take in at this store, so make sure to take your time and soak it all in before picking out your favourites to take home.

Seasonal Concepts | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Seasonal Concepts | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

6 – Prince Alfred Park Pool
Probably Karen and Josh’s favourite on this whole list and really it’s not hard to see why. I remember when this public pool was just a simple basic place that only opened in the summer months, but after a major overhaul by the City of Sydney, this is now such an ace place to spend those sunny days while getting some exercise in the olympic sized pool. There’s a kiddies splash pool, the amenities are top notch the cafe serves pretty good fare too.

Josh: We like coming either early in the morning or towards the evening when there’s less people. There’s water fountains inside, so bring your town bottle and don’t forget the sunscreen!

Prince Alfred Pool | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Prince Alfred Pool | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Prince Alfred Pool | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Prince Alfred Pool | Sydney surbrubs guide - Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

The Details

1 – Eveleigh Farmers Market | website | phone (+61 2) 8571 9099
245 Wilson St Eveleigh NSW | Every Saturday 8am – 1pm

2 – Brickfields | website | phone (+61 2) 9698 7880
206 Cleveland St Chippendale NSW 2008 | Weekdays: 7:30am – 3:30pm, Weekends: 8am – 3:30pm

3 – Bike Lanes | website

4 – Oscar & Friends Booksellers | website | phone (+61 2) 9332 3509
Shop 35/277 Crown Street Surry Hills NSW 2010 | Sun to Thurs: 10am – 7pm, Fri: 10am – 8pm, Sat: 10am – 8pm

5 – Seasonal Concepts | website | phone (+61) 430 044 383
122 Redfern Street Redfern NSW 2016 | Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday closed, Monday by Appointment

6 – Prince Alfred Park Pool | website | phone (+61 2) 9319
105 Chalmers St Surry Hills NSW 2010 | Monday to Sunday 6am – 8pm

Special thanks to Papillionaire Bicycle for loaning us the bikes for the shoot and getting us around in style

Zimmermann – The Esplanade

Zimmermann AW15 at New York fashion week | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Zimmermann AW15 at New York fashion week | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

Zimmermann AW15 at New York fashion week | Photographed by Ashka Shen | Xssat Street Fashion

One of my highlights at NYFW is always the Zimmermann show, there’s nothing quite like seeing an Aussie brand do so well in the international space and Zimmermann has carved itself a great slice of the American market and I couldn’t be more proud.

Their autumn winter 2015 collection is so very Zimmermann, sexy, glam, colourful but with a bit more structure than usual, those jackets and coats in delicious shades of pink have me swooning already. I can see myself out for a night on the town, peeling off one of those luxe coats to reveal my totally glam dress underneath. Winter has never looked so good!