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The Australian-Indian scientist, philanthropist and model talks to The Style Report about her passions, her ongoing projects and the causes close to her heart.

Words by Shona Wallace.
Photographs by Trisha Ward.
Fashion by Helen Thomson.

Zinnia Kumar is a woman on a mission. Before starting her modelling career, she worked as a conservation biologist, a childhood dream come true, before embarking on a wealth of philanthropic and charitable projects around the world. A published scientist and activist, she is now striving to make a change in the fashion industry and beyond. ‘I realise the most systematic change in our world comes from business and direct activism,’ she says. ‘I created more direct change in a 10-minute speech to breast cancer survivors alone than I did in four years at university.’

Born in Sydney to Indian parents, Kumar spent much of her childhood outdoors, which sparked her interest in nature. At school she fell in love with science and, following the advice of her chemistry teacher, became the first in her family to go to university at the age of 17. Fast-forward to today, and Kumar is studying for a doctorate in colourism at Oxford University – a self-professed ‘passion project’, while continuing to work on a number of environmental and humanitarian projects close to her heart. This includes an upcoming documentary raising awareness of colourism, which she describes as ‘discrimination against individuals of darker skin tones, within the same ethnic community, equating social worth to skin colour’, all while modelling on the books at the Anti-Agency, which has given her a platform to spread her message and represent her community. The Style Report learns more…


‘My upbringing in Sydney was relaxed, independent and carefree. My parents always said do whatever you like, just be good at it. I never felt pressured to go into a profession. In my final high school year, I self-learned a lot of courses in the library from borrowed textbooks. When I was 17, I travelled four hours daily to get to university and back and at one point I took on two jobs because there were financial difficulties at home. I still managed to graduate with first-class honours and two scientific publications. I have never shied away from a challenge.’

On ecology and the environment…

‘I decided I wanted to be a conservation biologist at the age of five. At 10, I would bring gloves and bin bag to school and pick up rubbish, thinking it was making a difference. When I got into university for my undergraduate degree I studied Ecology and Environmental Sciences. I then worked as a conservation biologist, tracking rare and endangered species in the Australian outback and on remote islands.’

On philanthropy…

‘Before modelling, I was involved in a lot of philanthropic and volunteer projects, inlcuding working on conservation projects, teaching overseas with disadvantaged students and refugees, working with rescued child sex workers and touring Australia giving body-positivity speeches, one of which I gave to breast cancer survivors. It was a natural progression when I started modelling. I love that it has given me this platform. The more high-profile work I get, the more I can spread my message and represent my community as my profile grows.’

On working in fashion…

‘What I like about the fashion industry is that it is fast-paced and transcultural. You have the chance to influence thousands of people through the work that you do. My future aim is to change the fashion supply chain. Rehabilitating marginalised and abused women, such as former sex slaves and domestic abuse victims in India – teaching these ladies how to sew and making fast fashion supply chains humane while giving these women a sense of independence, freedom, dignity and empowerment to earn their own incomes in their own communities.’

On go-to labels…

‘The most important aspect is whether the brand is making a sustainable or socially responsible commitment in some way. When thinking of designers committed to environmental initiatives, Vivienne Westwood’s long-time activism comes to mind. I also loved Marni’s recent SS20 men’s collection that gave the audience a confronting look at anthropogenic human waste in our seas. The other major commitment that really speaks to me is designers that have gone fur-free, like Prada, Miu Miu, Gucci and Burberry to name a few.

On style…

‘It really depends on the season and the country I am in. My style has a laid-back punk-rock-bohemian undercurrent to it. I wear combat boots all the time and when I am on the move, I like androgynous cuts and functional pieces. When I’m back home in Sydney, I love wearing bright colours and eccentric designs paired with bright turquoise nail polish. Otherwise, when I’m in Europe or the US I like to layer up in autumnal tones, neutrals and blacks. However, my pyjamas are always extra bright, I find if you go to bed bright, you wake up bright.’

On London…

‘I consider London home – I did have an English accent as a kid growing up, after all. Truthfully, I always felt a bit out of place growing up in Australia, but when I came to London it felt like I just belonged here. People are just not afraid to express themselves, stand up for what is right, and no one makes you feel bad for being smart. People are open-minded in both the academic sphere and the fashion sphere. I like that.’



The Style Report
The Style Report