Words by
Kirsten Nagel

Conversationalist: Sarah Wickens

Sarah Wickens is a formidable force in business and philanthropy. She is an entrepreneur, art advocate and worldly woman of Wellington. After founding global skincare brand Trilogy, Sarah has more recently lent her expertise to social enterprises intent on doing good things. Read about her business philosophy below.

Sarah in her sitting room in front of a large diptych by Ben Buchanan made from individual pieces of vinyl tape. I said they look like geodes, though Sarah thinks they're more...feminine.

Walking up the manicured stone steps to Sarah’s Wellington residence, I can’t help but feel a rush of excitement. The woman behind our Sarah Tote has invited us over for tea, to chat and browse her expansive art collection. To us, Sarah is a business advisor slash Work Mum, though I’m about to discover that she’s also a major patron of the arts, who believes in supporting young Kiwi artists, engaging in critical thinking and promoting the local industry. Through the tall front window I catch a glimpse of a hand scrawled canvas that reads ‘Always stay a healthy distance from ordinary’ - a sentiment that perfectly encapsulates Sarah’s fun-loving nature.

We step into the foyer and through to a sitting room in the rear of the house, past a not-insignificant row of Max Gimblett’s miniature brass Quatrefoils - editions of the 7,000 that were created and sold to raise funds for the restoration of St David’s Soldiers’ Memorial Church in Auckland. This is the intersection where Sarah’s appetite for art converges with her equally zealous philanthropic spirit. “That was the most effective and ingenious fundraiser idea ever,” she muses of the 2015 Art of Remembrance project.

Sarah's Sarah Tote sits on an original 1950s chair by NZer Bob Roukema for Jon Jansen. Behind is a Brutalist armoire sourced from California.

Shop Sarah's Sarah Tote (available custom via our Atelier) and much-loved Jessie Wallet.

Sarah’s startup story is the sort synonymous with Silicon Valley. In 2002 she founded skincare brand Trilogy with her sister out of a garden shed, after spotting an opportunity in the emerging market for organic products. Over the best part of the next decade, the pair transformed the brand into a global pioneer in natural skincare, picking up a slew of prestigious accolades along the way. She has since switched her focus to charitable work, acting in an advisory capacity to The Wellington City Mission and The City Gallery Foundation. The former has inclusiveness at its core, an enterprise that’s committed to making a difference to all Wellingtonians in need; while the latter works to raise the profile of the arts in Aotearoa, providing world-class exhibitions to the Wellington public and visitors.

“At this stage in my life, I get more reward from seeing enterprising, socially responsible and charitable organisations getting ahead.”

A Sonja Bag beneath a photographic work by important New Zealand artist Fiona Pardington. Being in Sarah's home is like stepping into a museum of NZ art, only more comfortable and she lets you touch the works(!)

Sarah's Milly Bag in Shortbread sits atop an old sawhorse in her informal living area.

In the foyer hangs a pair of Ralph Hotere works, with seven of Max Gimblett's minature Quatrefoils lining the hallway.

Sarah became involved with The Wellington City Mission after meeting the Missioner and staff at a charity auction. “I was really impressed by them, their foresight and vision for the whole of Wellington to be homed,” she explains, “and I loved the people who were driving it.” With her established expertise in start up strategy, she now lends these services pro bono to those she believes have an important mission or set of values. “At this stage in my life, I get more reward from seeing enterprising, socially responsible and charitable organisations getting ahead,” she states.

When we arrive in the tasteful sitting room, I’m prompted to sit in a cream bouclé chair. It’s new, I’m told, before Sarah implores me to lift my feet - shoes and all - onto the pristine matching ottoman. I’m again reminded of her inherent down-to-earthness. Despite her successful entrepreneurial career and equally impressive desire to make a difference, Sarah is a salt of the earth Kiwi woman who also happens to have exceptional taste. She believes that homes are made to be lived in, art to be enjoyed, and that capitalist ventures should give back.

Sarah in her garden.

We discuss the mechanics of our collaboration with The Wellington City Mission and how it signals an innovative way for businesses to partner with charities. I ask how Sarah reconciles the commercial and social aspects of enterprise, to which she is at once pragmatic and philosophical. “At the end of the day, the commercial aspect is important because that’s what’s required to stay in business, however it’s always a balance of the two,” she explains. “It’s becoming increasingly obvious now that we need a circular culture. We need socialism and capitalism to meet in the middle - this combination is what will make the world successful.”

One final work captures my attention on the way out, a suspended kinetic ferris-wheel sculpture titled Coal Wheel by Andrew Drummond. As we move past it she pulls on the spokes, setting it in motion. “This one’s a bit of fun,” she says, reminding me of an earlier conversation where I asked what advice she would offer to budding entrepreneurs. Without skipping a beat, Sarah rattled off her five cardinal P’s: Profit, Patience, Persistence, People and crucially, Party.

I hear Sarah Wickens throws a great party.

To the left of an Emily Pouch (coming soon) and Adrian Envelope (Sarah's new favourite) is a ceramic bag of 'chips' Sarah picked up while in Japan.

Coal Wheel in motion. Sarah says that her and her husband try to predict when it will stop spinning, with the loser having to cook dinner.

Kirsten and Sarah examining the Adrian Envelope. Thank you to photographer Nick Shackleton and to Sarah Wickens for having us over.

Read more about our Yu Mei x Wellington City Mission collaboration here. Visit their Taranaki St City Mission Store to browse their range of quality second hand goods. Every purchase helps fund the work that The Wellington City Mission does for the community.