Your average professional YouTuber or Instagram sensation might be tricky to track down in person, but on any given Saturday, this one will be waiting for you at the urban-hipster Glebe Markets in Sydney’s inner city.
Better still, she’ll be ready to serve you an energy-packed smoothie bowl she’s whipped up from scratch. It’s precisely that relatability – or quirky authenticity, even – that explains why the 19-year-old model, actress, and wellness enthusiast Kathleen Ebbs has enjoyed a rapid rise to modelling and social media stardom to the point she’s changing her young audience’s perception of beauty and the true meaning of ‘inner confidence’.
No nonsense, warm, bubbly, petite, sporty and real with a unique brand of edgy style – quirky vintage pieces mixed with modern sporty buys – she embodies an effortless cool countless young urban women want to emulate right now.
The fact that she’s part of Sydney’s coolest young influencer It-Gang – which also includes best friend Mimi Elashiry, Cartia Mallan, Josh Heuston and Yasmin Suteja – seals the teen appeal deal. Consider them Sydney’s equivalent of the ‘Gigi, Hailey and Kendall crew’ with the quirky-glam hilarious realness of, say, a teen Chrissy Teigan.
Add to that the fact she’s a qualified personal trainer, YouTube vlogger, small business owner and founder of popular website Call Me Kath, where she posts style advice, fitness routines and healthy recipe tutorials, and you’ll wonder how or where this young woman possibly finds the time.
The answer is, she’s a grafter. When thousands of other women close to her age were dancing the days and nights away at Splendour in the Grass – Australia’s answer to A-list music festival Coachella – Ebbs was on her feet all day working as a vendor, blending healthy drinks for the masses via her business The Smoothie Bowl Shack.
But it’s her vision for inspiring urban fitness and a realistic self-image that Ebbs is most passionate about. “I feel like a lot of people think that to be comfortable in your skin means to be super confident and positive and love, love, love yourself so much, but for me it’s really just acknowledging the good with the bad and rolling with that,” Ebbs tells us after her fashion shoot with GRAZIA.
Scouted on Instagram at the age of sixteen by the founder of agency Culture Machine (“I literally had no followers then, like not even a thousand”) petite and gap-toothed Ebbs, much like Elashiry, is a welcome break from the traditional successful model stereotype.
She’s a growing force in the fashion influence stakes too, having sat front row at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia 2018, starred in the Glue Store Abrand Jeans campaign, and repeatedly collaborated with global powerhouse, Nike. Considering she wore a white suit bought from a second-hand shop to her school formal, it’s easy to believe Ebbs when she says pushing the limits with her wardrobe is another means to self-empowerment.
“When you’re really feeling what you’re wearing, you work out better. I usually wear all-black to the gym, but outside of that, I dress to express myself. Like the yellow jumper in this shoot – I don’t know what it is, but I’m super drawn to it.”
The shoot Ebbs is referring to is the street-vibe fashion story images dotted throughout this article, showcasing pieces from the new Nike Sport Pack collection. Each look, styled by GRAZIA’s Patrick Zaczkiewicz, is proof high-fashion sportswear is just at home in a style icon’s everyday, all-day wardrobe as it is in the gym.
Case in point, a high-tech stretch crop top turns an oversized shirt dress into a figure-flattering statement when layered over the top. Ditto, a Fifth Element-look white crop over a bold yellow sweater. The hint of bold camo print peeking out from underneath a cropped track pant ties top and bottom together in a sports luxe twist on this season’s ‘matching set’ runway trend. Oversized earrings, quilted bomber jacket and heeled ankle boots could take all four looks from day to night.
That edgy ‘grab and go’ feel is the essence of the new Nike Sport Pack range, which features bold graphics, materials and silhouettes that blend archive and modern looks in the design. “Nike Sport Pack is an entirely new collection that draws from the energy and emotion of sport, while providing a bold new expression for Nike,” says the brand’s senior design director Ricky Hendry. “It goes back to that idea of a cut-and-paste sensibility — taking things from different eras or different reference points and putting them together.”
Stepping outside the typical box to showcase your real self is what Ebbs is all about. “What people wear is a depiction of how they are feeling or how they express themselves,” she points out. “I’m a sneaker and jeans kind of girl, but my boyfriend still says I take too long to get ready, even to just get a coffee because the way I present myself when I go out means a lot to me. I want [people] to see a part of me.”
ON finding her power
All of that’s impressive, but it’s her back-story that makes Kath Ebbs the kind of inspirational figure that will see her brand transcend. One of four siblings born to creative parents in Sydney’s inner west, almond-eyed Ebbs was taught the dramatic arts from a tender age by her primary school drama teacher mum. Throughout her junior high school years, she studied dance passionately.
But all of that performing know-how didn’t bring with it the inner confidence you’d expect. Rather, Ebbs was crippled with a serious anxiety disorder to the point of not being able to leave the house for days at a time. The end result, she missed large parts of her schooling.
“There are two types of anxiety,” she explains transparently. “One is rational anxiety like you’d have over a stressful deadline, then [the other is] irrational, generalised anxiety… that feeling of lack of control and [fear about] not knowing what’s going to happen. When I was little, I sometimes wouldn’t be able to leave the house because [of it].”
Her salvation, she says, arrived in the form of sport. Ironically, for someone now known as a wellness icon, Ebbs wanted little to do with organised sports during her schooling years. “I was a dancer and nothing else mattered to me. I wouldn’t even go to [mandatory] athletics carnivals because I didn’t want to run.”
But a sparked interest in exercise and wellbeing in Year 11 after an unsavoury brush with the party lifestyle saved her both mentally and academically, Ebbs admits. “The whole school and learning thing was a struggle for me. I accepted that I wasn’t going to be someone that got an amazing [final high school test score], but for me, getting into health and having fitness goals gave me structure, which was amazing, and got me through that last year.”
“Through exercise, I’ve become more in tune with my body and thoughts and what I want to get out of life,” says Ebbs, who is a qualified PT and now alternates between HIIT, running, jumping rope, yoga, long walks and bodyweight resistance work.
“I probably work out a bit more than the average person, but it’s ‘my’ time and I genuinely love it. Some days I need more motivation but it’s never a chore.”
ON CONFIDENCE in the city
One can only imagine how her anxious, sports-shy teen self might have scoffed at the prospect of modelling these clothes by global sports giant Nike given their current campaign tag-line is Unstoppable Power, but to Ebbs, the phrase hits close to home.
“When I think of those two words, it reminds me that there are no limits,’ she says. “I wasn’t a sporty kid. In my mind, I was really bad at running, didn’t enjoy it and could easily have boxed myself into a category saying ‘I’m just not a runner, I’m not athletic’. But now I am always moving and I run for fun. In fact, I recently ran the Nike Go LA 10k in Los Angeles, alongside 10,000 runners on a shutdown highway!”
“Unstoppable Power means YOU decide who you want to be. Life is literally a blank canvas. Paint it however you like.”
And paint her world with vivid patterns, Ebbs certainly has. In addition to the modelling, blogging, vlogging and occasional acting gig, she founded and runs a Smoothie Bowl business that came to life after she and her sister could find nothing healthy to eat at a popular inner-city weekend market.
Not long after, she set up a stall there herself with just a blender, some ingredients and plenty of family support. Before long, she was invited to be a vendor at the Quicksilver Pro tournament and music festivals.
ON being brave in BUSINESS
“My advice to any other young people out there with a business idea is: JUST DO IT. I love that Nike mantra because too many of us just sit on the fence or spend too long thinking about things. I was lucky that I came up with my idea when I was 16 because I didn’t know enough to fear it. I was just ‘I’m going to do this because it’ll be so fun’.”
Her second piece of advice to wannabe entrepreneurs is to find a mentor. In Ebbs case, that person was her dad, who to this day still helps on the stand at major events – as do her siblings.
“I’m a really big believer that in terms of business, working hard and working smart means opportunities will come for you and you’ll end up where you’re meant to be.” To this day, despite her modelling and social media fame, Ebbs still spends every Saturday working her stall at the Glebe Markets where it all began.
“I’m so grateful that I was brought up in the city and experienced some of my schooling in the heart of Sydney. It’s made me a broader person and open to ideas and differences and able to think of myself.
“I love the diversity of the city. There are so many opportunities here.”
ON breaking MODEL stereotypes
For an in-demand model, Ebbs is surprisingly shy to describe herself as one. Aware that she doesn’t fit the typical tall and reed thin stereotype for a commercial model, she credits the rise of social media for altering the scope of what people find beautiful.
“It has changed the game. One of my best friends Mimi [Elashiry] was an initiator of this ‘I’m short, but there are no limits anymore’ movement. She was drop dead gorgeous but turned away [from agencies] because of her height, but still took it on via social media anyway.” (Today, former ballerina Elashiry has almost a million followers on Instagram, is signed to Kult Models and is considered one of Australia’s most influential social media figures.)
“I think that’s awesome. I get young girls my age messaging me saying thank you because you’re short, and I’m short and thought before you had to be tall to be beautiful. That didn’t even occur to me at first.”
It’s a competitive line of work, but Ebbs has gravitated to others like Mallan, Heuston and Elashiry who pay little heed to the competitive, cut-through side of the business. (Influencers in the same field compete for the same plum paid gigs, or “snagging jobs” as Ebbs calls it.)
ON BEATING the BULLIES
It’s also a profession that requires a very thick skin. Cyberbullying is rife and an especially honest or authentic post might see followers jump ship, neither of which are easy for any teen, let alone one who’s struggled with clinical anxiety for years.
“Sometimes my follower numbers go down and that can make you feel like a crap person, that you’ve done something wrong, or that people don’t like you. You just have to be headstrong at that point and think of it as a number, not people, otherwise, it can affect your confidence and make you scared to have a voice because you don’t want to be picked apart.”
On particularly tricky days, her M.O is to step away from the digital world altogether, spend the day doing sport or exercise, then surround herself with friends who also subscribe to the Unstoppable Power mindset.
“You know how you have those people who make you feel genuinely good about yourself and secure like you can do anything after you hang out? Surround yourself with them,” she says.
ON ACTING for CONFIDENCE
Along with sport, Ebbs also credits her background in acting for helping to fuel her confidence and inner strength. For a brief stint during middle school, she fell out of love with performing, but being forced to decide between drama and science in Year 11 re-lit the flame. It’s the skill, she says, that’s probably contributed most to her YouTube video success.
“People think acting is just meant for people who want to be actors, but if you struggle with public speaking or your own self-confidence, I’d recommend you do a short acting class. It teaches you to let go of inhibitions and feel uncomfortable until you feel comfortable. When you let go of that mindset, ‘this is silly, I look stupid, everyone is looking at me’ you’ll become more confident in your whole life.”
Looking back, what would Ebbs tell her 15-year-old self as she struggled with anxiety with no clue she was soon to be scouted and own her own business? “I would just give her a hug and say ‘keep going, it’s going to be okay. You need to make mistakes in order to grow. Keep being kind. Keep being compassionate, humble and stay true to who you are.”
Creative Director: Dane Stojanovic
Photographer: Steve Popovich
Stylist: Patrick Zacziewicz
Hair and makeup: Elsa Morgan
Talent: Kathleen Ebbs @ Culture Machine