Auckland-based Influencer Sabby Jey has created a sustainable business, stood up for POC communities, and survived sexual assault. She talks to Your Ex about her resilience, resistance, and standing her ground.
You’re a ‘minority’ several times over. What does it mean to you to fight for visibility and to surround yourself with people who empower you?
I feel I am in a position now to fight for visibility for BIPOC women in the industries I’m involved in. When it comes to the influencer and entertainment industry, it’s incredibly gatekept and hard for minority groups to break into initially if they aren’t well connected. I believe it’s crucial to keep company that uplifts you and supports your fight. I think it’s always important to go in with a soft approach – have conversations and meetings, give suggestions, and be patient.
You will find that many are willing to listen and take the feedback on board; an inclusive lens is becoming more and more crucial in these industries and is demanded by viewers across the board. I’ve dedicated myself to having these conversations with people in positions of power who can make a change – and I have definitely noticed a shift over these past few years. A hard approach is always less effective because it instils fears and polarises those on the bad end of it.
You’ve navigated PTSD after a sexual assault, dealt with a legal system that failed you, and had a traumatic accident requiring reconstructive surgery. What have you learned from those experiences?
It’s been a tough period, and my mental health and general self were quite broken. It showed me I had been wise in choosing a great support system; 90% of the people around me supported and stuck by my darker, uglier moments. The less genuine people, who were just here for a good time, naturally eliminated themselves.
During the period after my car accident, I just had to stay in bed. I wasn’t capable of working at the capacity I used to. Simultaneously, I went through a traumatic sexual assault that completely changed my life. I didn’t have the mental capacity to even get out of bed. It was humbling, as you realise anything you’ve built can come crumbling down. It also taught me willpower; I had to really claw my way out of a dark hole. And most importantly, it taught me patience and faith. I know I can rebuild, and these past six months have been focused on rebuilding my life and career again.
The harsh truth that this all taught me is that women, especially minority women, are completely overlooked by the system. The system is messy and biased, and a sexual predator got away with assaulting and raping dozens of women despite several women reporting and pressing charges because he was a Caucasian ‘public figure’ and his family could afford a top-end lawyer. Most of the women involved were women of colour and didn’t even hear back from the police. My own experience was disappointing, with being told to say nothing or do anything and receiving constant emails from investigating officers responding to the accused individual’s legal team over spending time supporting and investigating the victim’s claims. This whole experience taught me about the hurdles that women have to face when it comes to their bodies and how to regain my power back even if the system fails me and the other women. This isn’t something I’ll let go of, and I am waiting for all investigations into this person to close or charges to be laid to take further action.
How has the experience of coming out publicly as bisexual shaped you?
I think it’s helped me be myself a bit more; I don’t feel like I’m hiding myself anymore. It’s helped me fully be in tune with myself; I’m not suppressing any energy. I’ve really been welcomed by the rainbow community as well, being invited to my first Pride March and Big Gay Out. It’s helped me connect to a community and also be comfortable with my sexuality around my community and friends.
In your new sustainable venture, you flip second-hand furniture. How did you discover your talent for style and grow your successful business?
Honestly, I just have a love for home and living and unique pieces. I found some very undervalued pieces, tidied them up, and relisted them a few hours every Sunday. It was as simple as having a love for doing something and then turning it into a little side hustle. I didn’t expect it to take off or have so much interest, but hey, that’s a sign that it’s worth doing. I wouldn’t call it successful yet, but I would say that it’s sustainable and a great option as something to do on the side. It’s grown due to the consistency of posting items and starting an IG page, and because the pieces are quite eye-catching, it’s gained a lot of traction and interest. Since starting a few years ago, I’ve consistently listed items, created a tracking system and templates for posting, and started posting across multiple platforms. With anything, it’s just growing slowly, adding in processes, and expanding when you have the capacity.
How has growing up with your Sri Lankan immigrant parents shaped your perspective on business and life?
Oh boy, my parents came here escaping genocide and worked tirelessly to give me a private education and many luxuries in life, like travelling and nice things. I feel it motivated me to pay it forward, make something of myself and be able to return the favour. There was definitely some generational trauma, as you can imagine, but as I grew into an adult, I worked hard to break through those cycles and pave my own pathway. I am incredibly liberal and left-wing, so trying to find mutual respect in differing views has taken time, space, patience, and understanding. My dad is very entrepreneurial himself and is my biggest supporter in having my own business and working for myself – he loves to hear all about it. My mum is a bit more careful, always has a plan B, and considers the risks. This gives me a balanced perspective in business. The one thing they’ve both taught me is to be generous and to be happy for the success of those around me; I wasn’t taught to be competitive or jealous. This has moulded me into someone who can help and support others around me, share my knowledge, and help others enter my industry, which has contributed to my longevity and support in this industry.