Women with GRITT
March 05, 2021
by Danielle Gay

Women With Gritt: Nicole Trunfio On Fate, Moving From Dubbo To New York with only $5000, & Her Make Or Break Business Lessons

by Danielle Gay

“Being organised and having a supportive network is everything. My team is basically what makes the brand. I don't do it by myself. It takes a village, it really does.”

Welcome to Women With GRITT: a series where we interview the resilient, hardworking women who have kicked in the glass ceiling and inspire us to do the same.

Model and businesswoman Nicole Trunfio has been in the industry for so long it’s oft forgotten that she rose to fame by chance. After taking out the title Supermodel of Australia on the namesake television modelling series in 2002, Trunfio was catapulted from Dubbo to New York where she quickly found her feet, modelling for the likes of Chanel, Versace and Christian Dior. “It was, in a way, forced upon me. I was 16, and I was like, ‘Why are you guys letting me go to New York? I’m from the bush!’ I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even know who Nicole Kidman was,” she laughs.

When Gritty Pretty chatted to Trunfio it was via Zoom from her home in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her husband, musician Gary Clark Jr., and their three children. Trunfio’s pared-back beauty look we witnessed in the video call is typical for the Australian-Italian model (she told us she has her favourite products and she sticks to them, not bothering with all the other “stuff”). 

While she certainly still models, much of the 34-year-old’s focus is now taken up by her business, aptly named the Trunfio Universe. She recently launched Bumpsuit, a range of chic maternity bodysuits, and even more recently, ERTH, a 100% sustainable and ethical jewellery brand that offers a clever piercing concierge and a virtual ear curator, where you can try on piercings from the comfort of your own home. 

In this interview, Trunfio speaks to Gritty Pretty about growing up in regional Australia, moving to New York at the age of 16 and what she’s learned along the way—including why she believes she can’t take all of the credit for her success.

 

We’d love to know a bit more about your childhood. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Dubbo and I grew up in Merredin [in Western Australia]. I was raised on a dirt bike, basically. Every day, every weekend, we’d go out riding with my Nonna and Nonno. I’m also of Italian descent, so I had a very, very Italian upbringing. I felt more Italian than Australian growing up. We’d make Italian sausage, Italian pasta sauce, wine. It was very family orientated. When we’d go on holiday, it would only be to visit our gigantic extended family. It was never for any other reason.

 

Where do you think you inherited your drive and your passion from?

I grew up really poor but I never felt poor, I felt rich because we always had food on the table and love in my household. But we were definitely poor and I think that my drive comes from being very real and honest. My parents used to fight a lot about money and I think I made a decision when I was really, really young that I was never going to fight about money. I think that it obviously doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how little money you have, I think most people fight about money and I really wanted to gain my independence. My husband’s obviously very successful but I have never asked him for a cent. I love feeling that independence. And I think that really drives me.


Would you say there was a turning point in your younger years, when you realised that you wanted to make something of yourself? 

I never did, actually—I never wanted to leave Australia. I never wanted to be a model. I don’t even know how that happened. I was 16 and I went from the bush to New York City by myself. I had like 5000 bucks in the bank from working at Coles packing shelves. I remember my dad, he didn’t say, ‘Be careful of this. Be careful of that. Don’t take drugs, don’t do this.’ All he said to me was: ‘You have a good head on your shoulders and I trust you. You’re gonna be fine. For me, that was a huge lesson, even as a parent today, because he didn’t instil fear in me. He made me believe in myself and trust myself.

During that transition between being a model to being an entrepreneur, what would you say are some of the practical steps you put in place to make that jump?
“I think putting one foot in front of the other. It’s that simple. Because you’re going to make mistakes, you need to make mistakes. Confidence is key. A lot of people think that they can’t do something, it seems unattainable, but we’re all the same. We’re all capable of doing what anyone else has done or is doing. So, confidence, I would say for sure.

You recently launched ERTH, which is very exciting. Congratulations! How did you come up with the concept? Was there a light bulb moment?

No, actually. When I went to New York I used to go up to the jewellery district a lot and work with jewellers and create and take lots of classes. I started making jewellery for my friends and giving them as birthday presents. And then they’d be like, ‘Can I order like 50 of these because I want to give them as Christmas presents.’ So then I started making a bunch of stuff and then one of my friends was like, ‘You need to sell this as a line. And I called it ERTH because we have the Trunfio Universe, which is more high end couture pieces and ERTH was practical, everyday wear. So you can still shower in it and never take it off.

In terms of funding, how did you get your business off the ground?

I did it slow. You know, I’ve never been funded by anyone. I also don’t really use my funds from my modelling income or anything like that. You get stuck in that if you get funding or use money from other places, it can get a slippery slope—I need to know that these brands are going to be able to sustain. I’ve always done it that way, even with Bumpsuit. I’m a really big believer in that, and also organic interest and organic customer bases—so, creating a brand that is going to sustain a loyal customer base instead of from advertising dollars.
 

We’d love to know, what are your top three most important personality traits you look for in an employee?

I like people that use initiative. I like people that are great team players. With building a brand, I need to know that you’re as obsessed as I am with this and you’re down for the journey. You know, it’s going to be gritty in the beginning, but if you’re down for the journey then you’re going to be one of the people that are going to reap the rewards from that in the end.

How important is it to you to have a supportive network around you while you chase your career ambitions and dreams?

It’s so important, it’s make or break. Being organised and having a supportive network is everything. My team is basically what makes the brand. I don’t do it by myself. It takes a village, it really does. And that’s what I really enjoy. And, you know, hopefully, maybe inspiring you or maybe inspiring people and opening up a bigger conversation, especially with women. We have it hard enough as it is, let’s raise each other up. Let’s support each other.

Has your business success ever come at a cost to your personal life?

I’m really good at finding balance, I think. My husband’s never here, he’s been on tour for eight years and I miss him so much that I think that that has been a catalyst for me doing all of this stuff. I miss him so much I try and keep my mind busy! I dove into business because I really love it.

 

We couldn’t chat to you without talking about your beauty routine. So what role does beauty play in your life?

Honestly, if I could, I would wake up and go straight to work. I’m not really a ‘girly’ girl like that. I use products that work and I don’t mess around with stuff. And that’s it. It’s very basic.

 

Which products are they? What are your favourites?

I have a really expensive line that I’ll use when I feel like I need to treat myself and that’s La Prairie. I really love La Prairie. I love the way it smells. It’s so f*cking expensive, but it’s great, you know? I have my products that really work and I’ve also just discovered this line that I’m obsessed with. It’s called January Labs. It’s clean beauty. Then my dermatologist here in Austin is amazing, he gave me a Clarisonic to use, which is incredible, because when you really clean your skin the products can go in more. He gave me this product that I can’t live without. It’s called Revision and it’s a tinted sunscreen. It’s expensive, like 40 bucks for a tube but it makes your skin glow. I use that, I use a bronzer everywhere, eye shadow, mascara, I love liquid eyeliner. That’s kind of my staple. And then I love a little colour on the lip. Just keep it simple.


What is the biggest piece of beauty advice you would like to pass on to women who are inspired by you or who look up to you?

I know it sounds cliché, but beauty comes from within. I think if you have a good laugh, good sex and a nice big glass of water, you’re good to go.

Model and businesswoman Nicole Trunfio has been in the industry for so long it’s oft forgotten that she rose to fame by chance. After taking out the title Supermodel of Australia on the namesake television modelling series in 2002, Trunfio was catapulted from Dubbo to New York where she quickly found her feet, modelling for the likes of Chanel, Versace and Christian Dior. “It was, in a way, forced upon me. I was 16, and I was like, ‘Why are you guys letting me go to New York? I’m from the bush!’ I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even know who Nicole Kidman was,” she laughs.

When Gritty Pretty chatted to Trunfio it was via Zoom from her home in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her husband, musician Gary Clark Jr., and their three children. Trunfio’s pared-back beauty look we witnessed in the video call is typical for the Australian-Italian model (she told us she has her favourite products and she sticks to them, not bothering with all the other “stuff”). 

While she certainly still models, much of the 34-year-old’s focus is now taken up by her business, aptly named the Trunfio Universe. She recently launched Bumpsuit, a range of chic maternity bodysuits, and even more recently, ERTH, a 100% sustainable and ethical jewellery brand that offers a clever piercing concierge and a virtual ear curator, where you can try on piercings from the comfort of your own home. 

In this interview, Trunfio speaks to Gritty Pretty about growing up in regional Australia, moving to New York at the age of 16 and what she’s learned along the way—including why she believes she can’t take all of the credit for her success.

 

We’d love to know a bit more about your childhood. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Dubbo and I grew up in Merredin [in Western Australia]. I was raised on a dirt bike, basically. Every day, every weekend, we’d go out riding with my Nonna and Nonno. I’m also of Italian descent, so I had a very, very Italian upbringing. I felt more Italian than Australian growing up. We’d make Italian sausage, Italian pasta sauce, wine. It was very family orientated. When we’d go on holiday, it would only be to visit our gigantic extended family. It was never for any other reason.

 

Where do you think you inherited your drive and your passion from?

I grew up really poor but I never felt poor, I felt rich because we always had food on the table and love in my household. But we were definitely poor and I think that my drive comes from being very real and honest. My parents used to fight a lot about money and I think I made a decision when I was really, really young that I was never going to fight about money. I think that it obviously doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how little money you have, I think most people fight about money and I really wanted to gain my independence. My husband’s obviously very successful but I have never asked him for a cent. I love feeling that independence. And I think that really drives me.


Would you say there was a turning point in your younger years, when you realised that you wanted to make something of yourself? 

I never did, actually—I never wanted to leave Australia. I never wanted to be a model. I don’t even know how that happened. I was 16 and I went from the bush to New York City by myself. I had like 5000 bucks in the bank from working at Coles packing shelves. I remember my dad, he didn’t say, ‘Be careful of this. Be careful of that. Don’t take drugs, don’t do this.’ All he said to me was: ‘You have a good head on your shoulders and I trust you. You’re gonna be fine. For me, that was a huge lesson, even as a parent today, because he didn’t instil fear in me. He made me believe in myself and trust myself.

During that transition between being a model to being an entrepreneur, what would you say are some of the practical steps you put in place to make that jump?
“I think putting one foot in front of the other. It’s that simple. Because you’re going to make mistakes, you need to make mistakes. Confidence is key. A lot of people think that they can’t do something, it seems unattainable, but we’re all the same. We’re all capable of doing what anyone else has done or is doing. So, confidence, I would say for sure.

You recently launched ERTH, which is very exciting. Congratulations! How did you come up with the concept? Was there a light bulb moment?

No, actually. When I went to New York I used to go up to the jewellery district a lot and work with jewellers and create and take lots of classes. I started making jewellery for my friends and giving them as birthday presents. And then they’d be like, ‘Can I order like 50 of these because I want to give them as Christmas presents.’ So then I started making a bunch of stuff and then one of my friends was like, ‘You need to sell this as a line. And I called it ERTH because we have the Trunfio Universe, which is more high end couture pieces and ERTH was practical, everyday wear. So you can still shower in it and never take it off.

In terms of funding, how did you get your business off the ground?

I did it slow. You know, I’ve never been funded by anyone. I also don’t really use my funds from my modelling income or anything like that. You get stuck in that if you get funding or use money from other places, it can get a slippery slope—I need to know that these brands are going to be able to sustain. I’ve always done it that way, even with Bumpsuit. I’m a really big believer in that, and also organic interest and organic customer bases—so, creating a brand that is going to sustain a loyal customer base instead of from advertising dollars.
 

We’d love to know, what are your top three most important personality traits you look for in an employee?

I like people that use initiative. I like people that are great team players. With building a brand, I need to know that you’re as obsessed as I am with this and you’re down for the journey. You know, it’s going to be gritty in the beginning, but if you’re down for the journey then you’re going to be one of the people that are going to reap the rewards from that in the end.

How important is it to you to have a supportive network around you while you chase your career ambitions and dreams?

It’s so important, it’s make or break. Being organised and having a supportive network is everything. My team is basically what makes the brand. I don’t do it by myself. It takes a village, it really does. And that’s what I really enjoy. And, you know, hopefully, maybe inspiring you or maybe inspiring people and opening up a bigger conversation, especially with women. We have it hard enough as it is, let’s raise each other up. Let’s support each other.

Has your business success ever come at a cost to your personal life?

I’m really good at finding balance, I think. My husband’s never here, he’s been on tour for eight years and I miss him so much that I think that that has been a catalyst for me doing all of this stuff. I miss him so much I try and keep my mind busy! I dove into business because I really love it.

 

We couldn’t chat to you without talking about your beauty routine. So what role does beauty play in your life?

Honestly, if I could, I would wake up and go straight to work. I’m not really a ‘girly’ girl like that. I use products that work and I don’t mess around with stuff. And that’s it. It’s very basic.

 

Which products are they? What are your favourites?

I have a really expensive line that I’ll use when I feel like I need to treat myself and that’s La Prairie. I really love La Prairie. I love the way it smells. It’s so f*cking expensive, but it’s great, you know? I have my products that really work and I’ve also just discovered this line that I’m obsessed with. It’s called January Labs. It’s clean beauty. Then my dermatologist here in Austin is amazing, he gave me a Clarisonic to use, which is incredible, because when you really clean your skin the products can go in more. He gave me this product that I can’t live without. It’s called Revision and it’s a tinted sunscreen. It’s expensive, like 40 bucks for a tube but it makes your skin glow. I use that, I use a bronzer everywhere, eye shadow, mascara, I love liquid eyeliner. That’s kind of my staple. And then I love a little colour on the lip. Just keep it simple.


What is the biggest piece of beauty advice you would like to pass on to women who are inspired by you or who look up to you?

I know it sounds cliché, but beauty comes from within. I think if you have a good laugh, good sex and a nice big glass of water, you’re good to go.

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