On Instagram, as in life, there are people you encounter at such a perfect moment that the connection almost seems inevitable. Before I asked Renee Peters of Model4GreenLiving whether she'd be willing to tackle five (more or less) form questions about her work and inspiration, I tried to remember when I'd first encountered her meticulously curated green-living blog or her endlessly inspiring activism on Instagram. Honestly, I can't even untangle where or how my own interest in sustainability collides and intersects with Renee's. I opened that page in my life and discovered some beautiful souls along with some practical life lessons like a few of these simple ones I summed up at the end of 2018. Renee's kindness and compassion along with her unyielding commitment to spreading the word about our culture's impact on the environment makes her one of my heroes, so I was so thrilled when she agreed to share more about her background and her own inspiration in this new informal interview section on my blog. I hope anyone who's been following my own blog and journey into the world of sustainability will also enjoy this quick peek into someone who has inspired me, and so many others, so greatly!
1. First, I’d love to learn more about what inspires you to do the incredible work you do!
I have been an animal lover as far back as I can remember, when I went to the San Diego zoo as a baby. I have also been a nature enthusiast ever since I joined the Girl Scouts as a second-grader. Whenever I am in nature I feel calm and at peace, while at the same time excited to learn and explore. There is a unique sense of immediate awe and profound happiness that I get from being around trees, plants, and animals even in cities like NYC. That spark of joy is something that I have always felt inspired to work with. As I got older and I began to learn that these things were being destroyed and ever-more at risk, I knew I was going to dedicate my life to trying to protect them.
2. How did you first become interested in sustainability and sustainable fashion? Was your gateway to becoming a sustainability advocate through your experiences in the fashion world or was it the reverse: did you learn about sustainability and from there become interested in sustainable fashion?
Definitely the latter… It was only after getting the unique opportunity to be an international fashion model that I felt a yearning to tie my day job in fashion with my lifelong dreams and love for nature. At first I was exploring veganism, and since many people in fashion are obsessed with health and looking young, I thought I would share what I had learned through the lens of sustainable nutrition. I did that initially on my blog, when I started it in 2014, until I saw the movie True Cost. Once I learned how horrible the fashion industry was for the environment, I decided to pivot and share more about that. In 2015, there were only a handful of sustainable fashion bloggers, so I wanted to help spread the word to my peers in fashion as well as my social media followers. If most of us creating and selling fashion didn’t understand the harm we were causing, it was likely to assume most of the public was unaware as well. I helped promote Fashion Revolution an their mission from the beginning, and shared as much as I could my journey away from fast-fashion. It is wonderful to see how, in only 3 years’ time, so many people are now on board with the sustainable fashion movement. I hope that it continues to shift more and more into the main stream.
I’m also wondering how your approach might have changed after the revelation that climate change is largely created by corporations and not through the decisions of consumers? I still feel like our decisions are important if only to help us envision the kind of sustainable communities we want to be living in, but I was wondering how you might articulate that?
I still live by the motto, “Buy less, choose well, and make it last.” We are fortunate to have such a broad range of sustainable products and brands available. So, for me, it is about making the best choice from the options I have. But as I have always said, living a sustainable lifestyle is a constant process. And one of the evolutions to my process, over the last year especially, has been to not be such a martyr for individual perfection. The sad truth is that even if 50% of individuals around the world (a steep goal given colonialism and the global, unequal distribution of wealth) went vegan, zero-waste, minimal, only bought second hand things and sustainable fashion, avoided cars, etc; there would still be 3.5 billion+ people and growing that couldn’t afford to live that way due to lack of time and resources, a lack of access, a lack of local waste management, health issues, etc. Yes, individual efforts can make a small impact, and if we are privileged enough to make better choices than we should… but the reality that most sustainability advocates (especially white, first-world advocates) need to wake up to is that most people are not privileged at all.
Therefore, by placing all of our attention on promoting sustainable fashion, avoiding plastic, avoiding animal products, and shopping ethically/ sustainably, is NOT going to solve the problem. It will however, take up and consume a lot of our time and resources, leaving us with little time to advocate for the real systematic changes that have to/ should have been implemented a long time ago. Not only that, it further alienates those who have been historically disenfranchised and are STILL held back due to our colonial, capitalistic culture. It points a finger at individuals who aren’t making the life choices we deem as “pure” and “earth-saving” because they can’t, while not actually forcing corporations to shift their extremely harmful/ exploitative practices.
I say all this with 100 percent transparency that I myself wrongly advocated, in the past, that everyone can make better choices, and that I still advocate to privileged folks that we can easily avoid a lot. The biggest difference in my personal and public work today is that I am constantly trying to learn about the systematic problems causing most of the damage, and how they can be fixed so this lifestyle is equally accessible and real positive change can be made. But even more so listening to people with different backgrounds than me, and sharing what I learn from them about the environmental injustices they experience and the barriers they face to living a better life. Individual actions can’t be the holy grail of sustainability if they aren’t accessible to everyone.
3. What are some of your favorite sustainable brands? I know you’ve worked with a few as a model as well. It was so great to stumble across your lovely face on Elizabeth Suzann’s site for example! If someone wanted to create a more sustainable wardrobe, where would you suggest they start?
If you have the money to invest, I do really like Elizabeth Suzann because they are incredibly sustainable, their pieces last forever, and they are size and diversity inclusive. My biggest tip isn’t about brands however, because our overarching problem on the planet today is too much consumption. The easiest and most affordable way to create a truly sustainable wardrobe is to buy secondhand, and when you wash your clothes, use a Guppy Bag to capture the polyester that is polluting our waterways. That way you aren’t using any new resources to build your wardrobe, and you’re also saving used fashion from going into a landfill or ruining a third world country’s local fashion economy.
4. What would you recommend to consumers interested in living a more sustainable lifestyle? I love your guide to sustainable gift-giving as well as your chat with Eco Cult, which in itself linked to a post of theirs called “50 Sustainable Resolutions for 2016” but which I think I could see implementing in 2019 as well! I know that you spent a month going zero waste for Earth Month. You wrote such an inspiring piece about that experience. I really think you could turn it into a book!
Be mindful of what you actually use and need, and try your best to find your personal style. If you know what you like and who you are, you are much less susceptible to marketing gimmicks and feeling left out if you aren’t wearing the latest of the constantly-changing fashion trends. I also suggest doing your research before buying a product, and making sure that what you buy can last you a long time. Then once you have the things you need and use, take care of them so they can last up to their full potential.
5. Speaking of books, which five books would you recommend on the topics of sustainability or activism or whatever you’d wish to recommend of course? You have such a great multi-media approach to activism, so I feel like I should ask if there any documentaries or blogs you would want to add to this list?
Project Drawdown is a wonderful book & guide to the future of our sustainable planet. I also recommend Eaarth by Bill McKibben, Folks this Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. Chasing Coral is a fantastic documentary explaining the dire problems our oceans are facing today. Other documentaries I suggest watching include: Inhabit, Terra, Before the Flood, River Blue, A Plastic Ocean, 13th , Feel Rich, Dirt!, Samsara, Planet Earth II, and Racing Extinction.
Thanks so much, Renee! I always love chatting with a fellow secondhand-shopping enthusiast, and I learned so much from this interview as well. Can't believe I've never heard of Guppy laundry bags! And they're only $7.99! You can purchase them here. Again, Renee's blog is Model4GreenLiving. You can also follow Renee on Instagram @renee.elizabethpeters. Did you guys learn anything new from this interview or something you think might work into your daily life from spreading the word about voting to washing polyester clothes in a Guppy bag?
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