A host of talent, including Emilia Fox, Lily Cole, KT Tunstall, Jade Parfitt, Gillian Anderson, Eliza Doolittle, James Blunt, Jemma Kidd, Gemma Arterton and many others, has stepped up to front the on-trend geometric print on white EarthPositive t-shirts, making it the fashion world’s t-shirt of choice.
The official Climate Week (21-27 March) t-shirt has been unveiled featuring an exclusive, limited edition design by the ‘patron saints of print’, Eley Kishimoto, in aid of the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
EJF’s Executive Director Steven Trent said: “The supply chain demonstrates the highest possible standards in an industry that is often criticised for falling short of the mark. The carbon footprint of the t-shirt’s manufacture is on average an incredible 90% smaller than that of a comparable product made using non-renewable energy. Our long-term supporter Lily Cole witnessed this for herself on a visit to the factory in India.”
Climate Week’s Phil Drew said: “Low-carbon and super-cool, the t-shirt captures the spirit of Climate Week by showing how we can all be part of the solution to climate change. The t-shirt is organic, ethically made, and carries the Carbon Reduction Label certified by the Carbon Trust. It represents the future of fashion: an item that’s as green as its message and doesn’t cost the earth, in all senses of the word.”
Eley Kishimoto said: “Our t-shirt design incorporates the ‘tree of life’, a concept that exists in many cultures across the world. In itself, this represents nature and reminds us to look towards a positive future. We worked with a play on an age-old patchwork motif, symbolising the care and attention that our planet needs and translating the idea that all life on earth is connected, and we should work together to tender our environment.”
Shoppers can do their bit to reduce the carbon footprint of the EarthPositive t-shirts even further, by washing it at a low temperature and hanging it up to dry.p>
Published by guardian.co.uk
The supermodel, student and campaigner for sustainable fashion talks about her career, and how ethical consumers can change the world.
Supermodels famously do not get out of bed for less than $10,000 – and when they do, legend has it, they are invariably late. Nobody would therefore be surprised to learn that the first attempt to interview Lily Cole had to be abandoned altogether, due to excessive tardiness, and the second attempt eventually got under way almost an hour behind schedule. Had Cole been the culprit, the debacle would have been such a cliche as to scarcely merit a mention – but in fact, on both occasions the fault was entirely mine, whereas Cole herself was not just punctual but extraordinarily forgiving, laughing it away with the sort of cheerful generosity you’d expect from a close friend, not a world-class model.
So when at last we did get going, had she turned out to be any of the other things people like to say about supermodels – vacuous, neurotic, superficial – it would have felt spectacularly ungracious to say so. Happily, however, nothing could be further from the truth.
Only 22, Cole has already been modelling for eight years. But she is also in her third year at Cambridge (studying history of art), is the co-founder of an ethical fashion label, and is making her name as an environmental and humanitarian campaigner. She recently returned from a visit to India with the Environmental Justice Foundation, where she followed the EarthPositive supply chain of a sustainably produced T-shirt, from the hand cultivation of organic cotton right through to the factory built out of recycled materials, making T-shirts whose carbon footprint is 90% smaller than that of a conventionally manufactured equivalent.
The T-shirt will be on sale in Tesco to promote Climate Week, and Cole talks with wide-eyed excitement about its potential to prove that sustainable fashion needn’t be confined to small-scale production. “It was such an amazing and heart-warming and optimistic experience, just to know you could produce an affordable T-shirt and it could be a positive process, employing people and not dumping loads of chemical dyes into the local river,” she enthuses. She got involved with EJF after reading its cotton report, about farmers being disfigured by the use of agricultural sulphates, and: “I was like actually physically crying, sitting on the tube reading it. It was so devastating.”
I never know quite what to make of sustainable or ethical fashion. There’s no doubting the sincerity of its pioneers – and Cole is every inch the passionate proselytiser – but there is something odd about representatives of an industry whose existence depends upon getting us to replace clothes that haven’t worn out, with new ones we don’t need, suddenly going on about sustainability. Isn’t sustainable fashion inherently oxymoronic?
“It is!” she agrees, laughing. “It is oxymoronic, just in terms of the name ‘fashion’ meaning trends. And so it’s risky, biting the hand that feeds me, obviously. But I don’t think it’s particular to the clothing industry. It’s a problem with the manufacture of everything. I mean, the fact that there’s already a second iPad out now is ‘fashion’, in a similar way. I don’t think this is fashion’s fault. It’s a broader issue to do with the capitalism, and an economy which needs us to keep buying, and creating this superfluous kind of waste. It’s not that I don’t believe in creativity and innovation and new ideas, and the creativity that comes with fashion, which I really respect. But one of my biggest concerns is just how cheap we expect everything to be.”
How can it be possible, she asks, for a T-shirt to sell for £1 or £2, when you consider all the people involved in its production, from the cotton growers all the way through to the shipping workers? “And why should we buy 20, and pay them next to nothing, when we could buy one or two and pay everyone along the line fairly?”
Cole’s label, The North Circular, sells high quality knitwear made out of wool from rescue sheep, hand-knitted by people whose photographs appear on the company’s website, so that customers “know where the garment comes from, and know the physical energy that goes into it”. They’re not cheap – a bobble hat goes for £65, a scarf is £110 – but that, she says, is part of the point. “I’m not against people buying clothes; I think clothes are wonderful, and I’m very materialistic myself – but there’s a way of finding a compromise. I just think we can buy less and pay more, to make sure people aren’t being exploited.” She pauses to smile. “Am I making sense?”
I think she probably is, but more striking is the degree to which she is articulating the particular political outlook of her generation, caught between consumerism and climate change, idealism and pragmatism. Her environmental epiphany, she says, came at 16, when she went travelling in Japan and met a mountain worshipper, and there are moments when she sounds positively girlish: “It’s all part of trying to protect this planet that I really, really, really love.” But when I ask how she squares this with her job, which requires her to fly all over the world, she says at once: “I’m a hypocrite. I’m not perfect – and I admit it. And I feel guilty about that. But I try and do what I can. I do fly, and I do enjoy life – and I think enjoying life is really important too. But I think that by having these dialogues, and trying to make conscious choices and become more aware, that’s the only option really.
“And I’m a natural optimist to the bitter, bitter end, so I think we don’t have to be – what’s the word when you say no to everything? Ascetic. That’s one of those words I’ve read but I’ve never actually said out loud, I don’t think,” she laughs. “Or maybe we do have to, but I don’t think people are ready for that right now, and I don’t think having that as a proposal will go anywhere at the moment. That’s why I got so excited about this T-shirt production. It’s not a question of saying no to production – it’s about changing those structures so that they’re not exploitative.”
The problem, of course, is that capitalism is by its very nature exploitative. To Cole’s generation, the possibility of collective resistance has been more or less abandoned, replaced by a hope that individual choice can be an effective substitute. “I really believe that in this capitalist western structure, the biggest blessing is the idea that the consumer is king. Even if we feel disempowered, the choices in how we spend our money give us so much power. Because the people who have the actual power – the big businesses, and politicians too – are ultimately responsive to our voices.”
She became a vegetarian at the age of 10, and used to be infuriated when people would question what difference it made if she ate a burger or not, when the burger was already there and someone was going to eat it. “But actually, my one measly decision not to eat it is important, because it’s like a chorus. You’re only ever responsible for yourself – and anyway, it makes you feel good to make choices you can be proud of, so having the intention behind it is the key. Just having the intention. Then the more people have those intentions, the bigger the chorus gets. And then hopefully eventually people won’t have to make good choices – it will just be a given that when you buy something someone somewhere won’t have been exploited. If we could get to that point it would be amazing.”
I wish I knew whether this was a plausible prognosis or not. Given how much is riding on it, you would certainly have to hope so. But when I ask Cole if she thinks this is what will happen, she smiles and shrugs.
“I cannot honestly begin to answer that question. I’m trying to figure out if I believe in progress right now. I’m on the whole Hegel thing,” she says, laughing. “I really don’t know.”
It is quite easy to forget that Cole is actually an undergraduate. For one thing, she just looks so other-worldly, in that way models do, like a computer-generated ideal of physical beauty – although much less like the porcelain doll she famously resembles in photographs. Apart from a tendency to add a question mark on the end of a statement – like a teenager who’s watched too many Australian soaps? – she has the easy self-possession of a veteran celebrity way beyond her years. Her conversation is studded with references to famous artist friends – “Jake and Dinos” (Chapman), “Damien” (Hirst) and so on – and the tabloids are currently full of speculation that her former romance with Jude Law has been rekindled, after her recent split from the American actor Enrique Murciano. She has already appeared in several films, and when she starred in a recent student production of The Seagull, (a “school play”, as she puts it), her performance was reviewed in the national press, and her agent had to evict a tabloid journalist from the opening night.
For all her efforts to make light of the lifestyle chasm between herself and her contemporaries (“I don’t like to think that way, I don’t think it’s healthy”), she did come close to dropping out in her first year. “I went through lots of philosophical conundrums – like, I don’t know if academia is even very good for you, I want to be creative, I’m just getting in my head too much – you know, I had all those doubts.” But she got firsts in her first- and second-year exams, so I wonder if she feels a pressure to excel in academia, just to prove she isn’t an airhead model.
“I think,” she says, after pausing to consider, “the feminist in me likes the idea, as a woman – and yeah, maybe particularly as a model – of changing people’s stereotypes. But I don’t think that’s what really motivates me. I’m just naturally a perfectionist.”
Cole was born in Devon, but grew up with her mother and sister in London, and was spotted by a model scout in Soho when just 14. “I’m sure the little girl in me was jumping up and down with excitement inside, but I tried to be realistic; I didn’t have many expectations, I didn’t know if I’d ever get a job. If they’d painted my life as it is now then I might really have jumped up and down, cos my life’s been a bit of a fairy tale that way. But at the time I didn’t know what to expect.”
In a way it’s the classic Cinderella story – shy and insecure schoolgirl, bullied for being a redhead, becomes acclaimed global beauty – and she claims to have experienced none of the horror stories associated with her industry, though I suspect there may be a touch of diplomacy going on here. Asked about eating disorders and drug abuse, she says: “You know I’ve had so little experience of that, or certainly no more experience in the industry than I have in life. I saw more of those issues in the school environment.”
What about all the rejection and commodification and pressure to be thin? “Who describes modelling like that?” she asks, uncharacteristically brittle. Well, just about every disenchanted model who’s ever talked about the industry, I laugh. “Um,” she concedes reluctantly, “there are elements of that. You’re at such a vulnerable age, as a teenager. And it is hard. I think models have a lot less power than they did in the 80s, when there were, like, only 10 supermodels who could dictate the rules, whereas now there’s so many, and that changes the power dynamic and makes it a more insecure business. But that said,” she adds hastily, “I’ve had so many positive experiences, and it’s done so much for my worldliness and knowledge and creativity, and I kind of feel bad complaining about it. I think it would just be really ungracious of me to complain about it.” [..]
Interview by Decca Aitkenhead, The Guardian
• Lily Cole is an ambassador of the Environmental Justice Foundation and a supporter of Climate Week. The Eley Kishimoto Climate Week T-shirt is available for £10 at Tesco. Proceeds from its sale will go to the EJF’s No Place Like Home campaign, giving a voice to climate refugees.