Arizona Muse started modelling as a teenager but her career didn’t initially take off. When she got pregnant with her first son Nikko at the age of 19, she took some time out to think things over. When Nikko was one and a half, she decided she was ready to throw her energy back into modelling. She moved to New York, rented an apartment for 6 months to do fashion week and focused on making it work. Since then, she hasn’t looked back. She has gone on to grace the covers of the fashion world’s biggest publications and open many of its most famous shows.
When did you first start thinking about the environmental impact of fashion? Was there a catalyst?
Yes, the catalyst was Jessica Sweidan at Synchronicity Earth. I went to an event about five years ago and heard Jessica speak about the work they do. I was really moved by what she said about the environment. Of course I was aware that we have to look after our environment, as we all are to some extent. But it had never hit home quite so powerfully as it did that day.
So, you had this environmental ‘awakening’ and then you started to think more about how it relates to what you do and the fashion industry?
Yes, exactly. Up until that point, I’d been starting to feel that I wasn’t having very interesting conversations anymore. I was feeling a bit passionless and not sure what my purpose was. My career had gone well and I was incredibly lucky but there comes a time where you’re not really climbing anymore, you’re just carrying on the way you always have. After a few years of that, I felt that it was no longer enough, and that’s when that first seed was planted and I started thinking much more about fashion, sustainability and the environment.
Since then I have devoted pretty much all my spare time to learning more about it. I’ve become quite nerdy about environmental science! I spend a lot of my time reading and researching, watching documentaries and meeting the key people in fashion sustainability in London. I’ve learnt so much and met so many fascinating people.
The fashion industry’s dirty secret
From your own experience and from what you’ve learnt in the last 4 or 5 years, how would you sum up the negative impacts of fashion for our environment?
We’ve really ignored the fact that fashion is hugely toxic to the environment to start with and incredibly wasteful to finish. If you look at the lifecycle of a garment now, including the seeds from which the garment was grown, all the way through to the dump – or the ocean – in which it ends up, it has a huge but also very complex impact. It’s not just the individual t-shirt or dress that’s wasted. I don’t think of garments so much as what they are anymore, but more as what they’re made of. I’ve become very passionate about materials, that’s what I’ve focused on, because I’ve found that without healthy materials, there’s really no hope for a healthy fashion industry. So, in talking about impact, you need to start with the materials.
It’s a depressing picture, but are there any positives you’ve found to the fashion industry? At its best, what can fashion contribute?
At its best, fashion can be an incredible platform to influence the rest of the world. The messages in fashion travel extremely quickly to millions of people – that’s an extraordinary power that we need to harness for good, rather than just for superficial or entertainment purposes. Creative directors and others who work for brands have so much power in their hands, and that can be – it should be – a fantastic thing. Fashion is also an industry that impacts many other sectors: it crosses over with agriculture because of the materials used, it crosses over with mining because there’s a lot of metal used in fashion… to me, the potential for fashion to influence other industries is very exciting.
Change is coming
So you think the fashion industry is genuinely starting to change? When do you think that really started to happen?
Yes, I do think that. Just in the last year or two. I know people in the industry who’ve been here for 15 years saying let’s change, we have to do something, this is an emergency. Many of these same people, last year and perhaps the year before, finally feel like there is a lot of traction happening for sustainability in fashion right now – so I guess it was 2017 that was a really pivotal year.
What would you put this change down to?
Climate change! The science on climate change continues to come out, and governments are finally beginning to acknowledge – not all governments, as we know, but most governments – that we really do need to start changing the way we do things. I think that has had an effect on fashion, leading many in the industry to finally realise that it was time to actually do something. Then sustainability became a buzzword and now it’s cool to talk about it, even if people don’t always really understand what the word means, they’re using it all the time. Sustainability is cool now in a way that it just wasn’t five years ago.
Can fashion find a new voice?
Do you think that fashion models could potentially have more of a voice and a more positive influence?