FASHION An article of our times—in fact, it’s from earlier this year in our print edition, and a New Zealand exclusive. Natalia Vodianova has been quietly going about her work as a model, while creating a charity and a donation app, but now she’s stepped into sustainable fashion as she models for H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection. Jack Yan looks at the collaboration
From issue 37 of Lucire
Lucire is the first fashion industry partner of UN Environment.
Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.
Natalia Vodianova has been one of the most consistent presences on the modelling scene for much of this decade. It’s tempting to think of her as just a mannequin, because she hasn’t promoted herself to the degree that some of her modelling colleagues have. There’s no weekly Top Model show, just solid outings for the likes of Etam (for whom she has modelled since 2009), 70 Vogue covers around the world, and, most recently, H&M.
But for Vodianova to be that present across the media takes effort, just that she’s gone about her business more conscientiously, without shouting from the rooftops. She’s been named in the multi-million-dollar club (i.e. she’s earned millions per annum) since the mid-2000s, and photographer Annie Leibovitz selected her for her Pirelli calendar of inspiring women (giving Vodianova her fifth appearance, just in a different context).
That giving-back has been going on for some time. Vodianova founded the Naked Heart Foundation in 2004 after the Beslan school siege that same year. She saw how children were traumatized in the wake of the incident, and believed that they should be able to play to help their recovery. The scope has widened since: Vodianova’s brief for the Foundation is to ‘give children a safe place to play in urban environments in Russia.’ The first park was built in 2006 in Nizhny Novgorod.
‘Since then, we have built 177 playgrounds, and have also started another programme to build support systems for children with special needs and their families,’ she says. ‘It’s everything from organizing forums and financing summer camps to training school teachers how to work with children with special needs.’
It was this that led Vodianova to think even more widely about charity, taking things beyond Russia, teaming up this time with Eugenia Makhlin, who had worked for some of the big Silicon Valley firms. ‘In 2015, I launched an app, Elbi, that lets people make instant donations to charities, because more giving should take place online. To me, giving back is the most important part of my work, and something that I hope will define my career.’ Elbi has found favour with Diane von Fürstenberg and Baroness Shields, the UK Under-Secretary of State and former CEO of Bebo.
Vodianova has become involved in other causes, including Hear the World, raising awareness of hearing loss, and the Tiger Trade Campaign, dedicated to stopping trade in tiger parts. But right now, she’s lending her name to H&M’s Conscious Exclusive campaign, a limited-edition collection for the Swedish retailer’s sustainable, socially responsible collection.
H&M, which had been named as one of Medinge Group’s Brands with a Conscience in 2008, has been increasing its use of sustainable materials, now reaching 20 per cent. It is now one of the world’s biggest users of recycled polyester and one of the biggest buyers of organic cotton.
‘I am so happy that they asked me, because the idea of consciousness is very close to me,’ says Vodianova. ‘I’ve always wanted to work with H&M, because they are such trailblazers in the industry, especially with their pioneering work in sustainability.
‘Sustainability is so important, and it’s something we all have to address today. It’s the responsibility of every modern, forward-thinking person who is aware of their surroundings and who is able to influence the world. And I mean everybody, from those who rule countries to consumers who have the power of what they buy. Anybody who goes shopping should be thinking about sustainability.’
Vodianova is a big fan of sustainable style, something she has in common with Lucire, which is credited as having published the first sustainable style editorial in the world 12 years ago. ‘It’s both about what you buy and the way that you buy it as well as how you wear it. Always look at the label to see if a garment is made from sustainable materials, and don’t be scared to ask questions. I’ve started to buy less, only getting something new when I really need it, and wearing pieces for longer. I also recycle and reuse garments, particularly for my kids. My baby is now wearing something my first son wore. It’s adorable and cute, and it’s also sustainable.’
The H&M Conscious Exclusive collection for 2017 sees the use of Bionic, a fabric made from recovered plastic from shorelines, waterways and coastal communities and the hero image is of Vodianova modelling an ethereal plissé pleat gown in powder pink made from the material (see top image, and below). ‘[They’ve turned the waste] into something beautiful,’ she says. ‘It is also fantastic that H&M don’t keep this to themselves. They want their suppliers to share this knowledge with everyone in the fashion industry, inspiring other brands to follow their path to sustainability.’ Naturally, the gown is also Vodianova’s favourite: ‘The fabric is so soft and fluid, and it feels so special to wear. It’s a gorgeous dress, and it’s incredible to think that it is made from plastic bottles and other waste from the shore. It’s a dress I’m looking forward so much to wearing during spring and summer.’
Vodianova has been impressed with H&M’s environmental commitments. ‘H&M’s sustainable actions are really inspiring. They have spent so much time working with their factories and suppliers to develop more sustainable fabrics. They have made bold and impressive commitments to sustainable goals, and they are determined to meet them.
‘One of the most impressive is their commitment to only be using sustainable cotton by 2020 and also their vision to only use recycled or sustainably sourced materials. The Conscious Exclusive collection is about very special pieces, but all year round H&M is moving towards more sustainability for everyone and you can always find sustainable products in H&M’s stores.’
She also has some simple advice for reducing our footprint here on Earth after working with . ‘There is so much that we can all do in our everyday lives. I definitely try to do my bit as much as possible, whether it’s turning off the tap when I’m brushing my teeth or having a shower instead of a bath, trying to buy organic food and also making sure that food packaging is sustainable. I’ve learned so much about sustainability from being in the Conscious Exclusive campaign, and I think it’s important to always be ready to learn more about what we can all do.
‘Sustainability in fashion is not just about the design and production of the clothes: it’s also about our actions once we have bought them. Try to wash your clothes less, and when you do so, do it at a lower temperature. Whenever possible, hang clothes to dry, instead of tumble-drying. Wear your clothes for as long as possible, and when you are finished with them, recycle. Never throw them away, even if they are worn and old—they can be made into something new.’ H&M, and others, remind us that that ‘something new’ can be very beautiful today, with eco-fashion no longer limited to materials with narrow colour palettes. Vodianova, with her résumé, knows full well what’s beautiful, and the industry has stepped up to meet the demands of customers who are not only discerning with style, but of how their fashion is sourced. •
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