Living sustainably and reducing our carbon footprint is an ongoing journey, often marked by pivotal moments of realisation and transformation. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with eco warrior Molly Farai, founder of Selkie Social, to delve into her ongoing journey towards a more sustainable life.
Join me as we explore her experiences, challenges, and invaluable insights into conscious living.
Lydia: Living sustainably and reducing our environmental footprint can be a period of ongoing transition. What made you want to live more sustainably and make the conscious shift?
Molly: My experience with sustainable living has been years of learning and unlearning, but if I had to pinpoint a moment in time where I became fully committed to living more sustainably, it would have been in mid-2017. I was 22, had just graduated from university and moved out of home, and for the first time in my life I was working full time. During my media degree, I had learned a lot about these topics that had interested me – like ethics in fashion and business, gender, equality, justice, and injustice. Suddenly, I was an independent adult confronted with decisions about what to do with my money (knowing that what we buy is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in) and what I wanted my impact on the world to look like. It was then that I made the choice to put what I had learned into practice.
Lydia: What old unsustainable habits were easy to change? Which sustainable practices have been more difficult to implement?
Molly: While all habits took a lot of learning and research, changing what clothes, skincare, and cleaning products I bought or used were by far the easiest for me. Changing my food and becoming a vegan was somewhat trickier. For myself and my family, enjoying food is such a social act, so I was aware that becoming a vegan didn’t only affect me, but it was confronting to people I ate with and this change affected them as well. I think food choices has been the largest topic of conversation in day-to-day life, so I also had to learn how to talk about my food decisions with other people, which was hard.
The habit that has been personally the hardest for me to change – and still is – is single use plastics. When I’m having a particularly busy week, trying to reduce single use plastic waste (particularly with food) is the habit that goes first. I’m constantly working on it.
Lydia: What are the challenges of being an eco warrior?
Molly: I hate to ruffle feathers and make people feel bad about their choices – or things that they don’t have a choice over. So, my biggest challenge is communicating to people that I am never judging them for doing something that isn’t eco-friendly. We’ve just got to do what we can, with what we have, where we are in the world. While our actions make a huge difference, it’s not completely up to us as individuals to fix all the problems. Big corporations and billionaires are the ones who need to do pull a lot more of the weight.
Lydia: You consult with businesses on how to deliver their brand messaging to their audiences. With so much Greenwashing going on, it can be hard to stand out. What’s your advice to small business trying to make big impact with their sustainable offerings?
Molly: If you know that your business is coming from the right place, getting the certifications to prove it helps your audience and customers see that you’re truthful about your claims. At Selkie Social, I like to share that gaining the trust of our communities is what ultimately helps with sales. I know certifications can be pricey and some can take a lot of time, so focus on what you can achieve right now and make a longer-term plan for any important ones that might be out of reach right now.
I also think so many small business owners are missing out on the power of social media as a tool to connect with their target audience and create a supportive network with other people in their industry. As a first step, I’d highly recommend for every small business owner to try sharing a couple of behind-the-scenes videos or to share their face on camera in a TikTok or Instagram Story. I would love to see more small and sustainable business owners opening up in this way with their audience, having fun, and getting creative.
Lydia: We are feeling the effects of the climate crisis with global carbon emissions higher than ever, but our government is slow to act. How does that make you feel? How do you overcome those feelings?
Molly: It makes me feel heartbroken a lot of the time. Those feelings of hopelessness, such as ‘is all this effort I’m putting in even making a difference?’ and ‘is anyone even listening?’, are a big challenge we face as eco warriors. It’s hard to commit your life to a cause and to sometimes question the results you see. I’ve found that it helps to focus on the positives and the difference that is being made – no matter how small!
Attending a couple of climate marches over the last few years helped me with these feelings of frustration. When you’re in a group of hundreds or thousands of people, who are all there for the same reason, with your shared voice directed at the government, it’s hard to feel insignificant or unheard.
Lydia: Share your thoughts on where the fast fashion industry is at. Is it changing? Are people’s mindsets changing? Or is it as bad as ever?
Molly: It’s an interesting one. While I feel I’m seeing more sustainable fashion brands, designers, activists, and advocates than ever (yay!), simultaneously I do think the fast fashion industry is as bad as ever. The global fast fashion market was valued at $106 billion in 2022, and it’s forecasted to reach $185 billion by 2027 (according to this 2023 report). However, I do think people’s mindsets are changing. Most of us are at least aware of the issue of fast fashion by now but I think learning to feel okay in oneself purchasing less but better is the hardest step in moving away from fast fashion. Reducing how much we buy globally and educating about why reducing is important are going to be the biggest challenges of the next 5 years in this space.
Lydia: What are your slow fashion tips? What do you look for in sustainable, ethical clothing brands? And what percentage of your wardrobe is upcycled vs. new?
Molly: During my last ‘Closet Mass Index’ in June 2020, I had 179 items including clothes, shoes, beanies, gloves, belts, and scarves.
- 17% of my wardrobe was second-hand or vintage
- 35% was ethically or sustainably made and bought new
- 48% was fast fashion pieces (bought before mid-2017 when I stopped buying fast-fashion) that I was consciously choosing to rewear
The stats would be about the same for my current wardrobe. As you might be able to see from my numbers, my greatest slow fashion tip would be to rewear your clothes. According to a recent report from the Ellen McArthur Foundation, if on average the number of times a garment is worn were doubled, then GHG emissions from the garment would be 44% lower. We can greatly reduce the negative environmental impact from our clothes simply by rewearing.
I personally love the slow fashion tips I received on a handout from Textile Beat many moons ago:
- Think: Make thoughtful, ethical, informed choices.
- Natural: Treasure fibres from nature and limit synthetics.
- Quality: Buy well once, quality remains after price is forgotten.
- Local: Support local makers, those with good stories and fair trade.
- Few: Live with less, have a signature style, minimal wardrobe, unfollow.
- Care: Mend, patch, sort, sponge, wash less, use cold water, line dry.
- Make: Learn how to sew as a life skill, value DIY and handmade.
- Revive: Enjoy vintage, exchange, pre-loved, and swapping.
- Adapt: Upcycle, refashion, eco-dye, create new from old.
- Salvage: Donate, pass on, rag, weave, recycle, or compost.
I always think about these tips when shopping, bearing in mind what I will do with the garment at the end of its life.
In a sustainable clothing brand, I look for:
- Transparency: How much information about their supply chain, and social and environmental impact is publicly available on their website?
- Social ethics and sustainability: Do they share where their clothes are made and how their garment makers are treated? Do they pay a fair or living wage and ensure a safe (preferably thriving!) working environment?
- Cultural ethics and sustainability: How is the brand helping to sustain local knowledge of traditional handcrafts? Is the brand culturally aware and respectful, and against cultural appropriation?
- Environmental ethics and sustainability: Do they share any information or reports on their environmental impact? What are the company emissions? Are they carbon-neutral? Are they climate-positive? Regenerative?
- Fabrics: Do they prioritise natural, preferably organic and certified fabrics?
- Certifications: BCorp, Ethical Clothing Australia, WRAP, OEKO-TEX®, GOTS, Fairtrade, etc.
- External reviews: How are they rated on Good On You, by external reports or reviews, and by customers?
- Giving: Are they connected to any non-profits or giving partners like 1% for the Planet?
Not all brands I shop with, work with, or wear meet all points listed above but I like to keep these questions in mind when making my final decision.
Lydia: An increasing number of fashion companies are promoting sustainable fashion. Some fabrics are from recycled bottles, deadstock fabrics, recycled poly, and other recycled materials. Do you think that recycling waste is the way forward for the clothing industry? Or do you think it gives major companies contributing to that waste a cop out?
Molly: I will always choose natural materials and plastic-free fabrics where possible, because it’s important that we think about the end of life when it comes to our clothes, and the systems we have access to, to recycle plastic fibres. Overall, I think that recycling clothes and fibres is fantastic and that we should be doing it – I just sent my first box to UPPAREL a few weeks ago, who are doing amazing work in textile recovery and recycling. However, I am cautious about purchasing recycled polyester, nylon, or any other recycled synthetic clothing. I don’t think recycling plastic bottles and fast fashion is the solution to the plastic waste crisis, and I’m wary about the durability and longevity of synthetic clothing, full stop. However, it is necessary to use synthetic fibres in some clothes we wear, like our underwear and activewear (so it holds its shape!), so it would be nice to see more recycled synthetic fibres being used in the clothing that requires it.
At the end of the day and at this stage in the war on waste, I think we need to see a drastic reduction (if not a complete stop) of any new single-use plastics produced (bottles, synthetic fibres for single-use fast fashion, etc.). Instead, it would be nice to develop a more circular system whereby we reuse the plastic fibres/clothing we have in the world as much as possible, for as long as possible – but I might be dreaming!
At ZONE by Lydia, we aim to encourage and educate consumers to adopt sustainable practices and switch to natural materials. We use cork and natural rubber in our yoga mats and make sure they are free of harsh toxic chemicals and glues. We want consumers to think again before purchasing that next piece of fast fashion made from synthetic materials and instead opt for natural fibers where possible like organic cotton, hemp and linen.
Being a sustainable brand isn't just about using natural materials or sustainable fabrics. It involves our entire supply chain from where our raw materials are sourced from, our dyeing process right through to our choice of simple eco-friendly packaging. We also look at whether our suppliers run ethical practices, sustainable production and provide a fair wage and safe working conditions to their employees. There is a lot to keep across as an owner and operator of a small business, and near impossible for a consumer to know all the details, which is why we are transparent about manufacturing process and who makes our products.
If you have any questions about how our products are made, feel free to reach out to email@example.com and we'll answer any questions you have. You can also learn more about why we choose hemp and why we choose cork in our ZONE range.