Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Summer Rayne Oakes
Click. She wears a windmill pin but little else. Click. She poses in a forest in a bright fair-trade gown. Click. She smiles covered in mud next to the caption, "we should worship the ground we walk on."

With every click of a camera's shutter, Summer Rayne Oakes sends a message about environmental issues. Using fashion as her catalyst, this 23-year-old "Eco-Model" is all about getting a larger audience to care about sustainability, climate change and going green. Oakes lends her face to mission-based causes, with the idea that modeling can be an excellent way to communicate important issues if approached with thought and values.

Oakes graduated from Cornell with degrees in Natural Resources and Entomology. She's now translating her brains and beauty into a book series, "Hip Girl's Guide to Green Living," a fashion newsletter, S4, and her own think tank called SRO. With every cause-driven venture, she's getting her message to, well, click with other young people.

Update: Watch the CNN.com Live Video interview
Can't wait for the interview! Summer's been a hero of mine for many years and her passion for the environment is truly inspiring. Having been a bug counter and handbag peddler myself, I can totally relate to the pressing issues she's raising awareness for and challenges she faces in the fashion industry. You go girl!!! And to have Summer interviewed by my favorite CNN anchor...AWESOME!
I was wondering if Summer had some suggestions for how to get our knowledge translated into action. Many of us know that we should recycle but do not insist that our movie theaters, school cafeterias, parks, coffee shops, gyms, offices, grocery stores, etc. use packaging that we can recycle or provide bins for recycling, etc. I'll never forget walking out of Happy Feet (with its clear environmental message) and feeling the shame of seeing so much plastic from cups, etc. wastefully discarded with no recycling. Does Summer have any suggestions ??? Would she consider visiting schools and talking to kids about green issues??
Summer, you inspire all of us to find ways to be more environmentally friendly. However, a question for you and for further dialogue is how does the environmental advocacy, passion and overall efforts you bring to fashion filter down to the actual manufacturing processes? Current stories of substandard China product safety fill the media and begin to guide our purchasing practices. Your message must be backed up by action and education at the production site to truly reach the mass consumer. How do you see your efforts evolving over the next 5 years to move your message from a fringe fashion group to the mainstream?
Hip? Eco-chick? Yeah sure,ok.More like confused hippe. Another member of a think tank, cool. Did she drive to her modeling job?
In 1904, A French cleric named Charles Wagner published a book that flopped in France and was a success in America, The Simple Life. He was supported in his endeavor by the likes of successful capitalists like John Wannamaker. Shows such as the Simple Life starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie illustrate the 'patristic benevolence' of what purity minded social movements wrought in the American psyche over the course of the past century. How would you approach the creation/erection of "new" social behaviors without jeporadizing the vital infrastructure of our economic life or turning the green movement into yet another way to homogenize the creative soul of the American public? And in your opinion, are there parallels in such a project that have religious and/or political implications and to what extent do or need such dichtomies require discussion?
Hi Summer Rayne,

I met and talked to you at the SustainLane event in San Francisco earlier this year. I am visiting Bangalore on a professional assignment after 25 years and I see the massive environmental damage done in the name of "progress". But people here seem to think it is an OK trade-off because of the financial wealth this has brought them. However the future generations will suffer. Already the Bengal Tiger is in danger of extinction, incidence of asthma is high in Bangalore and in general the cost of progress as we have defined it in the west, is very high.
Finally, India and China are entering the energy consumption stage in a huge way and almost anything we do in the west will pale in comparison with the damage to the environment due to coal fired plants in India and China.
So what do we say to the new upcoming and very dynamic generations of youth in India and China so that they are able to balance financial wealth with the wealth of future generations which is being traded away for nothing.
And how do we say it from a moral ground when the very notion of progress they are emabracing is coming from us in the west?
It is critical that the youth of India and China be engaged very quickly in this mission and I hope you can give some insight into how we might approach this subject effectively.
Summer,
You are most definitely a person that rocks and I admire you and your work.

My question: Why is it that despite overwhelming evidence about the environmental damage caused by humans, there are many who remain skeptical about environmental concerns (global warming, etc...)? What do you think can be done to convince these skeptics that has not already been done?
Summer,

Your work in support of both fair trade and sustainability have inspired people around the world. Congratulations on this important recognition - I know it will help motivate many more people to get involved in their own special way.

Sincerely,

Mark Ritchie
Summer
I live in an apartment that is not energy efficient, but because i rent, i feel like there isnt much i can do to be eco-friendly. what do you suggest i do?
thanks
Winter
Hi Summer Rayne,
I'm glad to see you on here! You came to my school a year ago to teach your curriculum and share your personal experience. It was a very eye-opening experience for me and inspired me to maybe one day start my own business.

I have an unrelated question - Being a young woman, I am constantly inundated with unhealthy images of women in advertisements and fashion magazines. I really appreciated your comments on health and wellness and your funny modeling experiences. What's your opinion on too thin models and are you doing anything more in your own career to push along a healthier image?
Summer - thanks for changing attitudes. My question:

In order to accelerate green advocacy we must inspire new people to take environment protecting steps. For those who would like to try something for the first time - what might Summer recommend they do?
Hi Annie - Thanks so much for your question. On a related note, I went to see 11th Hour twice now and also felt guilty about the waste that was thrown away (not recycled). I get the same feeling on a plane - probably 99% of what is on a plane can be recycled or composted - but all of it is taken to landfill.

It's easier for us to make small changes in our everyday life. It does make a difference, but if you really want to step outside your comfort zone and advocate for change - I encourage you to express your voice and do something larger - something that goes beyond your home.

I'd love to see a campaign that really reduces the garbage waste - and help implement programs - in schools, movie theaters, planes, coffee shops, etc. The most logical place to start is in your community; you may it daunting at first, but if you speak your vision and passion fluently, you will find that you will inspire others.

Here is a great example: I started calling the junk mail providers that send me credit card applications, magazines, etc. in my mail. I told them to take me off their list and their "to sell" lists. I reduced mail coming to my home. But there are a number of people who are now banning together to do this. A whole organization - Forest Ethics - will be launching a promising campaign to help reduce junk mail waste - (that is usually made from virgin forests). Doing those types of practices in our home is great, sets a good example for our children, but stepping outside your comfort zone, inspiring other people, and banning together to make a difference will really help ensure that we are making a dent in the world.

For your last question, I speak at about 25-30 conferences, universities and schools a year, so I'd love to find out where your school is. Many schools do not have the budget for speakers, but I often will make time on my travels to speak at various schools - or keep schools on file that express interest - if I know I am going to be in their area in the future. I do try my best to make it to most of them.

Sometimes I will come in to teach ECOFASHION101 (ecofashion101.com) depending on class size and age group. Other times I will customize the lecture and/or workshop. Please go to my company site at gen-s.net and you can explore some of the places that I am speaking at, what I have spoke at in the past - and the topics that I normally speak on. Please feel free to reach out to me and let me know where you are.

As a side note, if you are disturbed by the amount of garbage being tossed in our public places - as many of us should be - maybe consider starting with a school-community partnership. Children spend up to 35 hours a week in school - it's a great place to start instilling a sense of responsibility as well as communities. Schools are not islands - and should reflect the ethos that we want to see in our kids.

Good luck and I hope to hear from you,
Summer Rayne
Hi Sean Cady - Thanks for your question too. You definitely are hitting on a very important topic - which invariably links back into Nitin's question below.

S4, which is mentioned in the CNN interview, talks about how sustainability trends in fashion interact with global topics like, sustainable economic development, environment, culture & traditions, and politics. This was designed for retailers/manufacturers, universities and press - perfect "vectors" for initiating change in the industry. This helps with a more top-down approach, as opposed to the bottom-up approach (inspiring consumers to enact change).

I was also recently invited to the American and Apparel & Footwear Association meeting by a good friend of mine. AAFA works with retailers/manufacturers in getting sustainability issues across to their member companies/organizations. I contacted the director afterwards to share my information from my previous research on risk substances from the textiles industry and why they should be regulated or banned.

This information is becoming more widely available to manufacturers and needs to continue on that route if we are to see substantial change on the manufacturer level.

The social aspect needs to be addressed. Please take a look at the interview with Micha Peled in the Denim S4 issue (s4trends.com) and read about the successes and struggles in pushing across fair labor practices. It's an inspiring, but thought-provoking read. This needs and will be the next major issue that the textile and apparel industry has to address.

Please let me know of any industry meetings that you may think I may be able to add value on.
Anonymous#2. I think what you're asking (if I understand your question exactly) is: How do we keep it real? How do we not dumb the environmental and social justice movements down to the pure entertainment?

I think one of the answers to this question is: Activism. Grassroots activism. There will always be a place for authentic on-the-ground movement that builds voice and vision in a group of people. It also keeps you in touch with the pulse of what is really happening in the world - on a specific issue.

Sustainability can further be used as a source of innovation and leaders in the movement can rise up and help empower others to follow or take the lead. This movement is not for one group of people or another. It will be different for all groups, which is why it is important that we need to KEEP creativity to keep it fresh and re-invent it as attitudes and levels of involvement change. I also encourage people to try many different outlets - not just one - because 1 outlet may work for a certain set of people - but not for another.
Hi again Nitin - How are you? You outline a very real situation. Some of the most powerful statistics I recently read are the following:

This was put out by Architecture 2030:
The Campus Climate Challenge (CCC) - (which I discussed in the CNN video)…calls for all high school and college campuses in the US to go carbon neutral…If the challenge were met, the CO2 emissions from just four medium-sized coal-fired power plants each year would negate the CCC’s entire effort.

[Note: This figure looks to be off by an order of magnitude and that it would take 40 medium coal plants, however the point still stands.]

This doesn't discourage me, but it makes the point very, very real and encourages me to push forward.

I have seen the underground movement of entities like the Campus Climate Challenge in action. I have used it myself to build bridges between climate action work in different regions of the U.S. and abroad. I'm seeing some amazing technology coming out - namely a social networking site by Think MTV which I feel will revolutionize action on the ground - and something that has the power to transcend language and cultural barriers.

More dialogue needs to ensue between what is happening on the ground here - and what is and could be happening on the ground in India and China and other parts of the world. If we can pool our knowledge & energy and identify action groups - that can be very powerful.

Developing university partnerships (b/t U.S. and Asian universities) and media partnerships should also be looked into. Studying abroad is wonderful on an individual level, but being able to bring people and the movement to the fingertips of whole groups of people(whether it be through virtual communications or whatever) - can be integral in pushing for positive change.

At Cornell, we had an international agriculture class that connected to other universities around the world to talk about issues that are being faced in the agricultural communities abroad. Things like this will help expand our horizons and help inspire change across boundaries by identifying shared visions and values.
Mike - that is a challenging question and I wish I had the answer to it. When I entered into fashion there were plenty of skeptics - whether it be motivation, use of platform, or business-related. If you can appeal to people on another level (i.e. economic, business, emotional) then you sometimes don't even need to cross such controversial bridges.

In my line of work, I work with people who do not share all of my values or visions - but it doesn't mean we can't work with one another. Finding the commonalities - the things that you may agree on - and also keeping a sense of humor - can help dissipate animosity. It's not a panacea, but it is a start.

Summer Rayne
Hi Tabby - Thanks for your question. The two may seem unrelated, but I assure you they are more related than you think.

Please take the time and read an article I wrote for Lucire Magazine - "Bust:Waist:Hip" - it touches upon what I may have discussed to your class and shares my overall feelings of the industry. It can be found at the link below.

http://summerrayneoakes.blogspot.com/2007/02/bust-waist-hip-weighty-issues-for.html

I hope that people can draw from my work - and the work of other models like Kate Dillon and others mentioned in the piece - a sense of self and health that can permeate through the industry as a standard.

It's important - as a reader/viewer of the media - that you encourage and respond positively to the items that you would like to see and constructively voice your concern in something that may bother you.
Hi Wil - the fact that you are asking that question is THE FIRST STEP in creating change! The best way to make changes is in the stuff that we do daily - what we eat, what we wear, how we get to work, if we recycle and compost, turning off the lights, what we wash with...all the little things. However, I'm also a big believer in jumping in head first into what you are passionate about. Get up, get involved in your local community and the global community at large.
Thank you Sean, Mark and others for being so supportive of my work! You are truly special people in my life and admire the work you are doing! This has been an amazing journey and I look forward to more to come. :o)
cheers,
Summer Rayne Oakes
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