Nerida is a former international fashion model, and now ethical style advocate.
Tell us about your experience in the fashion industry; how and why did you transition from modelling to ethical style advocacy?
Nine years ago I learned that my generation had the last opportunity to mitigate anthropogenic global warming. I had been modelling for four years at the time, and began to understand how the natural environment and workers were impacted by the fashion industry. I discovered that, although the clothing I was modelling was often incredibly beautiful to the eye and touch, there was a story behind fashion that was not as beautiful; a story of human rights abuse and natural environment degradation. I learned that the fashion industry was one of the worst offenders—the second most polluting industry after oil. This realisation meant I could no longer allow myself to model and endorse ideals and values that did not reflect my personal truth. I quit my thirteen-year career as a fashion model to advocate for beautiful style that connects us to our humanity, the natural environment and each other.
How would you describe your relationship with clothing?
Intentional and discerning. While I don't use a checklist, I take inspiration from industrial designer Dieter Rams’s Ten Principles of Good Design. Ideally a garment needs to be: functional and useful; meet my aesthetic preferences and ethical values; honest; thorough down to the last detail; long-lasting; and have as little design as possible. Needless to say, I don't own many things!
How have your attitudes toward fashion changed as you've aged?
When I was younger I often looked to the fashion industry to dictate what I should wear. I also had emotional investment and attachment to the clothing I owned as I believed it defined me. I now accept myself and my choices with little reference to the fashion industry. I try to practise non-attachment to clothing. I try not to seek status or define my identity or self-worth through clothing; I'm not what I wear.
“I quit my thirteen-year career as a fashion model to advocate for beautiful style that connects us to our humanity, the natural environment and each other.”
How do your personal values shape your work?
Significantly. I’ve chosen to dedicate five years of time, energy and money to advocating for a more socially and environmentally responsible fashion industry. Integrity is one value that guides my life and work. I'm always asking if my actions truly align with my values and beliefs.
What is your personal uniform?
Casual and monochromatic. I prefer wearing natural garments.
Is there a garment that has had a special place in your life or is linked to a treasured moment?
I used to wear my mother’s vintage dresses and belts. I appreciate a garment more when the process and story of its making is as beautiful as the product design.
Who has impacted your work the most and how so?
One person who has influenced my work is Joanna Macy—a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory and deep ecology. She co-authored a book called ‘Active Hope’, which I read when I was feeling despair about the state of environmental and social responsibility in the fashion industry. Her holistic approach helped me understand what I was feeling, and clarify my role in the context of the fashion system, capitalism, ideology and life.
"When I was younger I often looked to the fashion industry to dictate what I should wear. I also had emotional investment and attachment to the clothing I owned as I believed it defined me. I now accept myself and my choices with little reference to the fashion industry. I try to practise non-attachment to clothing. I try not to seek status or define my identity or self-worth through clothing; I'm not what I wear."
What tends to keep you up at night?
I worry that I'm not living fully. And ironically, in that moment I'm not living fully because I'm worrying! I worry that I’m not making a ‘difference’, or providing enough value through service to others. I’m truly grateful when someone tells me that what I do is valuable to them.
When you think to the future of fashion, what do you see?
I would like to see widespread awareness that personal contentment cannot be found in consumption of clothing; that seeking fulfilment in consumption of things can actually be hurtful to ourselves, others and the natural environment. I'd like to see people, including myself, redeemed from the label ‘consumers’.
While influencing beliefs is an important goal, I believe an equally important opportunity is to change the incentives. Behavioural research shows that good intentions don’t always lead to the desired actions or behaviors. We may desire change, but our intentions are conflicted by incentives, such as money. This also applies to businesses that want to be more environmentally and socially responsible, but are restricted by their business model. New business models that create a different incentive structure excite me most for the future of the fashion industry.
What are you wearing in your portrait?
I’m wearing a secondhand Vera Wang cocktail dress made from a suit material with a fine mesh back. I like its simplicity, versatility and quality.
Photography Claire Summers
Production Sigrid McCarthy
Learn more about Nerida Lennon