Diving Into The Depths of Ocean Conservation with Carissa Cabrera

Diving Into The Depths of Ocean Conservation with Carissa Cabrera

Carissa Cabrera, a dynamic force merging her roles as a CEO, accomplished marine biologist, recognized content creator by Harvard, and passionate advocate for environmental stewardship stands at the forefront of ocean conservation and climate activism. Rooted in her Ecuadorian American heritage and based in the vibrant landscapes of Hawaiʻi, Carissa’s life’s mission revolves around democratizing access to ocean conservation knowledge and empowering individuals to find their voice and purpose in the movement.

With a multifaceted approach to her work, Carissa serves as the driving force behind Futureswell, a platform dedicated to amplifying regenerative solutions for our planet’s most pressing environmental challenges. Through her leadership roles in various organizations and initiatives, including her work with community restoration groups and partnerships with renowned institutions like National Geographic, Carissa embodies the spirit of innovation and collaboration in the fight to protect our oceans. Her expertise in digital storytelling, project management, and science communication underscores her unwavering commitment to bridging the gap between scientific research and public engagement, offering a pathway for collective action and meaningful change.

Carissa Cabrera diving in the ocean
www.carissacabrera.com

Could you please tell us about your journey?

My story is not special, and that is why I love it. I grew up as the child of first generation immigrants from Ecuador and Hungary. We lived in a desert, and I saw the ocean a handful of times in my childhood. But my dad took me snorkeling when I was a toddler, and I was never the same after I put on that mask. I grew up wanting to learn, watching National Geographic, and begging for more ocean experiences. I wanted to study marine science at a coastal school, but my scholarship required me to stay in the desert for college. I spent four years in college taking the few marine science classes my university offered, joining an ocean club, and developing skills like education and outreach. In my first marine conservation class, I learned about oil spills, unsustainable fishing, and mass extinction. I vowed to continue my schooling to protect these ecosystems, and found myself in a master’s program in Hawai’i in my early twenties. During my graduate work, I was studying the causes of death in dolphins and whales so we could better understand their threats and help address them. During my first whale necropsy, which is essentially a dissection, we found over 50 pounds of fishing nets and other marine debris in the stomach of a pilot whale. I was 23, looking at my colleagues, realizing I cannot save these animals without standing up to the systems that are harming them. I could not protect our ocean without sharing the stories of what’s happening to them as a result of our actions. And I could not be a scientist that did not actively participate in applying solutions to heal our ocean.

What led you to transition from the realm of scientific research to the power of storytelling as a tool for ocean advocacy?

When I pursued marine science throughout my graduate schooling, I was working under the impression that a deeper understanding of our ocean would mean more action to protect it. If we understood what was at stake, we would change. I realized very quickly that scientific research without an inclusive and accessible science communication strategy does not get applied. I transitioned to education to raise awareness around threats and solutions, but also explore creative ways to bring that education to the masses. Storytelling can be entertaining, personal, emotional, or joyful, and I believe all forms of storytelling are valuable for the ocean climate movement. Our individual stories can change systems through advocacy, and connect elected officials to solutions that can change the course of our climate narrative. 

How do you see your work in ocean conservation intersecting with broader climate justice movements and initiatives?

The environmental justice leaders of our generation have raised the alarm on what intersectional activism means and changed the climate movement in a tremendous way. As our federal leaders begin to prioritize EJ in their practices, I’m particularly passionate about ensuring ocean justice initiatives are part of that conversation. Coastal communities are frontline communities, and disproportionately suffer from the impacts of the climate crisis like sea level rise, marine debris pollution, and extreme weather like hurricanes. The communities with less resources and access cannot be left behind as we adapt, mitigate, and transition within our climate future. This specific intersection is finally getting the attention it deserves, with the White House sharing its first ever Ocean Justice Strategy at COP28 in December 2023. 

You empower young women to find their unique roles in the ocean movement. What advice would you give to a teenager or someone unsure where to start?

I would say you are needed, and we all start somewhere. We are all bad at things before we are good at them. We only become more confident through practice, and we have special gifts that can benefit our movement and protect communities and our planet. Teenagers today are some of the most educated and passionate environmental advocates, and they continue to inspire me in every initiative I work in. I watch elected officials listen closely to their stories, and they serve as a reminder to our leaders of exactly who will be impacted by the decisions of today. Their participation is a powerful tool, and I would start now. I firmly believe that over half of impact work is showing up, so that would be my advice. Show up, as yourself, ready to listen and learn, and magic will happen.

Imagine you could have a conversation with the ocean itself. What would you ask, and what message do you think it would convey to humanity?

This is a powerful question, and I believe I would only have gratitude to share with the ocean itself. I wouldn’t ask anything of it, because it has already given us everything. Our ocean is what made our planet habitable, where life began, the source of our fresh air, food, and biodiversity. I would just listen to what it had to say. I imagine it would be something along the lines of, “don’t forget where you came from,” as the ocean is so often left out of our larger climate discussions. I believe it would highlight that we are losing parts of our family here on Earth, with so many species facing extinction. These are our distant cousins and relatives. As humans, our extractive practices cause great suffering to the ocean, far more than many of us realize, and I believe the ocean would let us know. 

While acknowledging the challenges, what practical steps or initiatives give you hope for a future where both ocean health and climate concerns are effectively addressed?

Personally, I carry the most hope when I’m working alongside local communities working to steward their own resources or working as part of an advocacy coalition. I fundamentally believe in a place-based approach to conservation and ocean climate solutions that is decentralized and led by the local communities that know their areas and environment the best. For example, indigenous groups that carry the wisdom of ancestral resource management should be informing planning activities for a watershed and ideally, consulting and leading the implementation. For all of us, tapping into these larger, community-based solutions is a matter of engaging with what’s going on in your specific community, and is unique. Joining a chapter meeting, attending a nonprofit event, and volunteering with a community group reminds you very quickly we are part of a movement so much bigger than individuals. 

In reference to the ocean, I find so much hope in how much nature holds the answers. We call these technically nature-based solutions, but they are the ones that are built from the natural processes our Earth has refined over millions of years and practices by the original stewards of our planet. Some of my favorites are kelp forests, regenerative ocean farming, reconnection of ridge to reef watersheds through streamflow, preservation of apex predators to balance ecosystem health top-down, and closing areas of an environment from human pressures to allow them to recover. 

We all experience fear or anxiety about the future of the planet. How do you navigate these emotions and maintain your dedication to activism and storytelling?

I view fear and anxiety about climate as part of the process. I believe they are valid, natural responses to the state of our planet and highlight our humanity. I spend time taking care of myself, feeling the full experience, and nurturing those sadder parts before coming back to my work. I spend time outside, I spend time processing with my colleagues at work, and I know what I need when something poor happens in our collective climate work. My motivation to continue doing this work is wrapped up in the need and my purpose. I never thought I would be a storyteller, I just saw a gap in ocean climate storytelling and knew we needed to fill it. We still need more ocean climate stories to integrate more perspectives into the discourse and reach our leaders. 

I am by nature a hopeful person, I want to believe the best outcome is achievable. It has taken time for me to know that sometimes, we simply did our best and it is not always enough. Last year, an enormous climate policy I’ve worked on for years died one step before passing. It was the most severe loss in my career thus far, and taught me an important lesson that taking pause is not giving up. I have an unwavering dedication to the movement, even if I take pause from my work. When you acknowledge you are part of a collective, it is easier to see that we can take time to rest and recover as our neighbors carry the movement forward. That space I gave myself enabled me to return to advocating for this solution again this year. It also reinforced my personal belief that a primary difference between which ocean climate solutions pass and which ones that don’t is whether we give up or not. 

What is your take on climate optimism?

I am more of an advocate for climate joy rather than optimism. Climate optimism describes the confidence in the successful outcome of our climate fight, which contradicts much of the IPCC data we have and continue to read each year. Progress is being made, and I believe progress will continue to be made, but I do not believe it will come from electric vehicles and carbon offsets. Rather, I believe in the slow and steady shift of our society’s values to one of connection with the environment around us, reciprocity with the nature that provides for us, and a return to the indigenous practices that sustained communities for generations. 

Climate joy celebrates the progress we are making now, and the communities working to advance that progress. It celebrates the vast potential of today’s climate solutions, and today’s people power, and today’s fight to replace extractive systems with new ones. My experience with climate wins and losses is intimate, and I experience climate grief just like my peers. The work we are doing does not come with a guarantee, but it does not mean we shouldn’t do it. Frontline communities are suffering now, the solutions exist now, and we are far more powerful together than the corporations that created this problem. There is nothing but opportunity for us. 

Can you share a heartwarming or unexpected anecdote from your experiences that captures the joy and humor amidst the challenges of ocean advocacy?

There are hundreds, but I can choose one! I shared before that a climate policy I worked on died one step before passing in 2023, and it was devastating. Part of my role in the coalition was to engage young people in the political process, teach them how bills pass into law, and empower them to testify. That group of young people stole the show at every hearing we were at. Elected officials listened to them closely, and each testimony they gained more and more confidence in their message. When the bill died, I had to share the news with the youth coalition, and I was terrified. I was met with the messages I didn’t know I needed to hear. One individual told me he left marine biology for policy because he didn’t think he could build a career, but this initiative taught him that both can work together and he can protect the ocean through policy. Another one told me they now have the toolkit to testify on bills for the rest of their lives. It really reminded me that progress looks different for everyone, and big solutions are often made up of many small steps forward. 

What’s your mantra for life?

The best has yet to come. It’s true. 

Click to find out more about Carissa Cabrera and FutureSwell.

This is part of a series where Green & Beyond Mag explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

Tia Semi’s Inspiring Path from EFWA Runways to Sustainable Fashion

Tia Semi’s Inspiring Path from EFWA Runways to Sustainable Fashion

In the world of sustainable fashion, there are journeys that inspire and voices that echo powerful messages of inclusion and eco-consciousness. Tia Semi, a remarkable designer with a unique perspective, embodies both. From the runways of EFWA (Eco Fashion Week Australia) to her evolution as a sustainable fashion advocate, Tia’s story is one of resilience and creativity.

Navigating life with many challenges, Tia’s journey is a testament to the transformative potential of the fashion industry. EFWA provided not just a platform but a community that celebrated her uniqueness. It empowered her to create designs that fuse her Pacific Island heritage with sustainability, promoting eco-friendly practices and inclusivity. In this interview, we explore Tia’s vision for a more conscious and inclusive fashion landscape, where every individual, regardless of their background or abilities, can contribute to positive change.

Can you share with us your journey from being a runway model at EFWA to becoming a sustainable fashion designer? How did EFWA influence and inspire you to take this path?

EFWA made me more conscious of my impact on Mother Earth. I am privileged to combine the influence of my Pacific Island background and EFWA in learning about sustainability and as much as utilizing resources on our Earth, but also giving back to our Earth. I am more conscious of how I use my materials- I hand print my patterns on materials instead of mass production, I ensure I use and stretch every inch of fabric by having smaller offcuts created into scrunches and hats etc.

Tia Semi in a black outfit on the EFWA Runway
Photography by Port Douglas Photographer, Outfit by Curtin Spring

You have a unique perspective as someone who has personally experienced challenges such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, epilepsy, and being deaf. How has sustainable fashion and the platform of EFWA played a role in your mental and emotional well-being?

I am forever thankful for the EFWA platform, as they saw beyond my disabilities. This platform has proven to be impactful in a holistic way- they have embraced me as the being I am and I will forever pay it forward. Every individual has something to contribute to society and the Earth, we all leave an impact, no matter how big or small. EFWA embraced my uniqueness and now I can go out and share this with others. Together everybody achieves more. I am just getting started, what’s your excuse?

EFWA is known for its commitment to inclusivity and diversity. How has this platform empowered you as a designer and helped you bring your unique perspective to sustainable fashion?

EFWA embraced me and my uniqueness. I am not the same person when I first started my journey with EFWA 2018- I am bolder, and I am more confident in who I am and what I can achieve and contribute. I am more than willing to be the cheerleader and advocate for anybody else who needs guidance to find their path. Sustainability and Pacific Island fashion are my mandates- I am now an advocate by default. The Pacific Islands are the first to be affected by rising sea tides, so I have a responsibility to promote sustainability through my fashion label. EFWA has enabled me to be more conscious and dig deeper into my intentionality of what I am doing and how it affects Mother Earth.

Tia Semi in an orange outfit on the EFWA Runway
Photograph by Port Douglas Photographer

What are the key values and principles that you incorporate into your sustainable fashion designs?

I am a voice for the Pacific Islands and the effects of Global warming which affects the rising sea levels surrounding our Islands. My fashion label is a platform for sustainability and being conscious of how we leave our impact in this world. I use non-toxic fabric paint, I hand paint my materials, I utilize as much material to create accessories, etc. I would like to explore using my voice more to promote sustainability in my community and outer audience.

EFWA places a strong emphasis on eco-friendly materials and small-scale production of artistic clothes. How do you ensure that your designs reflect these values, and how has it impacted your creative process?

As I mentioned earlier, I use non-toxic fabric paint, hand-paint my materials, and avoid mass production. Also, I have collaborated with an Indigenous designer and created a line of upcycled Island design denim jackets (sourced from Op shops). This project was so fun and I would probably revisit it again in the near future. What a privilege to collaborate with other conscious and creative-minded fashion designers. This platform has opened up avenues I never should have manifested on my own accord. I am forever thankful and blessed for this opportunity.

How does fashion, as an art form, enable you to express yourself and communicate meaningful messages about sustainability and inclusivity?

Exploring sustainability through fashion is the best of both worlds! It is so fun and I love how we can develop our creations by digging a deeper level of creativity and innovation. My label embraces all people.

Can you share a specific moment or experience at EFWA that had a profound impact on your journey as a sustainable fashion designer?

Networking and collaborating with other fashion-conscious designers has been such a blessing. Also being on the runway and making lifelong friends through the experience with EFWA is something I’ll forever cherish in my life journey.

EFWA is known for raising awareness about the climate crisis and honoring biodiversity. How do you infuse these critical themes into your sustainable fashion designs?

I have mentioned in former questions my fusion with sustainability and the Pacific Islands- I am exploring more about how to be an impactful voice to reach a wider audience. My fashion is my voice, and I am developing and evolving this more and more. 

As a designer, how do you envision contributing to a more eco-conscious and inclusive fashion industry? What message do you hope to send to other aspiring designers and the broader fashion community?

We must utilize our strengths and explore our curiosities. If you asked me 4 years ago if I knew where I’d be now in my fashion and sustainability journey, I’d think you were talking about someone else. Just keep going, trip, fall, get up, and keep going. If your heart is true and you are willing to help others along the way, you cannot fail.

Tia Semi in a white and brown outfit on the EFWA Runway
Photography by Port Douglas Photographer, Outfit by Sylvia Calvo BCN

Lastly, how has EFWA as a platform shaped your perspective on fashion, sustainability, and the power of collective action?

As I have mentioned before, EFWA embraced me and my uniqueness and helped me to become more conscious of my impact on Mother Earth. Every person I have encountered on my journey has had an impact on my life. I love to reflect on my experiences and can only smile with appreciation and humility. I am a strong young Samoan and Aussie woman, I am alive, and I have a purpose and a voice. I will not give up, so don’t you give up. We all have a role to play. Start small and build- one foot in front of the other.

This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond Mag explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

Trashion to Fashion: Habiba Abdulrahman Hemed’s Stylish Eco-Journey

Trashion to Fashion: Habiba Abdulrahman Hemed’s Stylish Eco-Journey

In the dynamic landscape of sustainability and fashion, Habiba Abdulrahman Hemed emerges as a compelling advocate for change. At just 30 years old, she’s making remarkable strides in promoting eco-consciousness and responsible fashion practices. With her unwavering commitment to environmental causes and sustainability, Habiba is a driving force behind positive change in the region.

As the CSR Ambassador at Mrs. Earth UAE and the founder of ‘Trashion Kenya,’ Habiba has dedicated herself to raising awareness about environmental issues and transforming the fashion industry into a more sustainable and responsible one. In this exclusive interview, she shares her insights and experiences, providing a glimpse into her inspiring journey and her vision for a more eco-conscious future.

Congratulations on being awarded 2nd Runners Up and CSR Ambassador at Mrs Earth UAE!

Can you tell us more about your role as an ambassador and how it connects with the Women of the Earth Foundation’s mission for positive change, sustainability, and social responsibility?

Thank you so much for your kind words! It is a great honor to have won Mrs Earth UAE Water Award symbolic of one of the elements of nature as 2nd Runners-up. Being also awarded as the Mrs Earth UAE CSR Ambassador Award for the Women of the Earth Foundation is a great achievement and a recognition for my commitment to sustainability and the environment. As the Mrs Earth UAE Water and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) ambassador, I have the opportunity to raise awareness about important environmental issues and inspire others to take action and promote the Mrs Earth UAE Women of the Earth Foundation’s mission and values. This is especially meaningful in the Year of Sustainability in the UAE, as the country prepares to host COP28.

Additionally, as Mrs Earth UAE Delegates, we serve as ambassadors of the Women of the Earth Foundation which is a non-profit organization and the official philanthropic initiative of Mrs Earth UAE, with a mission to inspire change and overcome nature’s issues collectively by promoting environmental literacy and inspire collective community changes to help save our planet.

Your journey as a sustainability advocate and founder of Trashion Kenya is impressive.

What initially sparked your passion for sustainable fashion and environmental consciousness, and how have your background and experiences shaped your commitment to making a positive impact in the field of sustainability?

Thank you for the great compliments. My passion for sustainable fashion and environmental consciousness was sparked by a desire to make a positive impact in my country, Kenya. My sustainability journey started with volunteering for charity work, community clean-ups, and nature regeneration initiatives such as mangroves and tree planting through different local organizations in Kenya. I witnessed firsthand the impacts of plastic pollution, textile, and other waste on our ecosystems.

This drove me towards researching for solutions both online and offline, by attending sustainability-focused events such as the first sustainable blue economy conference which was hosted in Nairobi, Kenya in 2018 where I gained knowledge on sustainability and insights on environmental solutions by interacting and engaging with experts in the field. I also discovered the art of creating fashionable products from waste through sustainability events. Since I was also already blogging about travel, lifestyle, and fashion, this motivated me to combine my background in blogging, fashion, and content creation with my commitment to sustainability, leading me to found Trashion Kenya. My personal blog is now dedicated fully on sustainable fashion, travel, and lifestyle as an ethical influencer, habibabien.eco.

Through Trashion Kenya, I had the the opportunity to volunteer in schools in Kenya where I started the ‘Trashion Club’ which included fun up-cycling activities and awareness talks before I moved to the UAE. Not to mention more youth participation opportunities such as the Creative World Forum in Eindhoven Netherlands where for the first time, I presented Trashion Kenya to the world and engaged with youths, experts, and leaders in the sustainability space where we exchanged great futuristic ideas. Through Trashion Kenya, I aim to raise awareness about the importance of sustainability in fashion including innovative up-cycling and recycling solutions, join hands with fashion activist organizations in my country and globally for climate-just fashion, train and educate youths in partnership with the Green Futures Fellowship and inspire others to embrace more sustainable practices. 

As a sustainability advocate based in the UAE, how do you see eco and sustainable fashion evolving in the region? What challenges and opportunities do you see for promoting sustainable fashion in your location?

As a sustainability advocate based in the UAE, I see eco and sustainable fashion evolving positively in the region. There is a growing awareness and interest in sustainable practices among consumers and fashion brands. However, there are still challenges to overcome, such as limited access to sustainable materials, the need for more education and awareness, and the need for more sustainable fashion businesses, only a handful in the region. The opportunities lie in promoting local sustainable fashion designers, encouraging collaborations, and fostering a culture of conscious consumption such as clothing swap events, thrifting, renting, and reselling.

Fashion Revolution U.A.E plays a significant role in raising awareness about ethical fashion. Can you share some of the initiatives or campaigns that you’ve been involved in and how they have contributed to promoting a more transparent and sustainable fashion industry?

Fashion Revolution UAE, with the valuable contribution of its dedicated organizing team, plays a vital role in advancing the cause of sustainable fashion in the region. As part of the Fashion Revolution UAE organizing team, we have been involved in various impactful initiatives and campaigns every annual Fashion Revolution Week (held every year on April 24 for one consecutive week) to promote a more transparent and sustainable fashion industry. One of our key initiatives is the “Who Made My Clothes?” campaign, where we encourage consumers to question the origins of their garments and demand transparency from brands.

We also organize educational workshops and events to raise awareness about ethical fashion practices and showcase sustainable designers and brands, including local fashion school students’ sustainable fashion contests. Through these efforts, we aim to empower individuals to make informed choices and drive positive change in the fashion industry.  Our collective efforts at Fashion Revolution UAE and commitment to promoting conscious and eco-friendly practices, I believe, are making a profound impact on the industry and inspiring positive change in the fashion industry, promoting a more sustainable and conscious approach to fashion. Together, we can make a significant impact on promoting sustainable fashion in the UAE. 

You are the founder of Trashion Kenya. Could you tell us more about this organization and its goals in promoting sustainability and environmental consciousness through fashion?

Trashion Kenya is an initiative I founded with the goal of promoting sustainability and environmental consciousness through fashion. It was established as a media platform to raise awareness through a fusion of trash and fashion design that is either upcycled or recycled whilst communicating environmental conservation and advocating against plastic through campaigns, beach cleanups, and workshops. We believe that fashion can be a powerful tool for positive change.

Our mission at Trashion Kenya is to raise awareness about the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry. We aim to inspire individuals to embrace sustainable practices and understand the value of reducing waste not only plastic and textile waste but waste in general. Additionally, we strive to offer sustainable alternatives to promote a more sustainable future. It’s been a challenging journey; Trashion Kenya took a pause during the Covid-19 pandemic but has eventually resumed this year in 2023 with the main focus on serving as an educational platform teaching youths about climate justice and sustainable fashion.

Through a partnership with the Green Futures Fellowship, we have been educating passionate youths on climate education, including sustainable fashion. With great efforts from the Green Futures Fellowship’s team lead, Jonah Kirabo, we brought in climate experts from various fields, and I’m proud to say that the first cohort was a great success! At Trashion Kenya, we are driven by our goal to make a global impact through storytelling, education, and sustainable fashion innovation. We aim to inspire people to make more conscious choices. We’re currently exploring various avenues, such as books, documentaries, and educational institutions, to bring our bigger vision to life. Taking it one step at a time, we’re committed to creating a more sustainable future for fashion and the planet. 

How do you see your role as a young woman in sustainability influencing and inspiring the next generation of advocates and changemakers in the field of sustainability and eco-fashion?

As a young woman in sustainability, I strive to be a role model and advocate for positive change in the field of sustainability and eco-fashion. By sharing my passion, knowledge, and experiences, I hope to inspire the next generation of advocates and changemakers to embrace sustainable practices and make a difference. Together, we can create a more conscious and environmentally friendly future for fashion and the world. 

As someone who is deeply involved in the sustainable fashion movement, what advice would you give to individuals and communities who wish to incorporate more sustainable choices into their daily lives?

For individuals and communities looking to incorporate more sustainable choices into their daily lives, my advice would be to start small and be mindful of your consumption. Consider thrifting or buying second-hand clothing, as it reduces waste and supports a circular economy. Invest in quality, timeless pieces that will last longer. Embrace the concept of “less is more” and avoid fast fashion trends. Educate yourself about sustainable materials and ethical brands. And most importantly, remember that every small choice counts, and together we can make a big impact. 

Can you share a story or experience that has been particularly meaningful to you during your journey as a sustainability advocate and how it has shaped your perspective on the importance of sustainable fashion and environmental responsibility?

Visiting waste recycling facilities, slums, and dumpsites in my country, Kenya, during my journey as a sustainability advocate while working on a sustainable fashion campaign for Trashion Kenya was a profound experience that left a lasting impact. It opened my eyes to the environmental challenges we face and reinforced my commitment to promoting sustainable practices. Especially seeing the mountains of discarded plastic waste and clothing, and learning about the challenges of second-hand traders about the poor quality of “mitumba” (second-hand clothes) that often end up being burned or discarded.

Interacting with the community living in these areas and hearing their stories of experiencing pollution firsthand reinforced my commitment to promoting sustainable fashion and environmental responsibility. What truly inspired me was witnessing the beauty that can be created from waste by the Trashion community in Kenya as a sign of hope and true activism. This led me to explore global innovations in sustainable fashion which has further fueled my motivation to promote the movement. It’s incredible to see the endless possibilities and inspiring ideas that are shaping the future of fashion and it’s moments like these that drive me to continue my work and inspire others to make a positive change. 

How do you envision the future of sustainable fashion in the UAE and beyond? What are your hopes for a more eco-conscious and socially responsible fashion industry?

I envision a future where sustainable fashion in the UAE and beyond becomes the norm, rather than the exception. A future where shopping malls are filled with sustainable fashion brands with no sight of fast fashion brands. My hope is for a fashion industry that embraces eco-conscious practices and prioritizes social responsibility. I hope to see an increase in sustainable materials, ethical production processes, transparent supply chains, and fair pay for professionals in the fashion industry in the UAE including fashion models. I also hope for greater awareness and education among consumers, leading to more conscious purchasing decisions. Ultimately, I believe that by working together, we can create a fashion industry that is both stylish and sustainable, making a positive impact on the environment and society. 

How do you define success?

For me, success is not just about personal achievements, but also about making a positive impact in the world. It’s about pursuing my passions, embracing my values, and striving to create meaningful change. Success is finding fulfillment in what I do and inspiring others to do the same. It’s about leaving a positive legacy and contributing to a better future for all. 

What’s your mantra for life?

As a sustainability advocate, my mantra for life is toBe the change you wish to see in the world. It reminds me to lead by example, to live in alignment with my values, and to actively work towards creating a more sustainable and equitable future. It’s a constant reminder that even small actions can make a big difference. 

How can others support your good work?

Thank you for offering me the platform for others to support my work in sustainability. They can join my sustainability journey by following my personal eco page habibabien.eco on social media platforms active on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Threads, where I create content to raise awareness about sustainable fashion and environmental responsibility. I’m soon to launch my website. They can also connect with Trashion Kenya on social media Instagram, Twitter and Threads, Trashion Kenya on LinkedIn and Facebook to explore collaboration opportunities on climate-just fashion and education. I also extend an invitation to eco-conscious brands and individuals who are interested in partnering and collaborating with me to amplify our efforts and promote sustainable practices together. We can also get acquainted on my LinkedIn, Habiba Abdulrahman. Together, we can create a more sustainable future! 

This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond Mag explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

Shaping Narratives, Inspiring Change: An Interview with Lydia Wanjiku, CEO of Lensational

Shaping Narratives, Inspiring Change: An Interview with Lydia Wanjiku, CEO of Lensational

In a world where stories have the remarkable ability to spark change, Lensational, an organization at the forefront of empowering women through photography, stands as a beacon of hope. We had the privilege of sitting down with Lydia Wanjiku, the passionate and visionary CEO of Lensational, to delve into her journey and explore the transformative power of visual storytelling.

In this captivating interview, Lydia Wanjiku takes us on her personal and professional journey, from her discovery of Lensational to her current role as CEO. With a background in both development and photojournalism, Lydia offers a unique perspective on the intersection of these two fields and how they shape Lensational’s approach to empowering women through photography.

Get ready to embark on a journey through the lens, as we dive deep into the inspiring world of visual storytelling with Lydia Wanjiku, CEO of Lensational. Discover the transformative power of photography, the untapped potential of marginalized voices, and the role each of us can play in shaping a brighter, more sustainable future.

Lydia, tell us your backstory and the journey you took to become the CEO of Lensational.

Following my Passions

As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to do things that I feel passionate about and this was the same for whichever career I would decide to pursue. After completing my undergraduate degree in Business and Innovation Technology, I didn’t immediately enter the workforce. I wanted to ensure that I made a well-informed decision about my future. However, this decision was challenging, as my traditional upbringing emphasized pursuing conventional career opportunities solely based on having a degree. My father was not pleased with my choices during that time, and to alleviate the pressure, I took up various jobs.

One of these jobs was in the fashion industry, an area that still captivates my interest today. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, fashion is intricately linked to storytelling, which is a fundamental aspect of all my passions. Subsequently, I worked in technology as a project lead, and it was during this period that I discovered Lensational.

Discovering Lensational

While searching online for photography storytelling jobs, I came across a tweet by Hivos Awards, which highlighted an organization empowering women through photography. Lensational recently received a social innovation award. Intrigued, I visited Lensational’s website and found an opening for a curation manager position. Although the role required someone based in London, where the headquarters were located, I applied nonetheless. Bonnie, the founder of Lensational, offered me the opportunity to volunteer as a program manager in Kenya. It was an incredible opportunity since Lensational had yet to establish a presence in Africa.

Volunteering and Partnering with IFAW

Initially, I contributed to Lensational on a voluntary basis until 2018 when we formed a partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Faye Cuevas, the Vice President at IFAW at the time (now a member of our Board of Directors), had pioneered an innovative approach involving indigenous Maasai women in conservation efforts within their communities. We partnered to explore how photography could facilitate meaningful participation for these women. This partnership required my full-time commitment, so I dedicated myself exclusively to volunteering at Lensational. Working closely with Faye provided me invaluable insight into the systems and processes of a large organization like IFAW. At the time, I never envisioned becoming CEO, but my keen eye for detail allowed me to observe these aspects which have come in handy in my current role.

Building Programs and Gaining Valuable Insights

The women I worked with spoke a language I don’t speak, necessitating the use of translators. This challenged me to think critically about how best to deliver effective training. Every session became an opportunity to provide feedback to Lensational, aiding in the improvement of our delivery methods and measurement of social impact. Although I believe this pilot partnership could have been more successful with the knowledge we now possess, the experience laid the foundation for our subsequent program achievements, gaining significant recognition.

The partnership continued for approximately a year and a half, but I began yearning for financial independence. This posed a dilemma for me since I still possessed an immense passion for Lensational and saw its untapped potential. Leaving to pursue a job that provided a steady income bothered me greatly. When I discussed this with Bonnie, she offered me a full-time position as Programs Director in 2020. This opportunity coincided with Lensational’s shift in strategy, adopting a bottom-up approach and increased involvement in training programs. Being closely involved with one of our most active programs granted me valuable insights into program management.

Navigating Challenges and Shaping Strategic Direction

As you are aware, 2020 was an exceptionally challenging year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were unable to run any programs and faced financial hardships. During this period, I proposed utilizing our downtime to focus on programming. This involved evaluating our past programs, identifying areas for improvement, and enhancing our curriculum, which directly influenced program delivery. Unbeknownst to me, I was unintentionally influencing the overall strategic direction of Lensational through my programming work. This led to some friction with the CEO, who is also the founder, as well as the board of directors. However, during an Innovation Bootcamp with the World Food Programme Innovation Accelerator, I had the opportunity to present my work. Bonnie happened to witness my presentation and was deeply moved by its impact. Shortly after, she messaged me, expressing her newfound appreciation for my vision.

From Programs Director to CEO

After a few months, Bonnie approached me and asked if I would be interested in becoming the CEO of Lensational. I eagerly accepted the position, which I officially assumed on International Women’s Day in March 2021. The rest, as they say, is history.

Can you tell us more about Lensational and how it came to be?

In the early 90s, in Hong Kong: A Struggle and a Revelation

In the early 1990s, in the vibrant city of Hong Kong, a young girl named Bonnie Chiu resided with her grandmother, Lin Fa. Their modest life was a constant reminder of the struggles Lin Fa had endured after fleeing her home in Medan, Indonesia, during an anti-Chinese conflict. As Bonnie listened to her grandmother’s harrowing tales of survival and the challenges she faced in making ends meet, she realized the importance of preserving these stories for future generations. Driven by her grandmother’s illiteracy, Bonnie recognized that without her own active participation, these powerful stories would remain untold. This profound experience ignited a passion within Bonnie to uplift women who shared similar backgrounds.

An Encounter in Turkey: Unleashing the Power of Photography

In 2012, Bonnie embarked on a journey to Turkey, where an unexpected encounter would shape her future path. While exploring Istanbul’s magnificent palace, Bonnie found herself capturing precious moments with her friends. In a serendipitous turn of events, four Turkish girls approached her, requesting assistance in taking photographs and learning the art. A deep connection quickly formed between Bonnie and these girls. Later, as Bonnie interacted with them through social media, she discovered something remarkable. The captions accompanying their photographs defied the stereotypes often associated with Muslim women. This revelation sparked Bonnie’s realization of the immense potential of photography as a universal language capable of transcending words, geography, and cultural barriers.

A Vision Takes Shape: Lensational is Born

Drawing from her own travel experiences and the shared stories of women she encountered along the way, Bonnie developed a profound understanding of women as powerful agents of change and the custodians of countless untold stories. Fueled by her unwavering determination to amplify these voices, Bonnie founded Lensational in 2013. The organization’s core mission was twofold: to provide women with the necessary skills in visual storytelling and to create income-generating opportunities for low-income community women in regions such as Asia and Africa. Lensational achieved this by showcasing and selling their powerful images, as well as securing commissioned assignments for these talented photographers.

Through the power of photography, Lensational has continued on this transformative journey, championing women’s empowerment and amplifying their stories to the world.

You have authored a curriculum on photography storytelling for climate action. How can visual storytelling help inspire action on climate change?

Photography in visual storytelling is a very powerful tool to inspire action on climate change by conveying the urgency, impact, and human dimension of the issue.

One way is by evoking emotions. Climate change is still seen as a distant and abstract problem, especially for people who are not directly affected. Photography can bridge this gap by capturing compelling images that evoke emotions such as empathy, compassion, and concern. By showcasing the human and environmental impacts of climate change, powerful images can engage viewers on a deeper level and motivate them to take action.

Closely connected to that is raising awareness. When events and stories related to climate change are visually captured, they bring attention to issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, such as the melting of glaciers, the destruction of ecosystems, or the displacement of communities due to rising sea levels. There are people who without seeing what’s happening in the world would never believe that climate change is an issue.

Photography also puts a human face on climate change by capturing the lived experiences of individuals and communities affected by its consequences. By showing the real people behind the statistics and highlighting their struggles, hopes, and resilience, photography storytelling helps create a personal connection and fosters empathy. This personalization of the issue makes it more relatable and motivates people to take action. This additionally amplifies the voices of marginalized communities, indigenous peoples, and activists who are on the front lines of climate change and gives them a platform to speak for themselves.

Last but not least is showcasing positive examples and solutions. While it is essential to depict the challenges posed by climate change, photography also highlights positive examples and solutions which in addition to giving hope encourage individuals and communities to adopt sustainable practices and support climate-friendly initiatives.

Related: Lensational Climate Warriors: Maasai Women Inspiring Change through Art

You have a background in both development and photojournalism. How have these two fields influenced your approach to leading Lensational?

I find myself standing at the crossroads of two starkly contrasting realities. On one hand, I have the privilege of closely working with underserved communities, affording me an intimate understanding of their realities and lived experiences. On the other hand, I also have the privilege of comprehending the inner workings of development systems and processes, particularly in programming and implementation. What I’ve observed is that despite the goodwill of policymakers to connect with underserved communities, a significant disconnect persists, lacking a common language through which they can communicate and merge their aspirations.

As documentary photographers and photojournalists, we bear the responsibility of bridging this gap. In the realm of photojournalism, documentary work, and development, however, there exists a prevalent tendency to approach underrepresented communities with preconceived notions about what their issues are and how their stories should be told. Often, we evaluate their circumstances through our own lens and determine the narrative angle that should be emphasized, inadvertently misrepresenting them.

By solely focusing on challenges, communities naturally yearn to understand how their situation will improve, which may lead to disappointment if tangible solutions are not presented.

Occupying this intersection has continually challenged me to explore avenues for these two entities to find common ground. Through our experiences working with these communities, I have come to recognize their desire for active participation in shaping how they are portrayed and the role played by development practitioners. At Lensational, we are currently investigating how the women we train can foster collaboration and active participation within the communities they document, even if it involves their own communities.

Our current approach prioritizes including the voices and perspectives of the communities themselves, allowing them to actively participate in the storytelling process. This shift fosters a more accurate representation of their experiences, challenges, and triumphs. By showcasing their resilience, resourcefulness, and agency, we not only empower them but also contribute to a more balanced and authentic narrative that transcends the confines of the victim label.

Lensational works in a range of diverse contexts locally and internationally. Can you share a specific project or experience that has been particularly impactful or meaningful to you?

It is so hard to narrow this down, however, I will say that taking part in in-person training with our photographers interacting with their communities is an experience that is forever transforming me.

Lensational has a focus on amplifying the voices of women. In your opinion, why is it important to elevate the perspectives of women in conversations and decision-making around sustainable development and climate action?

Women make up approximately half of the global population, and their experiences, knowledge, and ideas are essential for creating comprehensive and inclusive solutions. By tapping into their voices we ensure that the perspectives of all segments of society are taken into account, promoting diversity and avoiding the marginalization of certain groups.

Women also have unique insights and knowledge. They play key roles in resource management, agriculture, and community development, which are critical areas for addressing climate change and promoting sustainable practices. By including their perspectives, we tap into a wealth of expertise and foster innovation in tackling environmental challenges.

According to you, what is the role of storytelling and media in creating social change and driving sustainable development/climate action?

Stories form our perceptions of different things. When we think of a particular country for instance, a particular mental image immediately comes to mind based on the stories we hear and see essentially in the media. I firmly believe that every individual has a role to play in sustainable development and climate action, regardless of how small it may seem. However, when we lack proper information about the reality of what is happening, we are unable to effectively fulfill our roles. Hence, the media and storytelling assume a critical role and in my honest opinion, as one of the key players in driving climate action and sustainable development.

How do you define success? 

This is a very tough question! I think success is very personalized and I feel that I’m still working on defining what success means to me.

As a leader in the sustainable development field, what advice would you give to individuals or organizations looking to make a positive impact in their communities?

Having a clear purpose is essential for individuals or organizations looking to make a positive impact in their communities. It provides a guiding light and a sense of direction. Equally important is the active engagement and involvement of communities in the pursuit of that purpose. By including community members in decision-making processes, valuing their perspectives, and addressing their needs, a more inclusive and sustainable approach can be achieved. Together, with a shared purpose and engaged communities, we can create meaningful and lasting change in our communities.

What’s your mantra for life? 

I am intent on knowing and becoming the best and highest version of myself. That’s the mantra I live by.

How can others be involved with you and Lensational?

There are many ways to get involved with us. We are in the process of raising funds for a number of projects and we want to break the idea that philanthropy is the purview of billionaires by inviting individuals with which amount of giving they may have to be part of a greater course. More information on the projects to give to can be found on our website.

We are always looking for new talent to join our team and information about available positions can also be found on our website.

Find Lydia and learn more about her work at Lensational.

This is part of a series where Green & Beyond explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

Nivi Murthy’s IKKIVI: Paving The Way For Sustainable Indian Fashion

Nivi Murthy’s IKKIVI: Paving The Way For Sustainable Indian Fashion

In a world where fashion is often synonymous with fast-paced trends and fleeting styles, there are passionate individuals who are reshaping the industry’s narrative. Meet Nivi Murthy, the visionary founder of IKKIVI, an online marketplace dedicated to sustainable and ethical Indian fashion. With a mission to provide a platform for talented designers who champion mindful practices, Nivi has transformed IKKIVI into a global destination that blends artistry, culture, and consciousness.

Amidst the bustling streets of the Indian fashion landscape, Nivi recognized the need for a space that showcased sustainable and ethical designs, amplifying the voices of those dedicated to making a positive impact. IKKIVI, the result of her unwavering commitment, has become a beacon of hope for designers and conscious consumers alike.

The birth of IKKIVI

Nivi’s journey began with a profound awakening when she watched the eye-opening documentary ‘The True Cost.’ The film shed light on the dark underbelly of the fashion industry, compelling her to take action and assume a greater responsibility. No longer content with being a mere platform, Nivi and her team at IKKIVI set out to raise awareness and actively contribute to the development of sustainable and ethical fashion.

Since its inception in 2015, IKKIVI has blossomed into a trusted marketplace, connecting conscious consumers with designers who embody the values of handcrafted excellence, use of natural and organic fabrics, fair trade practices, minimal waste, utilization of traditional techniques, and a commitment to vegan fashion. The platform has recently expanded and opened their headquarters in New York. With over 45 designers on board, IKKIVI is bridging the gap between the past and the present, fusing India’s rich cultural heritage with contemporary aesthetics.

In this exclusive interview, we delve into the inspiring story behind IKKIVI and gain insights from the visionary herself. Join us as we explore Nivi Murthy’s unwavering commitment to sustainable fashion, the challenges she has faced, and the remarkable strides she has made in creating a better, more ethical future for the Indian fashion industry.

What inspired you to come up with the idea of IKKIVI?

The richness and depth of the fashion industry in India along with the talented growing number of independent contemporary designers made me want to create awareness and bring these brands to international markets.

What does sustainability in fashion mean to you as a conscious entrepreneur?

Quality, care and use for a long period of time is what sustainability means to me in the fashion industry. 

IKKIVI supports more than 45 brands from India. What makes these brands stand out to be a part of IKKIVI?

Unique aesthetic, quality and their strong values.

Having run IKKIVI for more than half a decade, what do you think is the current state of conscious consumerism in comparison to the time when you had just started your journey with IKKIVI?

Yes, a lot has changed over the years. The concept of sustainability in fashion hadn’t yet reached enough people. Now, consumers are a lot more aware and are thinking twice about making purchasing decisions. We see Gen Z being more conscious with thrifting being at the helm of it all. We are seeing a lot more brands reconnecting and redefining their visions and wanting to make a change with the power they have as conscious brands. There is still a long way to go but we are headed in the right direction.  

From your point of view, what is the current situation of the fashion scene in India right now?

Everyone has their eyes on India, looks like. It’s a great time to be in the fashion industry and wanting to take Indian brands international. There is more recognition and awareness beyond the stereotypes which is exciting. The amalgamation of traditional crafts and techniques with modern/international aesthetics is so beautiful and I’m excited to see that through the brands both established and young.

India is a big name when it comes to the global garments industry. But we know that the fast fashion industry still does not treat the garment workers with the fair living wage and respect that they deserve for their work. What do you think as a conscious entrepreneur needs to change?

I really appreciate the work that Fashion Revolution does with their ‘Who Made Our Clothes’ campaign. I feel such movements will put these large brands under the spotlight and scrutiny forcing them to change systemically. It is not going to be overnight but consumer awareness will increase a demand for change along with changemakers at the forefront demanding this systemic change.

Does the climate crisis affect your business? If yes, then what measures are you taking to mitigate and adapt?

I think it affects us all. As a small business we are taking small steps individually as well as creating awareness through our platforms with our community. But as an ecommerce business, our biggest footprint is shipping and packaging and we are slowly working on it step by step. First was using packaging that has the least negative impact and now we are working on grouping shipments for our international orders so as to avoid sending them individually.

What are the challenges that you had to overcome while trying to turn your incredible idea into a business?

One of the biggest challenges is finding the balance between doing business for profit  and being a conscious business (and the decisions that go with it). Still something we are trying to work on.

Photo of Nivi Murthy, founder of IKKIVI, a sustainable Indian ethical fashion marketplace

As an entrepreneur, how do you deal with negative emotions like self-doubt, criticism, or burnout and keep yourself motivated?

A strong support system, podcasts and the innate desire to solve problems and tackle challenges.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to become a green entrepreneur?

Take it a step at a time, there is no rush to have it all check marked the day you start. It all takes time to figure out. Start and slowly work through the aspects of being a green business. We are still a work in progress and I think progress should be given more importance and recognition.

How do you define success?

When you are able to define the way you spend your day and live it as fully as you want to

What’s your mantra for life?

Do more of what makes you happy and excited.

Learn more about IKKIVI or connect with them on Instagram.

This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond Mag explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

Gen Z Pioneer: How Estella Struck is Disrupting the Marketing Industry

Gen Z Pioneer: How Estella Struck is Disrupting the Marketing Industry

22 years old Estella Struck from New York is the face behind the world’s first Gen Z-run sustainable product marketing agency, Viviene New York. The platform is utilizing new perspectives, technologies, and the power of community to help mission aligned brands reach broad Gen Z adoption. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Estella about her journey as a young digital entrepreneur, and take a look at how she practices sustainability in her regular lifestyle.

Estella, tell us a bit about yourself and how your journey started.

I’m 22 years old and live in New York City where I work as the CEO and Founder of Viviene New York – the world’s first Gen Z run sustainable product marketing agency on a path to make sustainable brands the cornerstone of my generation. I am currently a junior at NYU studying the intersection of climate action and business. I’ve always been interested in science and wanted to have a positive impact on the world through my job. In high school, I thought that becoming a doctor would be my path to this. However, during my first year of college the pandemic hit and quarantine changed my life. All of that free time allowed for environmental TikTok creators to expose how the industries and systems that we currently live under are contributing to the climate crisis. I am someone who has always wanted to contribute to the world in a positive way. So this period of isolation and self reflection led me to realize that I am a climate advocate and entrepreneur at my core. Climate advocacy through entrepreneurship will be the path I travel down for the rest of my life. 

What was your inspiration for founding Viviene New York?

I started my very own sustainable fashion brand called Ethica NYC after learning about the adverse effects of the fashion industry in spring 2020. This was due to an onset of climate anxiety, the need for climate action in my life in order to calm those thoughts and quarantine boredom. Ethica quickly blew up on TikTok amassing over 4 million views and 200k followers in the first two weeks following its launch. I ended up taking a gap year for the 2020 to 2021 school year in order to hone in on my marketing skills. The realization that social media can truly drive impact and my hunger to change my generation’s perspective on climate change inspired me. With lots of time alone with my thoughts during my gap year I figured why not work to build something that can actually create change on a larger scale. Thus, Viviene New York was born. Our goal at Viviene New York is to change the brands that Generation Z is loyal to, while helping sustainable brands rule the online landscape. We do this not only for our own future, but for the future of generations to come, who will inherit the environmental and social impacts of the choices we make today. 

A screenshot of the homepage of Viviene New York's website

What makes the business unique?

Viviene New York is a force to be reckoned with and is more than just another digital marketing agency. We are an organization building a movement; creating a more sustainable future by challenging the way Gen Z thinks about the power of their capital. As a majority-female team of digital natives, we are unafraid to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo. In fact that is our exact prerogative because if I am going to be real right now – Many brands today are simply slacking in their video content and most don’t even realize it. At Viviene New York, we take pride in our ability to create authentic and engaging content that resonates with our clients’ audience while attracting new customer segments! We understand that the social media landscape is constantly evolving, and we adapt accordingly to ensure that our content remains fresh, relevant, and effective so that our clients can focus on what matters – growing their business and saving the planet. Our case studies have even shown that we know what we are doing. In fact our content creates engagement momentum with increases of engagement spanning 100-500%. As a team of digital natives, we know what it takes to create content that connects with viewers on a deeper level, and we strive to set the bar for performance higher. It’s not just about having aesthetic content, it’s about having content that truly speaks to your audience and drives them towards action. That’s why we are unique. That is what sets us apart from the rest.

Is Viviene New York working on educating the consumers? 

I got my start in content creation through educating consumers about how their fashion purchases can make a difference. While I do see the value of educating consumers online, the content we produce for our clients is dependent on their organizations needs. Ultimately our goal is to increase the effectiveness of their content and oftentimes people on social media are just looking to mindlessly scroll. If a brand is specifically looking for educational content or we deem that it is necessary to increase conversions we can absolutely execute on that vision. Education is awesome, however we know that climate education is extremely overwhelming and complex. We are targeting individuals who know about climate change’s existence but have not yet taken action in their lives so our strategy has to be carefully assembled. 

What are the challenges that you had to overcome while trying to turn your incredible idea into a business?

One of the largest challenges I’ve faced as a Gen Z founder is typically being the youngest person in the room at climate events and limited access to funding. In the 2 years I have been working on Viviene New York there have been countless times where I have shown up to a conference or event expecting to connect with a younger crowd and have ended up the youngest person in the room by a decade. While I do see this is a privilege and opportunity to establish myself as a Gen Z leader in the space, at times it can be a bit discouraging. I have been looked down upon or not taken quite seriously due to the fact that I became a founder much younger than most. Another challenge I have faced as a Gen Z founder is lack of funding. I am bootstrapping Viviene NY and paying for college myself. I decided to attend the university to execute a strategic plan to build something that does my part to help save the planet. I did not shy away from the challenge and instead viewed it as an opportunity to make the most out of the moment. This school allows for the experience of building my company to feed into my degree and my degree informs the decisions made at my company. Most college students wait until they’ve already graduated to start making a return on the investment that is a degree, but I built the infrastructure to get that return as we speak. I had no choice but to turn this challenge into an opportunity because I wanted to pursue my passions as a generational leader in such a new industry. Despite the challenges, I am so glad I listened to my gut and went for it! 

Related: Building a Sustainable Business: Practical Steps to Make a Positive Impact

As an entrepreneur, how do you deal with negative emotions like self-doubt, criticism, or burnout and keep yourself motivated?

‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’. I think I was in the first grade the first time I heard that quote. It has definitely stuck with me ever since and keeps me working hard on a day to day basis. Knowing my work is diverting clothes from landfills, empowering carbon capture technology, and uplifting brands that are working towards ensuring humanity has an inhabitable planet keeps me going. Building a company is no easy feat and when burnout happens I prioritize my sleep, and get offline.  For me, when times are hard and I keep hearing the word ‘no’, knowing that I’m having a positive impact on the fate of the planet really keeps my head in the game. 

How do you define success? What has been your greatest success so far?

In 2021, during my first month at NYU one of my sorority sisters from my first college reached out to interview me for an entrepreneurship class. Below is an excerpt about my definition of success:

“Estella Struck describes success as a feeling within your gut in which you finally believe in yourself and see that at work. Estella believes that success stems from your team constantly putting work in and striving to better themselves and the start up. She views her startups from the “glass half full” perspective and looks at each small step as a success. She celebrated the creation of her startup which happened throughout the course of only three months. 

For this question, success has a deeper meaning for Estella and has been something that she has analyzed throughout all her life. She acknowledges that it is easy to focus on the negatives, but it is important to look at aspects of life in a positive lens and try to see the good in every situation.” 

As far as my greatest success, I think that my greatest success is getting myself to where I am right now. Currently I am a college student handling 18 credit course load and a rapidly growing marketing agency that is shaping the future. To be here is a privilege.

What have you enjoyed most about starting your own business?

Starting my own business has been a wild and exhilarating experience. I’ve met so many amazing people through networking events and social gatherings. It’s been incredibly inspiring to connect with like-minded and motivated individuals who share my passions for creating positive change in the world or passion for content creation. I’ve also built a content creator community here in NYC that I dreamed about when I was on my gap year. It’s my 2020 FYP in real life except they are actually my friends now! And, of course, seeing my hard work pay off and watching everything come together has been incredibly rewarding. But there have definitely been moments of perplexity and uncertainty along the way. Sometimes I feel like I’m bursting with ideas and other times I’m at a loss for what to do next. But that’s just part of the journey, right? I think what keeps me going is the knowledge that I’m making a difference – like on those unseasonably warm winter days, I know that I’m doing my part to fight climate change and that feels pretty good.

What do you think the future holds for the creator economy?

I’m excited about the future of the creator economy and the potential it holds for positive change! Growing up in the ‘influencer generation’ I’ve seen the power of the online world ever since I was a kid. As more and more people turn to social media for inspiration and entertainment, creators have a unique opportunity to use their influence for good. By partnering with sustainable brands and promoting climate action resources, creators can encourage their followers to make more conscious choices and lead a more sustainable lifestyle. I believe that the creator economy will continue to evolve in this direction, with more creators and brands recognizing the importance of sustainability and working together to create a better future for all.

Describe a typical day in your life. How do you practice sustainability in your daily life?

On a typical day, I wake up at 7 am and hit the gym before starting a busy schedule filled with classes, brand meetings, networking events, and brand activities. As someone passionate about sustainability, I have made a conscious effort to incorporate sustainable practices into my daily routine. I prioritize buying from sustainable brands for my skincare, shoes, phone cases, and backpacks, and approximately 90% of my clothes and apartment furnishings are secondhand. I also make my own coffee at home and bring a reusable water bottle with me wherever I go. Living in NYC I prefer walking everywhere, which helps me log in 10k to 15k steps per day. I am also constantly seeking knowledge and learning about sustainability. This is evident in the classes I take, which are titled the theory and practice of sustainable investing, global business and human rights, greenworlds, and others. I also spend my day working on Viviene NY , where I consult with sustainable brands and content creators to create a more sustainable world. However, I recognize that sustainability looks different for everyone. I believe that small steps can make a big difference, and I’m committed to exploring how everyone can make a positive impact.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to become a green entrepreneur?

Best of luck to you on your journey to becoming a green entrepreneur! Remember, it’s a process and it takes persistence and patience to build a successful business. There will be obstacles, but stay true to your vision and don’t give up easily. When it comes to networking, don’t underestimate the power of LinkedIn. It’s an excellent platform for connecting with other green entrepreneurs, finding potential partners or investors, and promoting your brand. Make sure your profile is up-to-date and highlights your expertise and passion for your project. Trust me, LinkedIn is underrated but might be the key to your company’s success!

What’s your mantra for life?

Trust your gut. I always had a feeling that I was going to go out and do great things for the world and that I had something special. This turned out to be true so now I know to just trust my intuition, enjoy the journey and keep taking the leaps. 

Find Estella Struck and learn more about her work at Viviene New York. For any queries, you can reach out to them at contact@vivienenewyork.com

This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

Building a Sustainable Business: Practical Steps to Make a Positive Impact

Building a Sustainable Business: Practical Steps to Make a Positive Impact

Sustainable business is not just a buzzword or a passing trend – it’s essential for our planet’s and society’s health and well-being. As future business owners, we have a responsibility to consider the impact of our operations on the environment, the people we work with and serve, and the communities we operate in. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. Sustainable businesses are more resilient, innovative, and attractive to customers and investors who prioritize social and environmental responsibility.

Related : A Free Piece Of Advice For Your Business : Rethink Sustainability

Now, I know that sustainability can seem like a daunting concept. It might even seem like something that’s impossible to achieve. But the truth is, every small step you take towards sustainability makes a difference. And as a business owner, you have the power to make a big impact.

The Four Pillars of a Sustainable Business

In this guide, we’re going to dive deep into the four main pillars of sustainable business: environmental, social, economic, and governance. We’ll explore what each of these pillars means, and we’ll give you practical examples of how you can embed them into your new business.

But we won’t stop there. We’ll also look at frameworks that you can use to guide your sustainability efforts, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the B Corp certification. These frameworks can help you set goals, measure your progress, and communicate your commitment to sustainability to customers, investors, and other stakeholders.

So lets dive in!

First up, is environmental sustainability.

White Windmill

This means taking care of our planet and doing our part to minimize our impact on the environment. Some ways to embed environmental sustainability into your new business include:

  • Using renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power
  • Reducing waste by using compostable or recyclable materials
  • Sourcing materials from sustainable suppliers
  • Encouraging sustainable transportation options, such as biking or carpooling
  • Supporting conservation efforts, such as protecting endangered species

Next, is social sustainability.

Crop diverse colleagues stacking hands together during training in office

This means taking care of the people who work for and with your business, as well as the communities you operate in. Some ways to embed social sustainability into your new business include:

  • Providing fair wages and benefits to employees
  • Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace
  • Partnering with local organizations to give back to the community
  • Supporting human rights and labour standards
  • Encouraging employee volunteerism and community engagement

Third, economic sustainability.

White Android Tablet Turned on Displaying a Graph

This means creating a business model that is financially sustainable in the long run. Some ways to embed economic sustainability into your new business include:

  • Developing a business model that takes into account the full cost of production, including social and environmental costs
  • Creating a fair and transparent supply chain
  • Developing innovative products or services that meet the needs of customers and society
  • Embracing the circular economy and finding ways to reuse and recycle materials
  • Measuring and reporting on your business’s social and environmental impact

Finally, governance sustainability.

Top View Photo Of People Near Wooden Table

This means creating a framework for decision-making and accountability that is transparent, ethical, and responsible. Some ways to embed governance sustainability into your new business include:

  • Developing a code of conduct and ethics that all employees and stakeholders must follow
  • Creating a board of directors or advisory board that includes diverse perspectives and expertise
  • Embracing transparency and accountability in all business practices
  • Establishing clear policies and procedures for risk management, compliance, and reporting
  • Incorporating feedback from stakeholders and customers into decision-making processes

Now, you might be wondering where to start when it comes to embedding these pillars into your new business. One helpful framework to follow is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Another helpful framework is the B Corp certification, awarded to businesses that meet rigorous social and environmental performance standards, accountability, and transparency. Becoming a B Corp can be a great way to signal your commitment to sustainability to customers, investors, and other stakeholders, however, the assessment alone is also a fantastic way to guide you to be a better business, even without pursuing certification.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by the United Nations

You can also join live online courses, like the susMBA, which will equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to establish a successful and sustainable business.

In conclusion, becoming a sustainable business entrepreneur is not only good for the planet and society, but it’s also good for business. By embedding environmental, social, economic, and governance sustainability into your new business, you’ll be setting yourself up for long-term success and making a positive impact on the world.

A free piece of advice for your business: Rethink “Sustainability”

A free piece of advice for your business: Rethink “Sustainability”

Do you know why it is high time for businesses to become more sustainable, ethical, and conscious? The answer is very simple – because younger generations are becoming more and more conscious as consumers every day. 

According to a Credit Suisse Research Institute analysis, Gen Z and Millennials account for 54 percent of the global population and 48 percent of consumer purchasing, growing to 69 percent by 2040. These generations are trying to shape the future of the world by changing the conventional mindset of doing business. 

Now, there are two important questions that we need to ask. One – How are these younger generations trying to change the old ways of doing business? And two – How should businesses and entrepreneurs prepare for a world of business that is changing?

The answers to these questions are interrelated, just like the questions. But, I guess you have already figured that out. So let’s jump into the “hows” and “whys” and find out the answers together, shall we? 

The Rise of Conscious Consumerism : 

Have you noticed how frequently terms like “eco,” “green,” and “sustainable” appear in commercials these days? Brands from every industry have figured out that “sustainability is the new sexy” and they are trying their best to attract young consumers by focusing on “sustainability” and promoting it. 

These younger generations do not only care about affordability and need when it comes to “decision-making”. Their awareness about climate change, how human activities are contributing to it, the unethical and tricky practices of greenwashing, and how voting with their wallets can be the most powerful tool to ensure a sustainable future – play a huge role in their consumer behaviors. 

Young shoppers are more likely to buy from sustainable brands according to a study by the research firm Nielsen. Gen Z consumers are even willing to spend 10 percent more on sustainable brands and the percentage goes up to 73% when it comes to Millennials.

And the big brands know it!  

20 years ago, no one in their wildest dreams would have even thought about McDonald’s introducing a vegan menu. But, that has become the reality now. It is not surprising that brands like McDonald’s, and KFC are focusing on vegan customers because veganism is on the rise. More than 600,000 people from 228 countries signed up for Veganuary 2022 and Gen Z along with Millennials are the ones who are taking the lead when it comes to veganism, worldwide. 

Photo by Gustavo Fring via Pexels

This shift in the food industry’s market is not an isolated event. Every industry is seeing the rise of conscious consumerism and is having to shift as per the market demand. 

The change in consumer behavior is exactly why brands like Patagonia are becoming more popular every day and big brands like Adidas, Nike, and Allbirds are trying to pick up their required pace and right direction to be on the sustainability track. 

Google understands the need for sustainability too and has vowed to run on clean energy by 2030, while greener search engines like Ecosia are becoming increasingly popular among the younger generations.

Sustainability is reshaping the auto industry too. The Nielsen survey found that 63% of Gen Z and Millennials plan to buy an electric or hybrid electric vehicle. Tesla has delivered almost a million cars in 2021, which is an 87% increase from 2020. Industry behemoths like BMW and Ford have also recognized the need for sustainability and are working hard to take the wheel and steer the industry toward a more sustainable future.

Though it can be claimed that – “every industry has realized the importance of sustainability”, it will surely remain untrue at least as long as the fashion industry doesn’t come out of its “fast game”. The statement above will also remain untrue as long as the fossil fuel industry is powering our houses, vehicles, and factories. 

Now, this might make you think that consumer behavior alone cannot change the conventional ways of doing business and the market. But, it is essential to realize that, these behaviors are bringing changes in governmental policies and legislation too. The proper application of those regulations will not only result in a healthy shift in the market but will also ensure that the shift is permanent.

New laws are also pushing for a more sustainable future

Have you heard about the proposed rules by the EU which aim to make the fashion industry sustainable? 

These new rules target clothes, furniture, and smartphones sold in Europe. According to the proposed rules, these products must be more durable, easily repaired, and recycled. These proposals also aim to prevent brands from greenwashing consumers through their advertisements. 

Similarly, the New York Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act which was proposed in February 2022 also targets to make the fashion industry more sustainable by being transparent and by practicing accountability. 

The fashion industry can receive a prize for greenwashing and the only logical rationale for doing so is that it recognizes that demand for sustainability is increasing. But, with the passing of such laws, there will be no more chance for the industry to greenwash the consumers. 

According to the Nielsen survey, 41% of the respondents said that they believe that the fashion industry is unsustainable and 20% – 40% are trying to decrease their consumption of fast fashion. Though it can be argued that despite all the concerns about sustainability, consumption of fast fashion is still booming, it is also important to notice that a big portion of young global consumers is getting into sustainable fashion more and more every day. 

Of course, the influencers of fast fashion on platforms like TikTok and Instagram are still promoting nothing but consumerism. But on these same social platforms, advocates of sustainability are not only promoting purpose-driven brands, but also ways to reduce consumption and stay in style by upcycling, repairing, and swapping. 

Global platforms like Greenpeace, Fashion Revolution, Slow Factory, Slow fashion Movement, Remake, Ethical Influencers, etc. are helping people to get united and create communities. With the help of these communities, these young advocates are being able to make their voices heard in the right places and that is exactly why legislation is changing in favor of sustainability, worldwide. 

If you still can not convince yourself that these younger generations are changing the future of the business world, then let me tell you this : 

Gen Z and Millennials are more interested in jobs that care about our planet 

Photo by Cup of Couple via Pexels

By 2030, Millennials and Gen Z will comprise the majority of the workforce. 

According to a Fast Company survey from 2019, 70% of Millennials prefer to work for a company that prioritizes sustainability. Not only that, nearly three-quarters of them are willing to accept a lower wage to work for an environmentally conscious company. 

It is not only Millennials but Gen Zs who also consider a company’s environmental policies when deciding where to work, according to the 2018 Deloitte Millennials study. Two-thirds of those polled stated they would not accept a job if it did not include a good sustainability program. 

So, even if you do not believe in sustainability, don’t you think it’s important for your business to become environmentally conscious to attract these young generations of workers? 

You might also want to remember that, focusing on sustainability will also help you to save money too! 

So what are some of the basics that you as an entrepreneur need to remember?  

This will be really easy for you if you want it and tough for you if you don’t! Whatever industry you’re in, the core mantra should be the same for all of them: Planet and People over Profit. 

You need to genuinely figure out how you can help people through your business, by not harming and giving it back to the environment. This also means that you need to stay a hundred percent away from greenwashing, be transparent about your supply chain and business model, and practice accountability. 

You might find it tough to be an eco-conscious, purpose-driven business at the beginning. But you can be sure that focusing on sustainability will not only help you to grow your business but you can really bring meaningful changes into the world and ensure a future that will be better for you, your future generation, and everyone else. 

Here’s to you, your business, and a sustainable future! Cheers! 

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