Glass interviews supermodel and environmentalist Vivien Solari

Fashion conscious – Glass meets supermodel Vivien Solari to discuss global warming, generating change and living environmentally clean as a supermodel

WHILE a supermodel-environmentalist may not be something we’re used to in fashion, Vivien Solari is making waves in the industry with her take on bad environmental practices.

Born on the Caribbean island of Aruba and brought up in Manchester in the north of England, Solari entered the high fashion world with her first Vogue Italia editorial at the age of just 19. Quickly propelled onto the catwalk, Solari, over her 20-year career, has walked for fashion houses including Helmut Lang, Kenzo, Dries Van Noten, Louis Vuitton, and Vivienne Westwood, captivating the industry with her signature blank-canvas beauty.

Unsurprisingly, the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, amounting to ten per cent of the world’s carbon footprint. For an environmentally conscious supermodel, this could be difficult territory to tackle, but Solari is optimistic for the future of fashion. Telling Glass she’s beginning to see more positive changes with the companies she works with, Solari wants there to be an open discussion about this change and the ways we can improve.

A few months ago, the supermodel took to Instagram to communicate her dissatisfaction with how modelling meant sacrificing good environmental practices – especially through travel. Solari felt frustration at how her career conflicted with her environmental philosophy. Creating a list of ways to improve the way she contributes to global warming, waste, and pollution, Solari has changed the way she works as a supermodel, as well as a mother of three.


Vivien Solari. Photograph: Agata Pospieszynska


You recently posted on Instagram about your attempt to reduce your carbon footprint when working – stating you will try to use the train in Europe as much as possible rather than fly, only use car services with electric or hybrid cars, and will walk and use public transport as much as possible. What made you want to make this change?
The post was a copy of the letter I wrote to my agents, about how I was going to change the way I travel to reduce my carbon footprint. But also to try to start a conversation with them, and clients, about how we think about travel when we book jobs, and making carbon footprint reduction a priority when we make travel arrangements.

I have decided to no longer fly long-haul, and I aim to reduce my short-haul flights where possible by using trains. I won’t travel business class, and journeys with stopovers and connections will be avoided as it all adds to a bigger carbon load. I made this decision after the new report at the end of last year by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said they estimate we only have about 12 years to try to keep to a maximum of 1.5°C global warming, otherwise we are heading for a climate catastrophe.

I watched the documentary Climate Change – The Facts made by the BBC and David Attenborough with my family and just felt increasingly alarmed. So I looked at ways to reduce my carbon footprint. I was already doing a lot at home but my flights were the biggest contributing factor. I had to think carefully. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to carry on business as usual but my job requires me to travel. I love my job and also I have a family to support, so I have to come up with a compromise that would make a real difference. It’s not perfect, but it is a big step in the right direction.

This flight restriction is a huge commitment, especially considering the number of commercial clients in the US. We seriously commend you for taking a stand. Are you hoping others will be influenced by your action?
We are in a climate emergency, and this has been recognised by the UK government. Massive change needs to happen. My action might seem a bit risky considering my job, and the plan/compromise I came up with had to take into account my personal circumstances, but I see it as a positive step. The changes others make might look different depending on theircircumstances.

I do hope the industry could start thinking more carefully about its impact. Travel is one that we could easily make changes to. For example, do we have to pick locations that require flying a whole team in? Do we really need to do multiple flights? Can we use talent that is already at the location and just fly in a couple of the creatives? We live in a digital age and that should make it easier. The fact I won’t fly long haul does not mean I can’t work with an American client. We just need to think a bit more creatively and put sustainability and the environment at the heart of our decision making.


Vivien Solari. Photograph: Agata Pospieszynska


Are you able to work with clients to reduce the overall production footprint?
It’s early days, but so far the response has been positive. I’m working on my own travel mostly, but if location choices come up, we are now highlighting the better option and why. Clients have been helpful organising alternative transport and even providing walking routes for me. When we need to use car services we see if we can car share and also we have had some success booking electric or hybrid cars in different locations. I also talk to clients and production about plastic and waste and, gradually, I’m seeing changes, which is really brilliant.

Fashion is an industry renowned for being extremely harmful to the environment. What advice would you give to people in the industry wanting to be more environmentally conscious?
Climate change is real and it is happening now. We are all part of the problem and so we all need to act. Most people are able to make choices every day about what they consume and behave. When you’re informed, then it’s easier to make better choices. Learn as much as you can, as there is a lot of information out there. The WWF, Friends of the Earth , UN environment and Greenpeace websites are good places to start. In terms of the fashion business and companies there is growing momentum towards finding more sustainable and ethical practices. I think if we can support these changes by shining a light on them then perhaps others will follow suit.


Vivien Solari. Photograph: Agata Pospieszynska


How else are you trying to become more environmentally conscious in your everyday life?
I try to keep well informed so I can make better choices. We have worked on making our home as energy efficient as possible and use a 100 per cent renewable energy supplier. Our next car will be electric as the old one is wearing out. I strive to eat a sustainable diet low in meat and dairy. Eating local, seasonal and organic is a priority (the Livewell plate guideline set out by the WWF is a good guide). I also reduce waste, use leftovers, and compost. As a family, we are constantly looking at ways to reduce our waste. Single use plastic is something we have managed to cut down on massively. We always carry our own water bottles and reusable bags, and we also have our own cutlery sets for eating on the go.

We get our milk delivered in glass bottles, take our own containers to shops for refills at the supermarket counter. We also shop at a plastic-free shop for other household items. This has got much easier this last year or so as awareness is increasing. Before, it was always a bit of a battle. Often the supermarkets wouldn’t accept my refillable containers! Then Blue Planet was shown and the understanding has increased, which is brilliant. We watch what we buy, and think about whether we really need it. I’ve also got into a habit with my friends to ask if we can borrow things if we might need it only once or twice. We do buy second hand when we can. We also use the library. When we do buy something new, I always try to buy consciously.

I am a working mum of three children, time is short and there is no doubt that making the ethical choices when you are super busy can sometimes be a logistic nightmare. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and so I do have to settle for less than perfect. I’m hoping that in the near future it will be easier when the world moves towards a more sustainable way of living.

The theme of this issue is Power Play – what does power play mean to you?
Being the best version of myself I can be. This to me is often not always following the conventional route and so having to challenge myself.

by Emma Hart


Fashion director: KATIE FELSTEAD
Styling assistant: FINN COLFER
Casting director: PAUL ISAAC

Look 1

Look 2
Jacket: DIOR
Leggings, body: GANNI

Look 3