Supermodels like Iman, Gisele Bündchen and Amber Valletta make everything look good, and responsible business is no exception. These models are leading the charge in championing sustainable, ethical, and socially responsible efforts.
For decades, the fashion industry has thrived on a cycle of constant change, with new trends emerging and fading at a rapid pace. This ever-changing landscape has often been at odds with environmental sustainability. However, in the last decade, a significant shift has occurred. Sustainability and environmental consciousness are no longer niche interests but are central to the industry’s future. And leading the shift are some of the best-known models.
Supermodels leading the charge
As the embodiment of fashion’s glamour and allure, supermodels have a unique platform to influence industry practices and consumer behavior. Increasingly, they are using their platform to advocate for a more responsible approach to fashion and beauty.
From the use of eco-friendly materials to ethical manufacturing processes, supermodels are aligning themselves with brands and initiatives that prioritize the planet. Their influence extends beyond the runway, reaching a broad audience that looks to them not just for style inspiration but also for social and environmental stewardship.
Consumer demand for responsibility
The push toward sustainability is not solely driven by industry insiders; it’s a response to a changing consumer landscape. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, are showing a growing preference for brands that demonstrate environmental responsibility. A Nielsen report found that 73 percent of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable goods. Supermodels championing these causes resonate with this new consumer ethos, bridging the gap between style and substance.
A new era
Gisele Bündchen, a vocal advocate for environmental causes, told Harper’s Bazaar, that innovation is “very important” because “that’s what’s going to help us get out of the place where we are,” she said. “We can always keep learning so we can improve and do things better. No matter what happens to us, we are all humans, and we’re all going to be faced with challenges and to understand that all of those are really wonderful opportunities for us to expand and grow.”
This sentiment echoes throughout the industry, with designers, brands, and models recognizing the urgency of integrating sustainable practices into their business models.
The industry is at a crossroads, and the alignment of fashion with environmental principles is shaping a new path forward. It’s a path where style and sustainability coexist, where beauty is not just about aesthetics but also about ethics.
In this new landscape, supermodels are more than just faces of campaigns; they are ambassadors for change, merging fashion and beauty’s allure with a commitment to our planet’s future.
Supermodels championing sustainability
1. Gisele Bündchen
The former Victoria’s Secret angel has long been a champion for ethical and responsible business. She was the cover girl for Vogue’s sustainability issue, and for her 40th birthday, she committed to planting 40,000 trees (her fans took that number up to 250,000).
“The reason I’m working to protect the planet is that I want to serve human survival and the health of all species,” she penned for Vogue in 2020. “If we don’t take care of the gifts that the planet is giving us, and if we don’t live in harmony with all the different creatures on this planet, we’re going to be the ones who are gone. The planet doesn’t need us to survive — we need the planet. As humans, we need to be awakened to that.
Bündchen is an active United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Environment and she frequently speaks on environmental issues. She also launched the Clean Water Project in her hometown in Brazil, aiming to restore water quality.
“No little change is too small,” she told Harper’s. “It can go from making sure you always have bags in your car so you don’t have to get plastic bags at the grocery store, [avoiding] plastic bottles, having a garden, finding your local farmers instead of buying from big grocery stores. It’s being aware and mindful, because all those little things become the big things.”
When you dive into the philanthropic work of Somalie-American model and actress Iman (Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid), it’s easy to see why she just goes by her first name. It’s what icons do. And she takes her work seriously.
A recent recipient of the Housing Works’ 2023 Design on a Dime award, Iman has been a longtime advocate for her work to end homelessness and HIV/AIDS. (She is the global advocate for CARE, the humanitarian organization working to end AIDS.)
In 2021, Iman released her first fragrance, Love Memoir, in honor of her late husband, musician David Bowie. The cruelty-free scent, part of her Iman beauty range, supports other women of color. The label supports breast cancer screenings for women in diverse communities, language programs for NYC students, supports the Shoes 4 Africa program, and donates cosmetics to the Santa Monica College Business Department Career Closet, which supports economically disadvantaged students by providing professional clothing, accessories, and cosmetics for use at job fairs and interviews.
And the 68-year-old is now taking sustainable style cues from her daughter, 22-year-old Alexandria Zara Jones. “She has never asked me to take her to Louis Vuitton or Prada,” the supermodel told Ebony. “She does thrift shops and vintage — that’s all she wants.”
3. Christy Turlington Burns
The ’90s supermodel icon leverages her platform to raise awareness about climate change and its impact on health, especially maternal health. She is a regular participant in campaigns that support eco-friendly practices. In 2018, she was part of H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection inspired by Swedish artists Karin and Carl Larsson.
“I like to buy things I’m going to hold on to for a long time,” Turlington Burns told Vogue about her sustainability habits at home. “I don’t buy a lot. I don’t need to have the latest everything. I think that part of being responsible, too, is not always being so hungry for what else is out there. I don’t upgrade my phone all the time — I’m just not that kind of person.”
The model founded Every Mother Counts in 2010, which does a lot of film and content around the topic of maternal health. “Most of our funding goes toward access and improving the quality of care, mostly for underserved women — but honestly, any woman could benefit from having more knowledge and a better experience,” she says.
4. Amber Valletta
Also hailing from the golden era of ’90s supermodels, Valletta has become an outspoken advocate for sustainable fashion. She joined the Fashion Institute of Technology as a sustainability ambassador and frequently appears at eco-focused events, such as the Environmental Media Association’s conference and award ceremonies. She’s supported the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, and has supported the United Nations’ efforts on ocean conservation.
In recent years, Valletta has put her advocacy to work for the Karl Lagerfeld label. She has designed several collections, including the label’s first-ever collection to feature Desserto’s sustainably made vegan cactus leather. The designer/model has also been an avid supporter of clean beauty brands. “The beauty industry can do so much,” she told Vogue last year. “First and foremost, phasing out all plastics and making all containers biodegradable and refillable,” she said.
5. Miranda Kerr
The model-turned-founder of the beloved organic skincare line Kora Organics is the definition of walking the talk. She created the organic skincare line in 2009 with a commitment to eco, organic ingredients.
“I really try to be conscious about everything that we’re doing, from the ingredients to the manufacturing to sustainability,” she said during the 2022 Fairchild Media Sustainability Forum.
“[We] are committed to reducing our carbon emissions annually moving forward,” Kerr
said. “It’s quite a big step but something I’m really proud of. We purchased carbon
credits and refund different projects across the globe that really help combat climate change whilst replenishing the environment. We’re just continually trying to find new ways to lower our carbon footprint and do our best with a more sustainable business and manufacturing process.”
You’ll also find Kerr sporting clothing made by eco-minded designers, and also actively involved in wildlife and environmental protection efforts.
6. Bella Hadid
Hadid is always in the headlines, but her spray-on Coperni dress at Paris Fashion Week last year was a showstopper. The eco-minded label worked with the company Fabrican’s spray-on fabric — a liquid made up of natural and synthetic fibers suspended in a polymer solution. That solution is then sprayed by an aerosol or spray gun onto the body. The liquid evaporates once it makes contact with a surface, and then forms a non-woven fabric.
Hadid has championed for other eco labels including Bode, Juliet Johnstone, Tank Air, Ninamounah, By Far, Aya Muse, and Re/Done.
Off the runway, Hadid has personally made sustainability commitments including tree-planting efforts and supporting responsible fashion. The 26-year-old, who suffers from Lyme Disease, has also put her effort behind seld-care. Two years ago, she joined the zero-ABV brand Kin Euphorics as a co-founder. The botanical craft beverages feature a range of vitamins and herbs formulated for a natural energy boost or relaxation without the negative side effects of alcohol.
7. Kendall Jenner
Jenner certainly isn’t the only member of her family to walk runways or appear in ads for leading luxury labels. And her 818 Tequila is not the only family business in the Kardashian-Jenner clan to become a B Corp-certified company. (Half-sister Khloe’s Good American is also B Corp-certified.)
Jenner’s 818 is working hard to protect the land in Jalisco, Mexico, where the tequila is made. Agave waste is being turned into bricks, which are supporting communities across the region as a sustainable building material.
Jenner’s also worn vintage on the red carpet and has supported eco brands like Peony and Longchamp.
8. Cameron Russell
Having walked the runways for labels including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Ralph Lauren, and Versace, it’s ethical fashion brands that are a favorite for Russell who leads by example with her clothing choices and ethics, supporting children, the arts, and education. She also engages with her followers on social media to educate them about sustainability and responsible consumption.
Russell is a supporter of Re/make, a women-led advocacy organization, working to lead collective action to fix the pollutive and exploitative practices of this industry. She recently helped the organization launch a fellowship program to support ethical fashion. “Our goal is to equip and inspire creatives to find their place in the movement for a more just and sustainable fashion industry,” the group says.
9. Lily Cole
The runway model found her way to sustainability after protesting against the use of fur and going vegetarian as a kid.
Cole founded the social enterprise “Impossible,” encouraging people to share skills and services for free. She collaborates with various environmental organizations, supporting ethical sourcing and responsible fashion. In 2021, she penned a book about the climate crisis, Who Cares Wins: How to Protect the Planet You Love.
Last year, Cole partnered with Skydiamond, the world’s first conflict-free diamonds made entirely from renewable energy.
Cole has also been an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Cole identifies as queer. “I like that word [queer] because of its openness, because I think all those boundaries are quite rigid,” she said. “I have lots of friends who identify as bisexual, lesbian or whatever, who also identify as queer.”
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