In the latest instalment of our ‘Life as I know it’ series, model, influencer and activist Doina Ciobanu shares her journey in sustainability so far; from her upbringing in Moldova to her work trying to make the world of fashion a better place today.
I’ve always been interested in sustainability, even though I don’t think I fully understood what it was until I moved to England. I grew up Moldova which is quite a rural country, and my childhood summers were spent with my grandparents in the countryside, either playing with the animals from their little farm or playing in their corn fields. It was always in sync with nature, even if of course, I often hated it as a child.
My father comes from an extremely big family who were never well off in terms of money, and he always taught me never to waste food. Although living ‘sustainably’ was not a very common conversation in Eastern Europe at the time, it was still there in the villages where people practiced traditional ways of consuming and reusing, even if it was mostly due to cost saving. I think that a lot of people who grew up in less developed societies now realise that the way their grandparents used to consume and survive was actually very sustainable. They had a very local food supply chain, and used reusable and reused materials for pretty much everything.
On another hand there was the poverty; Moldova has been the poorest country on the European continent for a very long time, so in seeing people’s struggle first-hand I was raised to be very mindful of consumption. My mother’s parents who raised me have always reminded me of the atrocities the USSR committed, and both the pain of our nation and the idea that there are always people who are doing a lot worse than us out there have always stayed with me. And I couldn’t be more grateful for that because it’s shaped me into the person I am today.
My first real awakening within sustainability was to do with plastic. I’d long been researching plastic and its negative effects on the human body, but plastic pollution had always been… physically invisible, let’s say. I knew it existed, I knew the extent of it, and I was already actively against it on social media, but I had never really witnessed it to any extent in real life until a few years ago.
We were staying in the North of Bali, past the mountains, in a quite local untouched area. We had our own beach access, which was so exciting. Except our little corner of paradise quickly turned into a nightmare. Not only was the whole stretch of sand for km covered in rubbish, mostly plastic, but the water was actually impossible to swim in; there was rubbish every few cm. When I went to research this, I discovered that while Bali was still quite bad with its litter management and recycling, we were there during the season when the currents from all across Asia Pacific were coming in and basically, bringing all this rubbish with them. I was so mad at everything in that moment; at the world, at the governments, at the people, but also at myself. That was when I really decided to cut plastic out of my life as much as I could and my so-called ‘war against plastic’ started.
While I now work in fashion as a model, influencer and activist, my relationship with this world has always been a love/hate one. I have come to believe that the only way this industry can be changed is from within, so I try to push as much as I can and encourage all the CEOs, PRs, creative directors, brand managers and others that I meet to implement change. I have also cut down massively on the shows, and events I attend, telling my team that I only want to attend fashion shows that I truly love and also identify with my aesthetic, rather than doing a competitive, ego-fulfilling marathon of catwalks. The fashion week idea as a whole will really need to change and I still don’t quite know how exactly, it’s something myself and other friends into sustainability always talk about and it has to change. We can’t have thousands of shows a season with no understanding or fear of the huge carbon footprint that is causing.
I’ve said it many times, but I want to be realistic and bring realistic solutions. I don’t think that fast fashion businesses will go away any time soon, they make too much money and there is still too much of a demand for ‘affordable’ fashion with most of the world’s population not making a high enough salary to afford luxury or sustainable pieces. I believe we should support them in a transition towards being more sustainable, through steps such as offsetting the multiple billion dollars’ worth of carbon that they generate annually through investing in renewable energy or other, proven sustainable offsetting alternatives. There is definitely space to actually give the industry a responsible kick start.
I also believe that recycling, upcycling, and renting is the most feasable solution the near future. I love going to Denmark, because a lot of Danish fashion brands have integrated a direct-to-consumer renting scheme for their latest collections, which is brilliant! And with the integration of block chain technology into the fashion supply chain, it will be so much easier to ‘track’ the authenticity of items when returning them for upcycling to luxury brands.
I am truly passionate about what I do; both the fashion side and the visual storytelling through social media. However, I simply cannot stand by and pretend it’s all pink and roses, so I try to use my online presence to simply spread a message and raise awareness on topics like sustainability and social responsibility. Some might find that good, some might find that obnoxious, but it’s close to my heart so I speak about it. At the end of the day I’m still part of the consumerist society and try to navigate my way through the permanent dilemma between being in fashion and a responsible citizen.
I try to keep my own approach to fashion sustainable sustainable by renting and borrowing clothes, shopping mostly vintage, and extending the lifespan of my existing wardrobe by donating or selling unwanted garments. Beyond fashion, I’m trying to cut out single use plastics and non-biodegradable, non-recyclable products such as aluminium foil, plastic kitchen foil, sticky tape and even balloons – which I have a rule against in my house. I gave up meat a year ago; while I will sometimes go on a two-week full vegan diet, I also do sometimes eat chicken if it’s from my grandmother or for a very special occasion. But to be honest I am very iron deficient, and supplements aren’t help, so I might start having the very occasional bit of meat again – I’m saying this because I want to be fully honest about all the struggles it takes to be more sustainable.
For me, like many others, this can manifest itself in constant eco-anxiety and stress about well, everything! On one hand, it can get so overwhelming and depressing when go down the ‘sustainability path’ because the more you learn and look into things the more you realise that basically everything that surrounds us is unsustainable in one way or another. While myself and my fiancé try to take sustainability into consideration in almost everything we do, it can get be a little exhausting for our mental health too. So sometimes I have to stop, then of course very quickly I come back to it. It’s really a constant struggle, isn’t it?
In my case, I try to stay quite grounded, which is what helps me navigate through what can sometimes be a very unrealistic world. But the passion for sustainability and desire to change the fashion industry has opened new doors for me to aspects I never afore thought the fashion industry would approach. Either way, I believe that most important thing everybody can do is focus on spreading the word. Whoever you are and no matter how many followers you have on Instagram, convincing even just one single person to take one step in becoming more sustainable is worth it.