Wellness and nutrition expert Jasmine Hemsley shares her journey of sustainability.
My sustainability journey can be traced all the way back to my childhood – my mum and dad were very much about saving things and passing them on. Our house became a kind of holding bay or like one of those storage lock-ups; clothes, furniture, TVs, plug-in radiators, suitcases, baby walkers – basically anything anyone was chucking out my parents would keep for someone who needed it.
My mum is from the Philippines, where families are big and very close and every penny counts. My dad also grew up frugally; I still have my gran’s sewing box in which every button, thread or trinket was saved to adorn a future garment. My dad was in the British army and came from a military and logistics background where there was zero waste or inefficiency, so we were taught to save every paper clip, bag tie, glass jar, elastic band, you name it, to use again. The same attitude applied in the kitchen, where food was never wasted. When I started cooking at 9 years old, I quickly learned the art of turning bits and bobs from the fridge and cupboards into a delicious meal (which I could never quite recreate), affording me the nickname ‘Leftover Queen’ amongst family and friends.
Our traditional upbringing worked well until life got busier, and products started to become increasingly cheaper. Broken items continued to go to my dad’s ‘workshop’ but stopped getting fixed. Plastic bags, which were oh-so-useful, started drowning under more plastic bags. Our collection of people’s hand-me-downs started to grow out of control as people swayed away from second-hand; valuing cheap new items over things that had been used previously. Even if you didn’t have the money for the item now, you could buy everything on credit anyway and the ‘latest models’ were coming out faster and faster.
At university I studied design and soon realised that even more than designing something from scratch, I loved the creativity of repurposing something discarded into something worth keeping. For the time, my university was extremely progressive and educated us on the importance of sustainability. When the 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) came up, it turned out my passion for what is now known as ‘upcycling’ was a crucial way of utilising the many things we already have on our planet. The local dump became my favourite way to source things. I then began frequenting skips, charity shops, carboots, Ebay, local Facebook groups and Gumtree. Even now, my home is a hotbed for lost and found pieces, with memories collected from around the world. If I look round my home today, it’s filled with discarded plants I’ve rescued, homeless dogs that I couldn’t leave behind and a plethora of eclectic car boot sale treasures that I’ve collected over a number of years. There’s definitely a theme of things that are a bit battered and bruised but no less loveable, which with a bit of elbow grease and a cloth become covetable again – all for a fraction of the cost of a new version.
After university, I worked as a model for 15 years. We started out doing 4-6 shots a day for catalogues, 3 or 4 times a year and by the end we were shooting 40-50 shots a day, 7 days a week, with the rise of e-commerce. It really made me question where all these clothes were coming from, and as I investigated I realised the huge ecological and social impact the fashion industry was having. That’s when ethical fashion became a huge part of my sustainable journey.
As my passion for health and wellbeing has grown over the past few decades, I’ve become aware of just how important the delicate balance of mind, body and spirit is – something that Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old science of life, highlights. Rather than focus on macros and micros on my plate I can nourish myself with food that’s made with love as much as possible and make choices from the same intention. My sustainability journey is not just about reducing waste, working with more eco-friendly materials and reducing plastic consumption, but also involves using hard-earned cash to vote for ethics that make a difference. Food-wise, eating seasonal and local might seem like buzzwords for those who have the luxury, but they offer an insight into a deeper wisdom that shapes us and our planet.
Since my uni days and my dissertation, ‘Is plastic fantastic?’, 20 years ago, I’ve watched the consistent rise of plastic with interest and alarm. But it’s not just plastic: our whole culture is centred around the disposable, and disposable means it has to be made cheaply – but who bears the brunt of that? Our planet, people, animals? Eco-Age and I share a desire to move away from single-use and short-lived objects in every aspect of our lives, and recognise our duty to try and understand the journey of the food, clothes, and objects we spend our money on. It’s a mammoth task, because, as I’ve come to realise when talking to brands, even trying to make a difference and shout about it puts you under a magnifying glass.
But it’s worth making the effort, at whatever level you can. You only have to look at how quickly we have shifted away from plastic bags and how single-use straws are now moving towards being an endangered species with just a little bit of a press push, collective outcry and good old David Attenborough. Suddenly, conscious consumerism is more hipster than hippie and hopefully we are seeing a shift to this approach being embedded in the mainstream.
My anti-waste passion started with food, but just as with health, I realised that sustainability is a much bigger picture than the linear approach. We have to take a 360-degree view to fully address these issues. From the cosmetics I use, to the clothes I wear and the food I eat, I want to share the baby steps that I’m taking to implement a more eco-conscious life. It’s an exciting time to be part of a movement towards more ethical decisions in everything we do, buy, consume and champion. In a time where advertising encourages us to be short-sighted in our worldview and consume voraciously, we have to act for the global picture. Technology can now be used to help nature rather than conquer it, creating opportunities and alternatives that we as consumers can demand. Despite its critics, social media can serve to connect globally and rapidly exchange information and opinions as an eco-community. It is exciting to see how quickly we can promote change. So it’s not all doom and gloom if we take accountability from now – the times they are a-changin’.