Life As I Know It: Zara Williams

In the latest in our Life as I know it series, our account director Zara Williams shares her journey in sustainability so far and the impact it has on her career and daily life.

It was during secondary school that my interest in the world developed, through Geography lessons; the topic I went on to study at University. I enjoyed learning about different ecosystems and how they interact. I can remember being particularly taken by the concept of biosphere reserves, protecting native species through zoning, which I researched for my dissertation at Sakaerat Environmental Research Station. Though it wasn’t until Naho Mirumachi’s class on water footprints in my final year of university that I really understood the impact we each personally have on the world. She taught us about the huge volume of water required to bring our food from farm to table. The staggering figures (34 gallons of water for just one cup of coffee!) came as a shock and I realised every choice I made had an impact on the environment. 

This led me to my second internship after graduating, within the water team of the non-profit CDP, where I found out what businesses were doing to address the global issues of water scarcity and pollution. After this, I knew I wanted to propel change in the industry through my career. Sustainability consultancy provided such opportunities, as you work with different businesses to implement programmes to continually enhance their sustainability performance, and so my life as a sustainability consultant began.

It was during this internship at CDP where I gained a further understanding of how my behaviour as a consumer had significant consequences for people and planet. Everyone in the office was watching Cowspiracy, after which I swiftly changed my eating habits, and later The True Cost movie, which was such an eye-opening film for me. 

I’d enjoyed fashion from a young age. I remember cutting up and ‘customising’ my mum’s old dresses (sorry again, mum), begging my parents to buy me a copy of French Vogue every time we crossed the Channel and forcing my family to watch any catwalk we came across. As a teenager I was your typical fast-fashion-loving customer; craving trends, buying way more than I needed and spending the majority of my disposal income on clothing (having secured a job in a clothes store at the age of 15 predominantly so that I could buy clothes!). I certainly didn’t think about the true cost of my clothing. The True Cost movie transformed my thinking and enabled me to begin joining the dots to the people behind the products I bought, something I hadn’t thought about much before. I read and watched more and more on the topic, which has been a fierce passion ever since.

At my previous workplace, I engaged all of my team on sustainability in fashion by screening films, setting wardrobe and purchase-limiting challenges, organising swap shops and sharing principles for shopping with sustainability in mind. This eventually led to me seeking out a role at Eco-Age, focusing my sustainability consultancy expertise in the fashion, luxury and events space.

When it comes to my shopping habits now, I always ask myself: do I really need it? Will I use it in years to come? Does it fit with what I already have? Do I feel comfortable supporting the seller? I aim to only buy pieces I’ll treasure and get great use out of, from retailers with whom I share values. I shop predominantly second hand, my favourite pre-loved store is Beyond Retro, mixed with pieces from brands that carefully consider the impacts their operations have on people and planet. I try and keep my clothes for as long as possible; with small repairs by my boyfriend Ollie’s mum and our Fiona, and bigger alterations by our local tailor, like my coat I’ve had relined a couple of times. I’m also a strong advocate of sharing and swapping with friends. I recently went to a friend’s wedding in one of Jil’s dresses, my mums old shoes and with a vintage bag; and I was extremely proud of my boyfriend Ollie who also sported a vintage tie, pre-loved suit and re-soled shoes! 

As I’m now in the middle of buying my first home, I’ve been drawing my attention to interiors and homeware too. Over the last few years, Ollie and I have built up a collection of forever pieces to last a lifetime from traditional manufacturers who focus on durability, charity and vintage shops and our favourite ceramicists (Dor & Tan and Sam Marks Ceramics). We’re on a mission to fill our home only with quality pieces we’ll want and can use for years to come, channeling William Morris and his famous quote: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. This requires research and careful consideration; avoiding impulse buying and waiting for what you really want, going without if it doesn’t exist just yet!

Learning to exercise such restraint and patience and to feel comfortable going without, I think I’ve found one of the most challenging parts of trying to live in a more sustainable manner. As a society we’re still so obsessed with material possessions as markers of success, not having the latest this, that or the other can make you feel insufficient. Letting go of the desire to keep up with this constant, unnecessary newness can be so freeing! It’s hard not to get caught up in it, especially with the growing ‘sustainable influencer’ community promoting the latest swaps, so I always try and come back to my questions and to remember possessions aren’t the root to happiness; time with the ones you love always will make you smile much longer and harder.