'Fashion doesn’t have to be deadly.'
At only 20 years old model Molly Bair is already a veteran of the fashion world. Having walked runways across the world for everyone from Gucci and Chanel to Loewe and Dries Van Noten, and gracing the covers of Dazed and Vogue magazines.
Bair forms part of an emerging group of young models such as Natalie Westling and Binx Walton that are intent on doing things vastly different to the older generation of ‘classic’ supermodels. Bair’s generation, much like the millennials they represent, is earthier and not consumed by the norms of fashion.
Sought after for her unusual looks and distinct beauty, which she once described in an interview with CNN as her “alien-rat-demon-goblin-gremlin sort of vibe”. But with a hugely successful modelling career already under her belt, Bair is putting her celebrity to good use for other purposes closer to her heart. With 150,000 followers on Instagram she knows that she commands attention. She now wants to be an effective mouthpiece for young people across the world about one of the most important topics of our time, the environment.
Bair is becoming a front runner in the charge on climate change awareness and sustainability. Having recently become a brand ambassador for Pure Earth, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to fighting pollution in developing countries, she is intent on bringing these issues to a wider audience in the years ahead. In the wake of Donald Trump pulling out of the most important environmental ratification of our times, we sat down with Molly to talk about her career, the difficult task of bringing sustainability awareness into fashion and to find out what her immediate thoughts are on the decision (even though she can’t even bring herself to say his name.)
It’s crazy. You literally just go from one day taking the bus to school, to the next day flying around the world by yourself. How does that feel looking back on it all now?
It still feels so insane to me. I wonder sometimes if I’m in a simulation created by the Matrix…
You’re so young, but you have a really different energy to other typical models. Can you perhaps tell us if that has been embraced by the fashion world and what your thoughts are on the overall industry as it is today?
Honestly, I’ve heard “you’re not the ‘typical model’” more times than I expected over the course of my career. What is the ‘typical model’? No one really knows. I am simply being myself and I’ve never concerned myself with whether or not that fits into the model stereotype. As for the industry, I have to say it is still as confusing to me as when I started. I’ve learned it’s best to not try to decipher it; just be yourself and do the work.
We interviewed Liza Mandelup actually right before she did that road trip in Arizona with you, such an interesting journey. What do you feel you got out of such an experience? It looked so fun.
I loved meeting the women, especially the rodeo girls. I was extremely shocked and impressed with their confidence and coolness. They were very young girls who wore their eccentricities on their sleeve with class and pride. Also, the trip made me fall in love with Arizona and slightly resent New York.
You’ve said that you have a masterplan for an afterlife post-modelling. What would that be?
My plan is to go to university with a major in Environmental Studies, in a city far away from New York. When I go to school, I want to be able to commit fully without the distraction of the city.
As a well-known model, if you could impart some wisdom to the rest of the female race out there based on what you have seen and learned what would it be?
I simply want women, especially young women, to respect themselves and know their value. I have been fortunate enough to find my self-love and self-respect in the past three years. I’ve been inspired by the confident and boss women (models, photographers, stylists, etc.) that I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Thus, when I am around young women my age or younger, and I see their insecurity and the way they crave male attention, I get upset. No, I’m not trying to get on my high horse, but I fear that valuable brain space is taken up by a need to impress and attract the opposite sex. I believe that popular culture and antiquated gender roles are to blame for this. I hope that in the future, somehow, we can let girls understand their power and discover their confidence when they are in the crucial part of their development.
Sustainable clothing: Alyx Spring 2016 catalogue photographed by Nick Knight
You’ve walked for some of the top brands in the industry. Do you have conversations with these brands about their sustainability or is it all just work?
The only designer I’ve spoken with about sustainability is Matt Williams, at Alyx. He is starting to work with a company that reduces the amount of water that it takes to create their fabrics. This is a conversation I had a long time ago, so I’m really not sure on the specifics. It’s not really something people talk about a lot, since in all honesty: no one cares enough.
So how do you propose to engage the fashion community in environmental causes?
By necessity, the fashion industry is very wasteful, so I would probably start with the basics. From the food waste on set to the excessive flying, to the materials we wear – we are all at fault and need to improve. I am also an ambassador for the nonprofit Pure Earth and I just worked with them to raise awareness about the toxic connection between gold and mercury. Pure Earth enlisted a great group of designers to produce a special collection of responsible jewellery for auction. Funds raised supported their project to teach poor artisanal miners how to go mercury-free. Pure Earth’s work with the industry is helping to steer more designers towards using mercury-free gold. It’s a big problem since up to a quarter of the world’s gold comes from artisanal gold mining, which is the largest source of global mercury emissions.
"When I am around young women my age or younger, and I see their insecurity and the way they crave male attention."
Molly Bair on growing up in the fashion world
What if some cynics would say something like, ‘Oh, of course you embrace environmentalism, everyone is an activist these days…’ How do you deter cynics?
As long as the cynics are bringing more attention to the cause, I do not care what they say. Any press is good press!
Let’s talk about sustainable fabrics. Fashion industry uses up a lot of waste; we went to Design Museum to see Christien Meindertsma mind-blowing presents Fibre Market exhibition. Can you give us a snapshot of your thoughts around it and what you feel you can do?
As I said before, the waste is so immense that it’s hard to even think of where to begin. I think that the change must start with the consumers. We MUST stop supporting cheap/fast fashion brands because they create the worst system of supply/demand. They provide consumers with affordable clothing items that are made out of low-grade fabrics. Then, since these items fall apart after a few washes, the consumers have to come back and buy new clothes again. Additionally, consumers don’t feel guilt because the prices are so low. Not only are consumers hurting the environment by buying these clothes in such high volume, they are also hurting the environment by discarding these clothes. If everyone could marginally cut back on purchasing from these stores, we could make a huge difference. But, that being said, no one cares enough, so this is a very difficult goal.
Do you think maybe we should apply carbon footprints scheme to everything, not just emissions?
If what you mean is, that we should track everything that we do in order to keep us accountable, then yes! Numbers put things into perspective. Everyone loves a good excel chart.
You’ve said, “I hope my fellow industry friends and collaborators will support environmentally responsible production like cotton grown without toxic pesticides, utilise leather from tanneries that don’t pollute or poison workers and help create demand for mercury-free artisanal gold.” But people just have no information about how ethical the products we buy are. How should we begin those kinds of conversation with governments?
I think we all need to work together to make some noise. Supporting nonprofits like Pure Earth, which is one of the only organisations working to address toxic pollution on a global scale. They work closely with governments on cleanup and solutions and can make our demands heard. We need to get more informed. As consumers, we need to pay attention to where our products come from and ask how they are made, and to start demanding responsible production because toxic pollution is contaminating the environment, and poisoning people including many, many children. Pollution is the largest cause of death in poor countries. But fashion doesn’t have to be deadly.
What political activities or campaigns are you engaging in yourself to promote protecting the environment?
I feel a little powerless in this political environment. But short of working as a lobbyist or a politician, I feel that what I can do to really make a difference is to inform more people about the cause. So that is what I am working very hard to do, especially with Pure Earth. I worked with them on the responsible jewellery auction this year, to raise awareness about gold mining and mercury pollution, and right now, I am helping them with a small GoFundMe effort to raise money to complete the cleanup of what’s been called the world’s most toxic town, where hundreds of children are suffering from severe lead poisoning. That project was recently featured on the front page of The Guardian. The story is heartbreaking and Pure Earth has had to stop the cleanup because their funding ran out. But hopefully, we can get it restarted soon if everyone comes together to donate a little to help the children of Kabwe.
There seem to be so many differing opinions about environmental activism. How would you say we try and get everyone on the same page here?
If you are wasting your time bickering about the politics of environmental activism, then you are stealing time away from saving the planet.
"He-who-must-not-be-named has caused irreversible damage to the environment and to the cause. Let’s try not to dwell on that because that will cause me to go into a black hole of sadness."
Molly Bair on Donald Trump's recent decision to leave the Paris Accord
What do you think of Trump and his fake new info-spiracy army? It has really hurt the environmental cause, partly because he doesn’t want to give it any attention.
He-who-must-not-be-named has caused irreversible damage to the environment and to the cause. Let’s try not to dwell on that because that will cause me to go into a black hole of sadness. The positive is that he has motivated the grassroots activists to fight and spread the message even more intensely. I feel like people are more informed about the critical state of the environment more than ever. Not a day goes by that I don’t see an environmental article shared on Facebook. In the end, the people will be the change, not who we currently have in office.
What do you make of the US leaving the Paris climate accord?
I’m of course very unhappy about it, but there is a big positive in that people are becoming angry and wanting to get more informed. As I mentioned before the change ultimately comes from the mind of the people, so I’m hoping this is a positive step for the long run.
What are you reading or how are you informing yourself about environmental issues? It’s not just Al Gore obviously.
I’ve watched many documentaries (Cowspiracy, Before the Flood, etc), but mainly I compulsively keep up with the news. I have the CNN ‘Energy & Environment’ tab open on my computer at all times. I also learned a lot about how big the problem of global pollution really is at a Pure Earth briefing they held for NGOs and other global experts, which I attended. And their pollution blog is also a good resource. Despite that, I still feel like a fraud. Until I receive a college diploma, I will feel like a poser.
To learn more about Pure Earth visit their website here.
He is the purest soul. He is truly care-free.
I played my entire childhood, went away from it for a while, and now I play with freedom. It keeps my mind active and makes me feel like I’m approving myself each day.
My favourite city in the world. It makes me cry; the way that the future and the past are intertwined. The way people treat each other, the way that people wear whatever the want without care, the freedom of self-expression without judgment. The architecture and the aesthetics are mind-blowing.