A Conversation with Clare Press of Vogue Australia about how to Rise, Resist, and Change the World
If there is one book that is the perfect read for getting into 2019 with vigour and hope, then it must be Clare Press’ recently published Rise & Resist: How to Change the World. In this uplifting read, Clare opens our eyes to a rebirth of global grassroots activism and shows us that there is no lack of change agents who believe in the power of the positive.
Clare herself is a proof that activism comes in many faces. Not only is she an esteemed author, fashion journalist, and the world’s first Sustainability Editor-at-Large at Vogue Australia, but also an inspiring ethical fashion advocate and host of the beloved sustainable fashion podcast Wardrobe Crisis. Are you eager to think up and build a sustainable tomorrow? Then take her lead and join the revolution!
Interview by Dörte de Jesus
In “Rise & Resist” you take us on a wild trip through the new activist movements that are currently evolving globally. How do you think can getting together and finding a common voice really make a difference in today’s world?
It’s the only way. Collaboration has become a buzzword for a reason. You can’t change the world on your own, but when you connect and unite with like-minded folk, when you build positive movements for sustainable change, then — seriously! — anything is possible. We humans need one another. In today’s context where we’re less likely to know our neighbours, more transient in terms of where we live, and increasingly disconnected from the physical (not to mention Nature) in favour of screen-time: meeting one another IRL is even more important. I think that’s why street protests and marches are on the rise — we yearn to get together, and if we can do that around a shared passion or cause, that’s meaningful.
What urged you to write the book? Was there one decisive moment?
There were two. I started thinking about it when the first Women’s Marches happened the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. Five million people taking to the streets worldwide. It was major, and went way beyond an anti-Trump protest; this was about people getting together to show solidarity and support for women, people of colour, marginalised groups, and the intersecting issues of equality and the women’s movement, social justice in general and climate justice. I knew I wanted to contribute, and starting thinking: What sort of narrative can I pull together out of this to tell inspiring stories about activism?
Then in September 2017, I went on a trip to the Great Barrier Reef with Australia’s Climate Council to learn how global warming is affecting the coral. That was a catalysing moment for me on the urgent need for climate action. I started writing the first lines of Rise & Resist on that trip.
We are currently faced with so many challenges — from the climate crisis to wildlife extinction, and from gender to race to economic inequality — that at times, these issues can seem overwhelming. How do you pick your battles?
From the news headlines, it can seem like the world is a terrible, terrifying place — more refugees on the move globally than at any other time in human history; climate change causing increased more frequent extreme weather events; ongoing violence against women; inequality; terrorism — but viewed through a different lens, the world is actually full of fantastic people working hard to reshape it for the better. It’s good to remember that.
You can’t solve everything at once. It helps to home in on one thing. Perhaps it’s something that directly affects you and your community — plastic pollution on your local beach, for example. Or it might be a big global issue that really speaks to you, like the plight of refugees, which is what motivated Jayna Zweiman (who is in the book) to start her Welcome Blanket project. First pick your passion point. Then find your people, your community. Start small and watch it grow. Positive, purpose-driven projects find their own energy.
Could you share a favourite story from the book that left a lasting impression?
I love the story of Fashion Revolution. It’s close to home because I’ve been involved with the charity for since 2014. Fashion Revolution was set up by two London-based fashion designers, Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro, in response to the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster that happened in Bangladesh on April 24th, 2013.
Carry was taking a bath when the idea for the name came to her! Their story of building a global movement of consumers around the question ‘Who made my clothes?’ is super-inspiring, more so given they had no campaign experience. Their secrets to success include their inclusive, inviting, colourful and fun approach and their deeply held conviction that we really can do fashion better.
Do you follow Fashion Revolution Germany? You must! Find them here on Instagram and get involved in Fashion Revolution Week this April.
I enjoyed that you included a chapter on mindfulness into your book. How can mindfulness be an effective tool for fighting for a better world?
This was slightly uncomfortable territory for me because I don’t spend much time considering spiritual matters. I’m not religious, I don’t meditate, I don’t even do yoga (I know! I must be the last person in fashion, right?). But the truth is, I just haven’t gone there yet — perhaps that lies in my future.
Yet, I like the idea that the answers to some of the burning questions affecting humanity lie within us, and that through mindfulness we can tap into them. Many of the people I interviewed kept pointing me there. It makes sense. Sustainability is about connection: to Mother Earth, to the world around us and to each other. Perhaps we can begin on a very basic level by looking at mindfulness as the opposite of mindlessness, or carelessness. We should take more care: of ourselves, of each other and of the planet. I’m 100% on board with that idea.
One could think that fashion is an unlikely route to activism — what are your thoughts?
There’s not only room for one type of activist! I think we can all be active citizens, and the key is to start where you are. I began with fashion because I work in fashion, and it was a fashion issue that inspired me: Rana Plaza. I’m a journalist and in 2016, I wrote a book called Wardrobe Crisis, How we went from Sunday best to fast fashion. That grew out of my research into sustainable and ethical fashion. I started giving talks and commentary on the subject, and began a podcast that grew out of the book. My activism grew organically from there, and I use my platforms as a writer, podcaster and speaker to broaden the conversation around sustainability and ethical fashion. Where can you make a difference? What would you like to change about your world? Once you start, it’s exciting!
How do you think that fashion can act as a powerful catalyst for the communication of socio-political ideals?
It’s powerful because it’s visual, and it’s a talking point. And it’s also universal because we all wear clothes. Fashion can cut through the noise.
In December 2017, Emily Farra at Vogue US declared that “this was the year when sustainable fashion got sexy.” Would you agree and what did you see as the milestones of 2018?
I loved that headline, I remember reading it and thinking, yes! For 2018 milestones, check out this sustainability landmark list compiled by my friends at Common Objective.
How do you see grassroots activism making a mark on global politics in the years to come?
I see it growing. Thanks to social media we can connect in new ways like never before. Can I leave the last word to someone else? I choose Maya Angelou, whom I quote in the book: ‘Take up the battle, take it up. It’s yours. This is your life. This is your world.’
Thank you, Clare!