In May when Clare Press was last in the UK, I had the opportunity to photograph and interview her, she is brilliant. Clare is the 1st ever sustainability fashion editor for any Vogue, this is only one of her many accomplishments. She has a wonderful energy and fabulous questioning mind. She encourages us all, with a great big smile to join her on her journey and make it part of our own. Come, read on, and be inspired by her story.
D: Before we start proper what a brilliant name you have for working as a journalist, Mrs Press.
C: Nomanative Determination, I can’t remember who said that phrase, its not something I knew but either I read it in a magazine or heard it, either way it means, that your name determines your occupation. I married a man called Mr Press, I didn’t choose it per say but I was happy to change my name.
D: Where did you grow up?
C: I grew up in Yorkshire, in a very small village called Nidd near Harrogate, a beautiful part of the world. My parents moved to Cornwall recently, I think Mum moved there because of Poldark, she would deny that if she read this and say ‘I’m not that woman’ (Clare whispers) ‘I think she is’. I think she saw Poldark galloping on the beach on that horse and went ‘I’m going there’. I’m am gutted though, because its like ‘What do you mean your moving, Yorkshire is my home’ to which my Mum says ‘No its not you have lived in Australia for 20 years’. My roots are still there though. I love a lot of things about the landscape, I grew up in. When I was a kid I thought is was extremely boring, small town stuff. We didn’t live in Harrogate so you know, nothing to do, no mischief opportunities and just boring. But now, as an adult I hugely appreciate the beauty of it and its rolling green hills the sheep and not many people.
D: When did you become interested in fashion?
C: So my Mother had shops, she had an amazing clothes shop where she sold directional German cool clothes that you wouldn’t imagine the local ladies would have liked but they came from far and wide to buy it. I used to work in the fashion shop, when I was about 15, most of the things I learned about fashion was in that shop. Later when I was between Vogues (originally as a features director) I had a small fashion label and my own shop in Sydney. Both shops made me understand how ‘REAL’ women relate to clothes and what clothes can do. As a fashion journalist you watch the runway, the context and business of fashion but I still think of women in the clothes.
D: Did you go to Uni?
C: Yes, I was an academic bookish kid and always wanted to be a writer, since, I can’t remember. I was writing novels since I was 5. Mmmm no, I was writing a few chapters of a novel when I was 8. Certainly as a teenager I would try and write novels, obviously they were appalling, I am so glad I don’t have them anymore but I always wanted to tell stories and thought that is what I would do. I studied Politics at Sheffield University. My highest ambition was to be the political editor at The Guardian. Found out how hard that was and thought, ‘I’m not going to bother with that, I think I will go and write about frocks.’ In retrospect I think I was a ‘greeny’ then, as I was concerned about the environment and certainly had an inner activism. I then forgot about it and lost, I am not going to say lost my way because I don’t think I was lost but I lost that driving urge to think about environmentalism. Coming back to it felt like ‘Ah yeah, I was always meant to do that’. For 15 years I wasn’t thinking ‘god we’ve gotta fight climate change', I just wasn’t thinking like that, I was embedded in commercial fashion.
It’s interesting how you evolve, its also being your authentic self, loosing and coming back to it probably. I also think its easy in hindsight to want to see a narrative in everything you have done, that makes sense, a clear path, life is not like that. I think when people talk to me and because I am so ardently environmentally minded now, want me to say ‘Oh yes this has always been my driving force', but its not true. We all evolve our story as we go along depending on who we meet and what context we find ourselves in. It’s just a lot of separate things that go towards building the whole person. So, yeah, everyone wants to go, where your parent’s hippies, where you brought up zero waste and all that but that wasn’t the case for me and I think that often it isn’t the case for most people.
When you find a sense of responsibility, or in my case, I have a burning passion for and a very strong sense of responsibility that I think I have to use my voice and do whatever I possibly can to try and help us live more lightly on the planet. Its not because I was raised that way, its because I figured it out and I have read enough to know its important.
D: Australia, when did you move there and why?
C: Because I fell in love with the wrong man and went there on holiday. None of that would have kept me there, I was 22/23 at the time, but when I was there I got this wonderful job, it was a lucky break and I took it. Goldfrapp were playing in Australia and I interviewed them, then I rang up The Rolling Stone and sold it to them. I think you can create you own luck and sometimes the universe gives you a helping hand and this particular helping hand was Jeff Aptor who was music editor at the time, he was like a little guardian angel to me, really gave me a lot of help when I was starting out. I didn’t have any experience beyond working on local news on the Yorkshire Post for a few minutes. So this was my lucky break, then they offered me a job and said ‘be our senior writer’, which when you are 23 and at The Rolling Stone is pretty good, so I took it and stayed.
Australia has been good to me and has given me a lot of opportunities in that way. I kept getting opportunities that were too good to miss. I like Australia, I’ve made a life there.
D: Yep and you met your husband there.
C: I did and now I am married to, he is not a professional surfer but he is a very obsessive surfer, he lives to surf, so he can’t live here (UK) he must have his feet in the water.
D: The sea and weather is better I would imagine. Is it better all year round or not?C: Well, I am going to really disappoint you, I think, the weather in Australia is horrible, I hate it, I like soft rain, I like grey skies, honestly I do. I am enjoying the spring sunshine. Australia is just humid and hot all the time. As a photographer you would like it, people LOVVVVE that light. Actually I also think the light in Australia is actually very amazing; I understand why visual people love it. For me though it is stabbing me in the eyeballs all the time. I think it’s hard to shake what you grew up with. I actually try and escape in the summer. I some respects your home is about the people and it sort of doesn’t matter where you are.
D: I am going to jump forward to the present (you can read the rest of Clare’s amazing career path on her site click here for more, after you have read the rest of her story here of course :)). You are really busy travelling the world and spreading the news and the word and helping others understand sustainability and the changes they can make to make a difference. Your podcasts blow my mind, you speak to so may interesting people and hear so many different stories and facts. If you were president of the world for the day what changes would you like to see NOW?
C: I was about to say I have never wanted to be president or any political boss because I think it is an incredibly hard job and I know that a lot of people like to criticize from the outside and say ‘why don’t you just do that’ but the job of politics is to make a consensus from a lot of disparate voices around you and I think it would be extremely difficult. But if I was ruler for the day and could do anything I wanted, I would immediately ensure that we acted extremely fast to make sure we all stick to the terms of the Paris agreement. I am extremely disappointed with our leaders particularly in Australia, but elsewhere, I’m not going to call Trump our leader am I but if you look at what’s happened in the states and you look at what’s happened in Australia, there is swing to the right that’s happening all over the place and I find it frankly terrifying. I think we need to come together, those of us who care about each other, humanity and nature and try to not be too negative, not to point too many fingers but to steer the conversation towards the fact that we need to take action on the part of the environment in order for people to thrive. If I could make one change and could make our leaders make that change it would be to de-carbonise our economy and we can do it. The tools are already in place for us to switch to renewables so easily, it’s just that money talks, the money from the big fossil fuel giants is what’s driving our dependence on them still. In fact the solution is already there it’s not a pipe dream to say we could do it tomorrow. In Australia we could transition to solar or wind. I would go as far as to say it’s criminal to be opening new coal mines anywhere in the world and in Australia there is something like 11 new coal mines either proposed or approved for New South Wales alone. Together they would be as big or bigger than Adani and that’s the big one. We had a chance to vote in another way but we voted the Prime Minister Scott Morrison back in and he is very bpro coal which is quite depressing. I also realize that whinging about it doesn’t help and pointing fingers is not going to help and blaming Australians isn’t going to help either. A friend of mine just shared a really useful email full of advice for us to feel better. She is a climate activist who co-founded The Australian Youth Climate Coalition when she was still a student in Uni. It says “actually when they polled Australians 80% of people said that they were really concerned about climate. In the event they chose to vote for one guy over the other for different reasons but the fact that we have this big amount of people that care means that we can actually pressure the government, whichever government that might be to try and make change and we have to do that with empathy and not be shouty bastards about it.” That’s really hard, as my instinct is to shout. I think that’s the work we have to do, to be inclusive and not to drag ourselves down to the level of those who sling mud and make it hard, at least that’s what I try and do. I think the climate change movement is very inspiring and it just shows that there are so many other ways of thinking than those fed to us by the establishment. We need to remind ourselves of that, as people who are into this.
D: As I said before your podcasts are brilliant. What inspired you to start them? Or, are they a natural progression of your journalism?
C: No, I was inspired to start the podcasts for a very specific reason. It was because I interview all these amazing people and then used a few lines in a written story and the rest was never shared. In particular I interviewed the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard and used the interviews in my book ‘Wardrobe Crisis’ but there was loads more and he was wonderful and I thought, ‘what a shame I can’t play it to people, I didn’t have permission and even if I did it was recorded on a shoddy dictaphone with bad quality and then thought, podcasting is great because it gives people that insider access and its long form.
D: I love listening to them when I am sitting working on my images, because of your journalistic background you really get the best from your subjects.
C: The worst thing about an interview is if you are sitting thinking, ‘ask that, ask that and they don’t’ so I am always thinking what does the listener want me to ask? What is the listener thinking? What do they want to know? So its not just a conversation between me and the person being interviewed, it’s a 3 way conversation if you like because I like to think the listener is involved. The other thing which I love, its not an answer to your question, it’s another thing, I love the format because you can’t hide in it. When you write a story about someone or take a picture of someone you give a glimpse of that person. The person who takes the picture or writes the story gives the audience their take on the subject and they can either manipulate it or not. But when you have a recording of the person being interviewed, that person can’t hide has more scope to show themselves and I like it. It is quite brave to be the guest. For brands and people with profile they are used to controlling the conversation much more but that’s why people like listening to it.
D: Who would you really like to interview? (When I was asking this question Clare was already answering and in fact did go on to interview her the next day.)
C: Katharine Hamnett. I really want to interview Katharine Hamnett and I may have the chance tomorrow. On my wall in my office, which is in my walk in wardrobe at home, I’ve got a wall of post it notes and I ‘ve got all the people I want to interview and it reminds me to think of them everyday. I’ve got this faintly daft idea that if I can imagine it, (creative visualisation) and that if you see something every day you are thinking of it constantly so it is in your head and you focus on it. And I like to look at the wall and think Ah Ha – Al Gore how am I going to get you? On the wall is Gwyneth Paltrow, my strategy for getting Gwyneth Paltrow is to keep saying on the podcast is ‘Gwyneth are you listening’ its funny. I could do with a better strategy. Who else is on there, Stella McCartney, Mohammad Unis, founder of the Social Enterprise Business Model, essentially, like an amazing person. Al Gore is there cause, I think it would be good to interview Al Gore. I am always putting people up there. Katharine Hamnett has been up there for ages.
D: What’s next for you? I can see there is another book coming.
C: I am going to write a new book about the future of fashion, which is focused partly on materials because the traditional materials that we have been using for our clothes are either based on finite resources or they rely on soil and soil health which is the problem. So it’s interesting to look at new ways that materials may develop, whether we could grow them (said tentatively) in a lab on bacteria, for example. I interviewed this amazing woman who was using bacteria as a dye. Now I’m starting to think around the idea of how we might treat and approach fashion in the future. It’s quite a difficult book to write because we cannot know the answer. So the possibility for getting it really wrong is there. It's very easy to start imagining future scenarios, I have since learned I am not going to adopt this because I can only write the way I write – there are formats for how we might imagine what our future looks like, you can look at probability, because of various things, it’s not just a shot in the dark, it is a bit scary because we don’t know what it will be. A lot of other stuff, which is more interesting, I think, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole a bit here, what would our AI look like in relation to fashion, could we potentially use machine learning to imagine a more sustainable fashion future? What if we never even wore clothes at all. What if we only designed and bought them only for our Avatars? So anyway it’s all kind of things, where will we be? Obviously, sustainably.
D: What would we wear then?
C: We could sit around in the same t-shirt constantly but potentially, if the internet was developed to the point where this would work, potentially you could control how people see you. Imagine if I could buy my outfit, but it was never produced, it was only ever a virtual outfit so used no resources. Yet, I can control it and you will see me wearing my Chanel.
D: I love the way you write, I love the way you talk AND you are really friendly.
C: I’m just friendly because I’m friendly, it’s the way I am. I don’t decide to be friendly. But I do think there is a reason why we aught to all work on making sure that we are as warm, engaging and inclusive as we possibly can because if we want to change the world we can’t do it on our own. We need the power of all of us, you can’t do that by sitting on your own. A quote in the front of ‘Rise and Resist’ from Gloria Steinman for TIME magazine 1992 – ‘The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day. After all, a movement is only people moving.” She is absolutely right, if we want to make the climate movement strong or sustainable fashion into a movement we need to do that with everyone else. Everybody, and not just the people who already agree with us. I think actually friendliness and humour are good tools to make that happen but also to have because, its not fun to talk about climate change, its not fun to imagine a gloomy future riven by drought and floods, fire, bio diversity loss, none of that’s fun, lets face it. Talking about that stuff makes people switch off because no one wants to be miserable but if we can inject some fun and something appealing, building this movement for change then that’s the sweet spot. The feeling of not being on your own is really important, it’s a paralyzing thing to think you are on your own – actually, laughs, I was an only child, actually I like being on my own – also I like noise and I like people but I am very resilient about being on my own. People say 'oh, you are a writer, don’t you get lonely being on your own' – lovely, lovely, I love being on my own all day, its great, I’ve got a cat, what do you want. Laughing :)
D: What tips can you give us to help be more sustainable?
C: I have 3 tips to start your sustainable fashion life because people think its difficult but its easy.
1. You need to think about wasting less. If you have decided there is stuff in your wardrobe you don’t want to keep, don’t ever put it in the bin. Don’t mindlessly give it to a charity shop either; really think where you are going to donate it. Or if you could swap it. Or give it to a friend. Or if it’s more appropriate, sell it on.
2. Do you have to own it? The future of fashion may well be rental access over ownership.
3. People are always saying ‘Ah, no, is fast fashion bad? Is this fashion good? What do we do? It is quite hard if you are not up for a massive education, the simplest thing you can do is look for local designers, they don’t have to be emerging, they could be anyone. But a local designer who talks about their sustainability credentials, if you like and support them.
Clare is wearing
Shot 1. Gold lace dress by Macgraw.
Shot 2. All thrifted, Isa Afren bustier from Traid over a shirt from Oxfam with jeans from Australian charity shop Vinnies.
Shot 3 & 5. Kalaurie shirt, Bianca Spender trousers, Christie Nicolaides earrings and Veja trainers.
Shot 4. Cream skirt with poppies from Oxfam, shirt from Danish brand Selected's Responsibly Crafted range.