While she was in New York, Angela set up the Collage Foundation in 2005 — a non-profit educational initiative advocating environmental awareness and positive change — and a couple of years later, Clean by Design — an initiative to revolutionise the textile industry in China. Here she discusses how the spiritual can inspire the sustainable.
Can one person make a difference?
That’s been a big part of my journey. When I was about 20 I started the Collage Foundation, and my vision was similar to yours. I wanted to bring people and organisations together; share information and stimulate awareness, provide solutions, and inspire people through pop culture and media.
I was so blown away when I started discovering what was going on in the world, and in some ways I got anxious about the environment. But then my life crumbled. My sister died, I went through a divorce, and I realised here I am trying to solve the world’s problems, and I need to heal myself.
So that’s when my real journey began. And now I believe that self-care is what will heal the planet. By us healing ourselves and becoming more in tune to who we really are, then we’ll make conscious decisions. We will want to serve others. We will want to surround ourselves with beauty and light.
Because until you love yourself, you can’t love other people and project good vibes onto the world?
Absolutely. And when you really start on a spiritual journey of self-healing, you are confronted with your shadow side; and in some ways you have to feel it to heal it — and you have to confront it. But it also has to be with non-judgment, because we constantly self-hate. We constantly beat ourselves up, but it’s our minds and our feelings which create our world and reality. When we can start attuning our thoughts and feelings with those of inspiration, light, abundance and gratitude, then we can start cultivating that in our lives.
How did you become interested in sustainability? Was it part of how you grew up?
I grew up in nature. I grew up catching butterflies and grasshoppers and frogs, just living in a natural environment. My mom is a huge inspiration: She taught me about home birth, natural healing, massage, and meditation. So I was aware of all that, and I just thought the world was fine. But when I moved to New York, I started looking at things, like, ‘Where does our trash go?’ Alot of it started with food because I was looking at what was on the label, at the ingredients of things I was drinking and eating, and asking, ‘What is “red 40” and “blue 42”? What is this?’
People know more about their favourite celebrity than they know about what’s going on in their planet.
It was before the big computer age that we’ve experienced in our lifetime. Well, we had computers, but they were slow. I started researching and I was just blown away by the information I was getting, and I was shocked that this information was not on the front page of our newspapers. We are in a situation where we need to take action, and yet people know more about their favourite celebrity than they know about what’s going on in their planet. People are tuning out, you know? Maybe because they’re overwhelmed, or it’s too painful — I don’t know. That’s when I was really, really just inspired. I started researching organisations that were
If you feel attacked, you don’t feel invited to be part of the change.
I was working in the fashion industry where a new bag became a trend like wildfire, and I realised that a lot of activists weren’t reaching the masses, and part of it was because they were chaining themselves to trees and pointing the finger. If you feel attacked, you don’t feel invited to be part of the change. But don’t get me wrong, I respect the people that chained themselves to trees, for sure but I was just in an extreme dichotomy of the entertainment-fashion industry and this kind of natural approach to life. And I thought, ‘These are so far from each other, how can we merge the two?’, and that’s where my idea for the Collage Foundation came. The idea was, ‘Let’s make a magazine that’s pop culture and media, that’s fluorescent and colourful, and that’s inspiring.’
At Ever Manifesto we believe ethical production and sustainability are driven by science and innovation. It’s forward thinking and desirable. Yet often it much of the fashion industry still communicate ‘sustainability’ with that ‘granola’ image. The industry’s imagination needs to catch up with these new kinds of creativity thinking.
That was my vision with Collage. I had this whole eco-fashion show when I was young and naïve, and people would try to take my ideas out from under me. But then they would miss the whole point of engaging with the people that I had access to, and they made it all grain and granola. And I’m like, ‘You guys, this is not what we’re trying to do!’
Instead, we are looking at a much bigger picture. It has to do with money and power. I hate to say it, but a lot of the fashion industry is very bourgeois; when it comes to people’s pockets, and their money, are they going to turn around the ship that’s in a very narrow canal? It’s very hard to turn that ship around.
Yet, I’m still very optimistic because I say, ‘OK, if you’re a big oil mogul or you’re the person who owns the big company that’s making all the money, then you have the resources to invest into the new technologies, and then you will continue to make money based on the new technologies’.
What are the things that you feel you could be better at?
Well, one of my challenges is that I’m a yogi, but then I smoke cigarettes. Yet, I guess a lot of my challenges come from leaving this space, home. Because here I am able to have access to things that I need but if I take a road trip across America, it’s very hard to just find good food. The organic food movement is really interesting. At home, I do a lot of growing, and I was part of a community-supported agricultural initiative in upstate New York. And through watching the process of food, it’s so metaphorical to life, because you start by cultivating the land, and then planting a seed, and then nourishing the seed with water and light, and then it grows. Over time, with patience, you receive the fruit, and that’s so beautiful for all of our ideas and aspirations. I think that with food, as everybody needs it, and we are what we eat — is a great model for many different movements — whether in technology, or architecture or sustainable fashion.
You’ve dedicated a lot of personal time and energy, and you’ve been fortunate to have the resources and access to knowledge to do so. Yet, say I’m an average Sven in Sweden; what kind of advice would you give, or what’s your perspective on how someone that's not from privileged background could have better awareness and access to sustainable solutions?
It’s not about all obtaining material things, I think it’s about education. Say with food, for example, it’s about learning how to prepare certain types of food. My farmer box, a huge box full of local organic produce, comes every week and costs 50 bucks – and it’s enough to feed a family of four. So it’s about knowing how to prepare that. And I guarantee, especially if you buy bulk, organic grains and fresh produce, you’ll probably spend less than if you’re filling up your cart with sodas, chips and all this crap that your body doesn’t need.
But I am so disgusted by my closet right now; I have too many clothes. I don’t even wear half of them. And you know what, if I was to just invest into two weeks’ worth of clothes that I rotate every week, which mix and match, are high quality and made from natural fibres – that’s 14 pieces of clothes as opposed to 60. And they’re things that I love that last and are well made. So I think it’s about evaluating what it is that you need.
How many times have you gone and splurged and bought seven shirts and in that moment you’re like, ‘I love this! I love this!’, and then when you get it home you’re like, ‘I don’t really like this’, and you never wear it?”
Editing our lives, basically.
Yeah, we’re filling our lives with a lot of stuff that we don’t need. You could buy a crappy plastic table, and it’s going to break, so you’ll have to buy another one, and another one — and it’s going to go to a landfill. Or maybe you go to an antique store, or even a thrift store, and buy a well-made wood table that you’ll have for the next 50 years. So I think it’s about really decluttering our lives. I think that’s such a liberating thing to just clear and let go, and only have those things that you really need. I’m sure women can relate: how many times have you gone and splurged buying, like, seven shirts and in that moment you’re like, ‘I love this! I love this!’ and then when you get it home you’re like, ‘I don’t really like this’, and you never wear it?
What do you believe to be the biggest luxury in life?
I have learned that the biggest luxury for me in life is time. I would rather have time than a lot more money. That’s a whole other thing: What about the single mum who’s also working a job? How does she have time to cook when she gets home? That’s where community comes in: hook up with two other single mums on a Friday night open a bottle of wine, and cook big pots of brown rice, beans, and all your grains so that they are already made. Keep them stored in the refrigerator so then in the morning, you crack an egg, you throw a thing of brown rice in, you cut open an avocado – done. Maybe that was quicker than throwing your Pop Tart in the microwave for a minute.
Community is a really interesting thing. Say with, Lafcadio Cortese from the Rainforest Action Network, he and all his friends live in the same community in Berkeley, and they have one lawnmower between ten of them.
That’s smart. If you look at all our ancestors, we lived in communities, and all the women would come together. Also if you want to grow your own food, it’s a lot to tend to a garden all by yourself, but if you have five families all working on it together then that produces a lot of food.