Oh to have brains and beauty…
Lily Cole has just played Helen of Troy, the world’s most beautiful woman, on stage. But this actress, occasional model, designer, environmental campaigner and social network creator is proof that brains and beauty are not mutually exclusive.
Fiercely passionate about causes ranging from factory farming to fairtrade, Lily’s latest role is launching a collection of trainers with the French ecological shoe and accessory brand Veja, as part of her work as ambassador for Sky Rainforest Rescue – a partnership between Sky and WWF to help protect one billion trees in Brazil. We sat down with Lily to talk about her latest project, and how we could all do a bit more to help the environment:
G: Sky Rainforest Rescue has been running since 2009 – how do you feel you have impacted change since then?
Lily: I’m really excited and inspired by the direction that Sky Rainforest Rescue has taken in the last few years looking at the Amazonian Wild Rubber trade. I think if we keep exploring what products can be produced using wild rubber, and developing a consumer awareness around the concept, we could have real long term impact that supports local farmers on the ground to protect the rainforest.
Lily Cole: “Become a vegetarian to help the environment”
What else do you do in your everyday life to try and benefit the planet?
I’m by no means perfect!! But where possible simple things… Using a refillable bottle for tea / drinks when I can, shopping in local co-ops / buying organic as much as possible. I have a predominantly vegan diet and when I eat dairy I try and ensure it is organic/free range. I believe in the power of purchasing choices and so try and see where things I buy come from. I think asking the question about the stories behind things is central to driving change and in fact we are developing a platform as part of impossible.com that will sell products (including the Veja trainers) which tell their stories clearly and transparently. I’m trying to buy less, simplify my life style, and live more within the gift economy with friends and strangers.
Do you try and use organic/natural/eco beauty products?
Yes I have been using Dr Haushka creams recently (eye cream and rose face cream) and Eve Lom cleanser. Also The Body Shop products for skin care and tea tree as they are all community fair trade. I use natural ingredients like coconut oil on my skin where possible. I just bought Rose Elixir body cream from Neal’s Yard which is lovely!
Are you passionate about the effects of farming and its impact on the environment?
Yes though I don’t know enough. I would love to learn more about biodiversity and permaculture. I have been thinking about the need for us to do more organic and localized farming methods for many reasons: not just for my personal health, but the health of the planet. I have a dream one day of being able to grow a lot of the food I consume.
You’re a vegan – why did you decide to become one and what have been the benefits to your health? And what has been the worst thing about making the change?
I am an aspiring vegan… which means I have been trying to be but am not always as it isn’t always easy, and so I try and keep a balanced attitude when I can’t be. In my heart of hearts I know I want to be a vegan though, and am very happy when I manage to be. I am mostly concerned about factory farming of animals, and do not want to support or encourage that through using milk or eggs that comes from unknown sources. It’s not easy when traveling and I still have mixed feelings about eating honey or occasionally free range eggs.
What is the easiest thing a GLAMOUR reader can do to try and help the environment?/be more eco-friendly/socially aware?
Paul McCartney would say become a vegetarian! And there is intelligence behind that comment as meat farming contributes a significant amount of carbon dioxide (between 14 and 22 per cent) to the atmosphere (beyond the ethical considerations). Maybe become a vegetarian more often if that’s easier?! I would say really think about the power you have every time you buy something – you are voting for that system of doing things. That applies to food, clothes, everything. Ask questions.
Which designers/brands do you think are really trying to make a difference by being more eco friendly?
I am inspired to see there are many unknown designers emerging from college and working in this space… lots is being done at the university / college level and I will be excited to see what emerges from that. I admire Edun’s commitment to ethical sourcing, The Body Shop, I love Stella McCartney’s attitude. My friend Katherine and I have a knitwear brand The North Circular – we make hand made knitted items in the UK, and we name the makers!
Do you think young people are more, or less engaged in trying to get behind social causes? How can we try to encourage people?
I don’t know… NCS did a recent survey which suggested that they are more engaged and I would like to believe that is the case. Really it is the world young people are inheriting, and will be passing onto their own children, so I would hope so.
Do you think other models/celebrities have a responsibility to get behind social enterprises?
No, not at all. I am not involved with social enterprises because of my work in film and fashion, although I am grateful that my experiences in fashion taught me a lot about these issues, but simply because I care. I think anyone who cares has a responsibility to themselves to put that into practice in however small or big ways. And I would hope most people care.
Lily Cole: “Become a vegetarian to help the environment”
Tell us about your altruistic social network – Impossible.com.
It’s an investment in believing in people’s innate kindness. I started working on it several years ago after I had the idea with a friend to build a website that connected people to one another to offer skills and services for free. After having the idea I couldn’t let it go from my mind and I started researching what the gift economy is and means – how a non monetary economy builds relationships and community. Something I think is of huge social value, and really needed – especially in big cities. So now it exists as a website impossible.com and an iPhone App “impossible – giving network”.
You can post wishes of things you would like help with (advice, skills, objects etc) or that you want to offer the community. Then someone might grant your wish, or you can read and grant others… Saying thank you is the only currency per-se and everything is done for free. It is a very kind and positive community who are building and supporting one another, and that makes me happy to see! I have met some lovely and cool people through it – either fulfilling my wishes (for example, I have received help learning lines, or with manual driving lessons…) or me fulfilling theirs (such as letting someone use our piano, getting a homeless man a tent…) It is open to anyone.
We will start selling products on the platform next month – starting with the Veja trainers for Sky Rainforest Rescue amongst a few select others – which have very transparent stories behind them.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
I don’t look into the future in that way because I try and remain open to it surprising me, as it always has. But hopefully I will be living more authentically me, and it will involve creativity and nature.
What advice would you give the younger you?
Stop being so hard on yourself, remember to laugh, enjoy and trust in the journey you are going to go on!
You are currently playing Helen of Troy. Which other strong female characters would you like to play?
I would love to work on a Shakespearean character as I never have.
Who is your role model?
My mum and my sister both inspire me. Then spiritual leaders, or writers whose words speak the truth and touch me.
In many news articles/ interviews I’ve read about you, you are often described as “being as famous for her brains as her beauty” – how do you feel about this?
Well it’s nicer than being called ugly and dumb… but the subtext of the quote is “famous for having brains in spite of the fact that she is considered by many beautiful”… as if the one precludes the others. I also find it hard to associate with quotes about myself, or the idea that I am beautiful as if that is a fact. I know it’s an opinion not an absolute. Beauty is so subjective and culturally relative, and I believe in large part informed by the inner world of the person.
It’s been interesting playing Helen of Troy – “the most beautiful women in the world” – people see what they want to see with her – she reflects others projections – because there is arguably no singular global idea of what is most beautiful. We all have different ideas of “beauty”.