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Meet Renee Peters, the Wilhelmina Model who Went Green
07-20-16 By Leora Herman
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Renee Peters. Photo via model4greenliving.com

Renee Peters is not your typical fashion model. After five years working in the industry for one of the top agencies in the world, Wilhelmina, Peters felt that she needed to make a change in her life–one that would not only lead to self-improvement but also better the world around her. Slowly but surely, she gave up fast fashion in favor of an eco-friendly, vegan and sustainable lifestyle.

Now, she runs her own website and blog, model4greenliving.com, that teaches others how to maintain this mindful way of life and the benefits of doing so. We asked Peters about her successes and struggles with conscious living, and how her day job has impacted her journey toward going green.

What are some of your favorite ethical clothing brands?
My favorites include both ethical and sustainable brands. For clothing I love: Amour Vert, Bassike, Elizabeth Suzann, Kowtow, Mara Hoffman, Reformation, Stella McCartney, Study NY and Zady. For accessories and shoes, I love: Angela Roi, Coclico, Cuyana, Freedom of Animals, Rachel Comey and Veja.

What was hardest about going green?
The hardest thing about going completely green has been doing it while being a member of the fashion industry and wanting to express my personal style. As a model and someone who really loves the art of fashion, it has been hard not shopping from mainstream designers. I have to work harder at curating my own look because I am doing it from a much smaller pool than most. There just aren’t very many sustainable designers available that fit my aesthetic. At least for now. I will say that it gets easier every season as I continue to curate pieces that I love.

How long did the process of going green take you? Did it evolve over a number of years or did you wake up one day and decide to do it?
Going green has been a six-year journey for me and it doesn’t seem overwhelming because it is something I approach one decision at a time. Living green is a constant process, as is life. Interests and needs change throughout our lives, so trying to adapt from one way of life to another overnight isn’t the best option.

For me, it is about making the best choice from the options I have. I have been successful at implementing sustainability in my life because I build upon every day. Slowly but surely, all of the choices I have made have become more and more green and subsequently, so has my life.

How has being a model helped you in your mission to go green and educate others? How has it hindered you?
From my experience it hasn’t really hindered me. On the contrary, it has given more of a platform. The fashion industry is hugely influential. From advertising to social media and everything in between, it permeates our daily lives. Being a model from this industry therefore gives you influence and access to media that doesn’t exist for most people. I have found that people are willing to hear what I have to say as a model who otherwise might not care or give my issues the time of day.


Peters carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. Photo for Psychology Today via Peters' Instagram.

Have you experienced any backlash from people in the fashion industry? 
In my experience, I haven’t received backlash. I work on a level that is close to the artists, not the corporations. I approach my lifestyle and the way I interact with others always from a place of compassion. As a result, I have been met with curiosity and excitement by my peers.

That isn’t to say that big fashion corporations and advertising agencies haven’t turned me down for work, because I would never know. As a model you only know about jobs you confirm, not ones you don’t book.

Do you ever see yourself starting your own line of ethical and sustainable fashion?
I’m not sure if I could ever create my own line, as I am not so much an artist or designer but more a scientist and activist. I would, however, love to work with designers as a consultant and help create sustainable fashion one day! The fashion industry is in desperate need of sustainable innovation and I would happily take part in that.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone who is just starting on their sustainable lifestyle journey?
Take it one step at a time and don’t be hard on yourself. Approach the transition as something fun and exciting because it really can be if you approach it with a positive attitude. Don’t try and change overnight or throw away all of the unsustainable things you already own. Instead, use the things you have until they are completely worn out and you need to replace them. When you do replace them, go with the sustainable option.

For something more immediate, always carry a reusable bag. Plastic bags are a horrible waste and very bad for our environment. Carrying a reusable tote every day insures that you won’t need to choose plastic for whatever it is you may buy.

You write a lot of reviews on books about sustainable living. What book would you recommend to someone who wants a basic introduction to the topic?
Thrive: An environmentally conscious lifestyle guide to better health and true wealth is a great resource for anyone looking for practical tips on going green and living more sustainably. The author, K. Chayne, and I are both members of the Ethical Writers’ Coalition, which is also a wonderful resource for anyone looking to learn more.

How has your style change since you decided to stop wearing fast fashion?
My style has evolved a lot. My wardrobe is much more curated and reflective of my personal aesthetic now, where it used to be constantly changing to keep up with the trends. I have also become much more resourceful as a shopper. If I can’t find what I like from sustainable designers, I love going to second hand and consignment shops to find what I need. Overall I feel much more confident and excited about the clothing I wear because each piece is carefully considered and are also things I feel morally good about wearing.

Leora Herman is an editorial intern at Ethica. She is studying Psychology at Columbia University and Modern Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.