Next up for PALA Meets is a cosy chat with Francesca Willow, the writer behind eco-conscious blog Ethical Unicorn.
Her blog covers a range of areas, from ethical fashion, beauty and lifestyle, to social justice and positive body image and aims to inspire readers to live a more conscious, informed lifestyle. We spoke to Fran on the launch of our new two-toned matt black Asha sunglasses, our first pair in the range to be made from recycled acetate used in the production of other eyewear.
Francesca, lovely to meet you, thanks for chatting with us. Can you tell us what led you on the path to writing about sustainable living?
In terms of fashion I was already fairly sustainable; as I was a student with very little money I was almost exclusively shopping in charity shops from around the age of 16. However, I became more conscious overall in 2016 when some friends decided to go waste-free. They created a Facebook group to chart their progress and to share ideas which I ended up being part of. Having never heard of zero waste I thought it was great, and decided to get involved myself. At the same time I had a friend working in PR was representing quite a few cruelty-free and ethical brands; I started thinking about how all these issues link together but I couldn’t find anyone in the UK talking about them all in one place. I decided to be that person and started Ethical Unicorn 3 days later. I didn’t really think about it or have a strategy, I just started. After running the blog for a while I decided to start incorporating the social justice work and cultural theory I’d studied, and people responded really well to that. So I opened the blog up to what it is today.
And what does sustainability mean to you?
I think sustainability can be lots of different things, it doesn’t look the same for every person, but to me it’s about balancing how we care for our planet and the people who share it. A large part of sustainability is protecting the environment, but I also think it looks like protecting our health as a society, making sure no people or areas of life suffer, and asking how we can do better. It’s why I also think social justice is so important, because to me it’s all intertwined in trying to move the world forward in a positive direction.
As well as a writer, you are also an artist. How do you think your passion for sustainable living and social justice influences your work as an artist?
Nearly all of the art/performance work I’ve done has been interested in social justice in some way, mainly looking at topics that I have more experience with like feminism, mental health and body image. I think a lot artists see their work as somewhat political, especially when you’re a woman because, even though I have a lot more privilege than most people, you’re often very aware of the way things may be currently skewed in society. A lot of the social justice topics that I write about are things that I studied during my MA research, so the influence actually goes the other way a lot more, but I definitely incorporate sustainability more into how I approach my art life too. Like, where will I source my materials, what is the most sustainable way to travel (we toured most of Europe last year by train!), and where will I source costume? As well as how can I be inclusive, how can I make sure I acknowledge my privilege and elevate the voices of others? Those kinds of things are all factors.
You’ve published some fantastic tips on the blog for those of us just setting out on the path to a more ethical lifestyle. Can you share your top three with us?
- Go slowly! Don’t try and change overnight. Start with one thing, something small like switching your toothbrush, and give yourself time to get used that that. Once that feels normal, then try adding another switch. It’s much easier to stick with things over time if you don’t overwhelm yourself, especially as when things start to run out you can find an ethical alternative as and when. Use up what you have first and go little by little.
- People often ask me where to buy a sustainable version of all types of things (most recently someone asked about tents!) but don’t discount the fact that secondhand is an important option, as you keep things out of landfill and use what already exists. Try looking on ebay, gumtree and even facebook marketplace, you’ll be surprised what you can find.
- Try to change your perspective. Things like ethical fashion might be more expensive, but it actually makes more sense because everyone in the supply chain is properly paid, whereas fast fashion companies put much higher markups on clothes that cost almost nothing to make – so they’re actually fleecing you more. Also, buying one expensive thing that’s going to last much much longer does eventually end up saving you money, yo just have to be ok with making the investment first.
You’ve written that you believe that true change requires a combination of consumer choice, intersectional collective action and policy change. Beyond making more conscious choices as consumers, what more can we do to effect the big changes you’re referring to?
I think firstly it’s important to read up and learn about intersectionality theory. I did write a blog post about it here, but I would also recommend looking into the work of Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who coined the term. By understanding the privileges we do and don’t have, it helps us to make sure we’re advocating for all types of people, not just those who look like us. I think of collective action as playing our part in supporting movements that may not relate to us directly but are incredibly important such as Black Lives Matter, March for our Lives, fighting Islamophobia, and supporting LGBTQ+ folks in our communities. It could also look like being quiet and taking time to listen to minority voices, speaking up when we hear hate speech, or asking our workplaces to be more inclusive and have policies in place to protect staff. When it comes to policy change everyone will have different opinions, but try learning about your local representative and where they stand on things like the environment, healthcare, clean energy and keeping corporations accountable. When they hold local events go down and speak to them if you can. Open a dialogue so they can represent their constituents, and contact them when you’re not happy about certain policy choices.
You blog regularly and you cover a broad range of topics, from ethical pensions to fighting food waste and to cultural appropriation. How do you choose what to write about and what subjects do you still want to cover?
I honestly just have a long running list of things I’m interested in, and I’m interested in a lot! Every time an idea pops into my head I’ll write it down to go back to later, which means that alongside any of the work I get to do with conscious companies and people leading amazing initiatives, I also have a lot of my own ideas to explore and share too, which hopefully makes for a nice balance.