Model Emma Hakansson Is Taking A Stand Against Brands With Bad Ethics

by: Lucy Jones | 2 months ago | Features

Emma Hakansson and her pet lamb Williow. 

Emma Hakansson is trying to change the fashion industry from the ground up. For the past year, the animal rights activist has worked exclusively with ethical and sustainable brands. By supporting brands that are doing good when she models (and shops), Hakansson believes that she is voting for a kinder future.

Hakansson has always wanted to make the world a better place and that's exactly what she's doing through her newly launched ethical production agency Willow Creative Co. The company is named after the first lamb that Hakansson fostered and it helps brands and businesses improve their ethics, whether that means shooting a new campaign or updating their packaging.

For something to be ethical, Hakansson believes that it must be good for animals, people and the planet.

"The bottom line for me is ethical fashion is fashion that places wellbeing over aesthetics," she explains. "It doesn’t matter how pretty something is, it’s not pretty if it hurt to get it that way."

We caught up with the model/model citizen to chat about how she turned her values into a full-time job.

Lucy Jones: Who are you and what do you 'do'?
Emma Hakansson: I’m Emma, aka @hakamme, and I do a lot of different things. I have a business called Willow, I’m a model, I’m a producer, I write, I make art (when I’m in the right headspace) and I watch too many TV show repeats.

How did you initially get into modelling?
I don’t have an especially interesting story! When I was younger, about 14, I decided I wanted to be a model so I went to some agency sites, sent in some pictures, had some meetings, with my then unsure Mama, and got signed. 

You only model for ethical and sustainable brands, which is amazing! Can you tell us how you came to model for responsible brands exclusively?
I started to become more ‘ethically minded’ a few years ago, first by becoming vegan, for the animals, and then for the environment too. Down the track a bit, I watched ‘The True Cost’ and learned more about the fashion industry in terms of mass mistreatment of people. 

The more I learnt, the stronger my personal sense of right and wrong became and the less comfortable I became working as a model in the way I was. Restricting what products and brands I would model for made working much more difficult, and around the same time I was dropped by my Sydney agency. I panicked for a few hours before a photographer I had messaged on Instagram (hustle) booked me directly for a big vegan hair brand’s campaign.

At that point I realised I could do this myself and work only in the ethical sphere if I built the right network. Now I’ve worked that way, only for ethical — I see that word as arching over treatment of people, animals and the planet — brands since about March. I’ve had some slip-ups — done some jobs where I’ve not made my position clear enough and ended up wearing things I didn’t want to — but each of those times helped me get to where I am now, where I’m very clear about what I will and won’t do.

Can you tell us a little bit about your project Willow Creative Co?
Willow Creative Co (named after Willow, the first lamb I fostered) is two things: a production agency working exclusively with ethical brands, and a company that works with brands and businesses to help them become more ethical through consultancy and collaboration. So shooting content for ethical brands, and also talking to brands about alternative materials, packaging types, etcetera, that are better for people, the planet and animals. Hopefully it will shed more light on brands doing wonderful things and help others become kinder!

Where did the idea for that company come from?
I’d always known I didn’t want to just model, and that I wanted to help make the world kinder. Originally, I was going to be doing Global Studies, and potentially Law too, at Uni this year. After working for a few months modelling with brands I believed in, I started to become more involved with the creative direction side of things, which I really enjoyed. I started also doing some social media work for a social enterprise called She’s A Crowd — it’s fab and important. I think the combination of getting more creative again and working on things I felt were important helped me realise what I cared about most and what I could do best to make the world a better place, that’s Willow. 

What does 'ethical fashion' mean to you?
It means a lot of different things. The simplest rule for me is that it has to be vegan fashion. It also means the people involved in making my clothes are treated well. Fashion Revolution’s #WhoMadeMyClothes opened my eyes a lot in regards to this issue. And now, resources like Baptist World Aid’s ‘Ethical Fashion Guide’ and Ethical Clothing Australia’s accreditation list are a bit like my fashion bibles.

I also think it’s really important for fashion to be working to be sustainable for it to be ethical, which, for a while, meant I felt okay with using upcycled or vintage animal ‘materials’. Though I don’t agree with that anymore, as I think it perpetuates the idea that animals are commodities — it’s been a big thinking journey! 

How would you describe your personal style?
I think I go between a few different styles based on a few different energies I move between. One is very clean and sleek, one is a little punk/goth inspired, and one is a little bohemian. There are some others too and I like mashing them up. 

How do you minimise the environmental footprint of your own wardrobe?
By wearing clothes I know I love and will keep loving for a long time (no throwing away), by caring for and mending my clothes, by wearing clothes made by brands who are conscious of the materials and processes they use, by wearing clothes made from deadstock/upcycled materials, and by wearing some vintage.

Why is boycotting brands with bad ethics so important to you?
Because I don’t think any big changes in society ever came directly from the people in power, but from the ground up. We as consumers vote with our dollar and that is incredibly powerful. 

How have these ideas affected the way you shop?
It means that I consume consciously — I think and research before I buy and support. It also means that while I think vintage shopping is the most ethical and sustainable way to dress, I focus more on supporting brands that are working to produce ethically now. I think that way I’m ‘voting’ for a kinder fashion future, like I said. 

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Look how sweet, how loving everyone you see here is. Every one of these animals was going to be killed, purely for human greed. (Except Brendan and his other peacock pals - wildlife rescues) Strongheart (and his friends including the bubs) were going to be killed because people eat dairy products. He is a male and cannot lactate so is considered ‘wastage’. Elira I rescued just a month before she was to be killed for meat, and her skin likely would‘ve been sold for leather (as most cows killed for their flesh are also exploited for their skin) Woody would‘ve been gassed to death (RSPCA approved method) and eaten as bacon, ham, salami, sausage, pork. Mary the broiler chicken was to have her throat slit so people could eat her flesh William and Pip (the blind bub) the ducks would‘ve been killed and eaten. Rosie the dog would‘ve been abandoned if she wasn’t adopted. When his rescuers found Yowie, eye was almost hanging out of its socket. Neglected, eventually to be killed so people could eat him. Willow, like all the sheep in these captures would either have been killed at ~9 months old for meat, or shorn for her wool for about 5 years before she was killed for meat too (more financially viable). People also would use the lanolin oil from her wool for cosmetics. The goats too would‘ve been killed so people could eat them. The alpacas, including Moby, would’ve been killed like sheep are when they are no longer financially viable - producing their ‘wool’ to lesser quality as they age, if they’d gotten injured or sick, etc. Holly the turkey would‘ve been killed so people could eat her, especially at Christmas and Thanksgiving. These are not even all the ways we abuse and harm animals - needlessly. We do need need any products from animals and in fact we harm ourselves and the planet by consuming them. Please, genuinely begging anyone who is not vegan to go to @veganeasy and learn more, and for others to encourage people to do so! It’s not pushy or wrong to talk about being vegan, it’s pushy and wrong to choose your own pleasure and want over someone’s life.

A post shared by Emma Håkansson (@hakamme) on Nov 20, 2018 at 2:06am PST

Do you think cruelty-free products should be the norm?
Absolutely. 

If you could change one thing about the fashion industry what would it be?
There would be no more clothes made of or from animals. Animal agriculture is responsible for so much death and destruction, and not just of animals.

Can you tell us a little bit about your work as an animal rights activist?
I work a fair bit with Animal Liberation Victoria. They do a lot of great things around promoting veganism, investigating animal agriculture and showing the public the realities of it, and saving lives. Probably the most simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming part of what I do with them  — which a lot of people do a lot more of than me, I know a lot of dedicated and strong activists — is animal rescue and fostering. That’s how Willow came into my life! 

Have you always been passionate about animal rights and environmental conservation?
I always called myself an animal lover and I remember writing angrily about the government dredging a bay and why that was bad for the ocean in Year Three. But for ages I didn’t actually follow through with any of those feelings or thoughts. I used to eat an enormous amount of meat and animal products and didn’t think at all about the way I consumed. I think it takes a lot of exposure to ‘new’ concepts like veganism or sustainable living before they push past our conditioned ideologies and get to our hearts — sappy but true. 

What is one thing you'd like to see humans achieve in your lifetime?
I’m greedy and want a lot more than one thing, haha! But something I think I realistically really could see in my lifetime is leather being shunned and banned on as large a scale as fur. 

What are you excited about at the moment?
Launching Willow! 

What's your life motto?
It is never wrong to choose kindness.

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