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We can’t create a fair fashion world without a lot of passionate people working in the industry. In ‘Fair Fashion Pioneers’ we will interview brand owners, agents, designers and other inspiring people about what thrives them to do this work and how they try to contribute to a better world. 

This week we meet up with Karen Fleischmann. After her modeling career she decided to take a different path and become a sustainable fashion advocate. Having experienced the industry from the inside it gave her purpose to do her part. She is also actively taking part in the organization of Gwand, a sustainable fashion festival in Lucerne. 

What is it like to be a model behind the glitter and limelight?  

I started at the glorious time of fashion when models were treated and paid very well. Then after 10 years, everything changed dramatically. The market was saturated.
4 years ago I was in Mumbai, and I got furious when the first time my salary was questioned. I was about to quit this job. But I found an exciting way to take a new direction. I was living in a mansion with many models and we taught ourselves how social media works. Some of us got out of the modeling business and became full-time influencers.

Four years ago you became a sustainable fashion advocate. Looking back what would you consider as being the turning point?

I think it’s when I decided to come back to my roots and not travel that much anymore. In Switzerland, the model industry is tiny. I did some interviews with Swiss celebrities, and I met with the lady who was organizing Gwand festival back in the days in Lucerne. (Gwand is a sustainable fashion festival in Lucerne that showcases new designers).

It’s after the first time we met for coffee I decided “yes, it’s time to do it.” This was the turning point! When people get together and share similar ideas, vibrant energy is in the room, and I could sense it was going to become something more significant, I felt passionate about that cause.

What did it change in your life?

I always wanted to be a model but quickly I realized that modeling is very repetitive. I started experiencing a certain emptiness.


It wasn’t enough for me, I didn’t feel fulfilled. I was seeking happiness through consumerism and material possessions and I progressively learned how to listen to the inside instead of the outside. 
And I’m very happy that social media is so strong nowadays. I am not only a model with a body and a face but I also have a voice! 

Most influencers don’t care what they are influencing about. They take everything they want and get. I realized that more clothes didn't make me happy. Fighting for a cause that I believe in is on a long run so much more fulfilling. I also want to create a sense of urgency; if we continue at this pace we won't be here for too long!

 
How does a typical day for an influencer look like? 

It’s like having your own company. You work with your favorite photographer, with your favorite makeup artist, stylist … Every 2 weeks, I organize shootings, with the brands that I want to collaborate with so I can regularly post about sustainable fashion on my social media channels. I also get to talk during some events. I think it’s the most beautiful part, to spread the awareness, connect with like-minded people and team up for some exciting new projects!

 

Karen Fleischmann


Working with sustainable labels is challenging! What are the main challenges you need to overcome as an influencer?

The primary challenge is earning money with it. Mostly young sustainable labels don't have the budget for marketing. There are ways to do free marketing, this is how I started, and I still do sometimes if it’s a sustainable label and they really can’t pay I like to find ways to support. My goal is to work with sustainable brands fully. But nowadays it is still tricky. I set my limits tho.

For example, H&M contacted me to work with them for their conscious line, I had to say no. They are still the worst, and they don’t do enough. Especially their conscious range is very close to greenwashing.

  

What advice would you give to someone who wants to shop more consciously but doesn't know where to start?

Online: definitely shop on thegreenlabels.com! I love the shop as it provides a clear transparency framework that helps to make informed decisions.
I would also recommend to try and find a stylist as they have the knowledge of all the labels.

What do you think sustainable fashion is missing to become mainstream? 

It should be part of the normal fashion industry, not two different industries like it is now! 
Big companies need to jump on the train. Companies like Zara and H&M need to go one step further than creating “conscious lines” which is actually greenwashing. H&M has set some objectives for 2040, but it is too little and too late! They do not want to change, as change implies losing money. 

Fashion Revolution created such a tremendous momentum in such a short time! I believe that H&M could end up like McDonald's, a certain hype has been reached, and the public starts to understand the truth. When it comes to big players, I believe in C&A. They are taking the lead in the industry with their circular t-shirt initiative.


Thank you, Karen! Was lovely talking to you. 

You can shop the suit Karen is wearing here. 
Interview by Claudia Angeli and pictures by Karen Fleischmann