Summer Rayne Oakes, dubbed the world’s first “Eco-Model,” utilizes her scientific and environmental backgrounds to spread the word about sustainability through her presence in fashion and media. In addition to modeling, Oakes also plays television host, designer of an environmentally-friendly shoe line, and most recently editor of ABOVE magazine. Here, the style chameleon shares her creeds on living a sustainable lifestyle and provides some insight on how we can take small steps in lessening our own carbon footprints.
SC: First things first– where do you shop? Do you have a secret store?
SRO: Catbird (Brooklyn) for fairytale jewelry from Rabid Fox & Cloven Hoof; Linhardt Design (New York) for whimsical and organic creations made from metal, horn, and wood; Moon River Chattel (Brooklyn) for refurbished furniture, picture books, and turn-of-the-century memorabilia; and, of course, Sodafine, Amarcord, Kaight, Pinky Otto (all New York), and Portobello Road (UK)– where I can always count on well-curated vintage and eco-fashion finds.
SC: How would you describe your style in one sentence?
SRO: On a normal day– geek chic and consciously cool meets Native Americana.
SC: As a scientist, how did you get started in modeling?
SRO: I literally decided to hop on a bus one day from Cornell in upstate New York and meet people whod sit and listen to me. Then I helped with a sustainable development and design art project called Organic Portraits. Thats how it really began. I wasnt afraid then to do something different and Im sure as hell not afraid to do it now.
SC: How do you live out environmentally-friendly practices in your everyday life?
SRO: I practice what I put forth. I take public transportation or walk everywhere– thats a big one. I also help out on carbon sequestration and poverty relief programs through the Mezimbite Forest Centre in Mozambique, so my calculated carbon emissions are planted in the form of trees and part-time jobs for the local community.
Food-wise, Im not a totally dedicated-macrobiotic eater, but I can say it is principally my diet. I hate plastic bottles. I mean hate them, but I, like so many of us, still drink out of them. However, I carry my Earthlust bottle everywhere now. And there are the obvious ones– recycling, and purchasing durable, ethically-made clothes. The best part of my life is seeing other peoples lives improve and minds change due to my actions.
SC: How does working in the fashion industry help you to spread the word about being green?
SRO: The clothes that are made for us to wear can positively or negatively affect our environment and inevitably our health through its production, use, and disposal. Its such a great medium to communicate a vision and a more deeply personal message. Its been life-changing to be able to combine my environmental work with my work in fashion. Fashion and ecology were at one point two very unlikely bedfellows, but Id like to think in some small way I have helped make them a congenial couple.
SC: What is the ultimate item on your wish list this season?
SRO: Given my unorthodox delectation towards insects, I would love to purchase a bright Buprestid with brass gears. In a more conventional line of tastes– a custom silk and beaded dress by Carasan, a coat by Cecilia Hammarborg, a parachute jacket by Christopher Raeburn, and hats by Behida Dolic and Ryan Wilde.
SC: Who are your favorite designers?
SRO: Camilla Norrback, John Patrick, Vika Gazinskaya, Ada Zanditon, Manish Arora, the girls over at Ekovaruhuset, Leila Hafzi Study, Redley Exantus, Ajna, Henrik Vibskov, Bernhard Willhelm– my tastes vary wildly depending on occasion and mood.
SC: If you could swap closets with anyone, who would it be?
SRO: Dita von Teese (only her dresses, not her lingerie– thatd be kinda gross)– and I would definitely raid the closets of stylists Patti Wilson and Camilla Nickerson.
SC: What are your favorite online destinations?
SRO: I like the-v-store.com, and fashion-conscience.com. I just did a t-shirt collaboration with EDUN Live and yoox.com recently, and totally started digging the yoox.com site– especially their selection of Stella McCartney shoes. I am a fan of etsy.com for oddities and rarities on the jewelry front, and betterworldbooks.com for good reads.
SC: If you had a time machine, which style era would you visit first?
SRO: I would cross the boundaries of space and time to visit the Mwenemutapa peoples (now Zimbabwe) across the span of 1000AD to 1520, just after Portuguese contact. The kingdoms territory ranged from Zambezi to Limpopo and was incredibly cosmopolitan. It was a distinctly African empire under African culture and rule and was partially influenced by the trade and craft of the Chinese, Persians, and Indians. I think it would be a remarkable moment in time to see.
SC: If you could get personal fashion advice from one person, living or dead, who would it be?
SRO: Queen Rania, Maya Deren, Coco Chanel, Grace Jones, Janelle Mone, and Dita von Teese.
SC: Tell us about the five pieces you find yourself buying, wearing, and replacing over and over again.
SRO: I dont really replace what I buy and wear. I buy what I love so I tend to keep it around. However, I always seem to be cycling through my current collection of accessories– scarves, rings, necklaces, hats, and heels. Those are the items that can change the look of any outfit.
SC: How much is too much to spend on a pair of shoes?
SRO: There are two items I never skimp on– shoes and bedding– because Im either in one or the other. Not ironically, those are the two areas Im working on right now with Payless (zoe&zac) and Portico Home.
SC: Who is your style soulmate?
SRO: The love child of Pocahontas and Audrey Hepburn.
SC: Its your Final Supper– who’s there and what meal do you ask for?
SRO: It would be a large meal with everyone who has touched my life. Special guests would include Martin Heidegger, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Richard Branson, Maya Deren, Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, and great friends– it would be a large collection of dreamers, thinkers, and doers.
SC: Did you go to Prom? What did you wear?
SRO: Ugh prom. So lame. Please dont bring back those demons from Pandoras high school days.
SC: What theme song best describes your life?
SRO: Ironically (or maybe not ironically), Summer Rain by U2.
SC: What inspires you?
SRO: The incredible strength of human will, the ingenious design and organization of our natural environment, and the concept of earth as a whole organism.
SC: Best city to shop?
SRO: Quite honestly? New York City and Brooklyn. But, I love Scandinavian designers and the vintage scene in London.
SC: Is there a movie character you most identify with?
SRO: Wonder Woman.
SC: How would your best friend describe you?
SRO: My two dear friends so described my mien as inspiration incarnate and full of energy, confidence, determination, and grace. I might agree with all of the aforementioned attributes except for the grace part.
SC: Whats playing on your iPod right now?
SRO: I still dont have an iPod. But I have a bit of Cat Power, The XX, Zoe Keating, Bach, Amos Lee, Ray Charles, Sly & the Family Stone, Ray LaMontagne, and Mazzy Star on my iTunes.
SC: Do you have a signature recipe? If so, can you share it with us?
SRO: I love to cook and have been cooking for myself since I was 12 years old. I make a number of good party or snack dishes in particular. One just requires Endive, a creamy, spreadable goat cheese, red seedless grapes, and a little bit of agave nectar. Wash the endive, break off a leaf, spread a little goat cheese on top, slice a grape in half, and drizzle a little agave nectar on top. Voila! Its cool, crisp, sweet, and delicious.
SRO: I grew up with five television channels and then pretty soon after we got rid of our TV, so Ive been propitiously deficient in that arena.
SC: What are some of your favorite go-to green brands in beauty and fashion?
SRO: On the fashion front: Leila Hafzi, Linda Loudermilk, STUDY, Bodkin, John Patrick, Charmone, Deborah Lindquist, and Alabama Chanin. On the beauty front: Duchess Marden, Tarte, Pangea Organics, Miessence, Pure & True Skin Care, Jane Iredale, and Weleda– Sephora actually has a lot of those brands.
SC: If someone wants to volunteer time or money to a green organization, where is a good place for them to start?
SRO: My friend Rachael set up catchafire.org. It is an organization that matches your volunteer skills and interest with an appropriate organization– perfect way to start the process.
SC: Whats one informational source everyone should go to to learn more about the green movement?
SC: Whats next?
1. Source4style.com– a new company that Im starting with my long-time friend, Benita Singh. It’s a b-2-b online marketplace and information portal that gives designers the ability to search, compare, and purchase sustainable materials from a curated network of global suppliers.
2. I have just accepted an Editor-at-Large position with ABOVE Magazine. I believe ABOVE is the first and last magazine on earth to celebrate humans’ obsession with true natural beauty and everything we do to (ironically) destroy it.
3. Were closing in on our fifth season for zoe&zac, a new line of affordable, environmentally-preferable shoes for girls and women at Payless ShoeSource. This April, Ill be releasing my newest collaboration– two years in the making– with Portico Home, which includes the most luxurious, fashion-forward, environmentally-conscious bedding and bath lines.
4. Ill be helping Rainforest Action Network roll out their new campaign to save Indonesias last remaining forests from the paper pulp and palm oil industries.
SC: Words to live by?
SRO: Never forget where you came from. Never forget where you are going.
For more information on Summer Rayne Oakes, visit summerrayne.net.