By Lauren Kearney
Actress and animal rights activist Nikki Reed first emerged on our screens in the semi-autobiographical indie film, Thirteen, which she co-wrote and starred in nearly ten years ago. Since then, she’s become an A-lister thanks to her role as vampire Rosalie Hale in The Twilight Saga franchise and her current role on Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. But it’s not just acting she’s been sinking her teeth into–what really makes Nikki Reed a star, at least in my eyes, is her passion for helping animals and the environment.
Since childhood, Nikki has been rescuing animals and today, together with her heart-throb actor husband Ian Somerhalder of the Vampire Diaries, she’s become a prominent voice in the animal rights and environmental movement, especially through her work on her husband’s animal NGO (the Somerhalder Foundation) and in her role as ambassador for the Humane Society of the United States.
Most recently, Nikki has also kept busy by designing a vegan, eco-friendly handbag collection with renowned cruelty-free brand Freedom of Animals.
Here, in this exclusive Eluxe interview, Nikki talks animal rights, the environment, and sustainable fashion.
Every day, I learn something new, causing me to dig deeper into my soul, as I figure out what fuels me my passion for animal rights and environmental issues. To be honest, my connection with animals came about in such an organic way, with my mother allowing me to foster and rescue before I could even read. As I got older, and I found my “voice”, I became more and more vocal about what I was seeing and hearing. I only recently became more involved in environmental issues, as my husband is my greatest source of inspiration and his foundation, which launched shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit, is very much focused on that. I am learning alongside everyone else, I just happen to be hungry for the knowledge as I discover more and more about the degradation of our planet caused by us humans.
Why do these issues matter to you?
These issues matter, because we are all connected. As I have said before, the joke is on us. We are only a part of this planet, we don’t rule the planet. So if rhinos or elephants being poached don’t matter to you or the thought of sharks killed for “shark fin soup” doesn’t upset you, then find something that does, because we’re all connected.
Could you tell us about your work with the Humane Society of the United States and your recent campaign urging Costco to go cage-free?
I became an ambassador for the Humane Society of the United States a few years ago, as they approached me after seeing the work I did on a much smaller scale with local rescues and shelters. Last year, we did a campaign together about BSL, Breed Specific Legislation, and I traveled to Louisiana to shine a light on a small town where people were told their dogs would be confiscated due to their breed. This is a huge issue in my eyes, as it once again showed our lack of regard for the lives of these beautiful creatures. I was recently part of a campaign urging Costco to go cage free, as I feel we all deserve to know the truth behind where our food comes from, and how these animals are treated. We are living with blindfolds, as well worded/sneaky labels or imagery that supports the marketing of these products fools us. It’s time to be transparent, whether they like it or not.
You recently launched your sustainable and cruelty-free handbag collection for Freedom of Animals. Why did you decide to create a vegan handbag range?
I just launched my bag line with Freedom Of Animals, all made here in the U.S., from recycled plastic to create a faux suede/leather. Everything is cruelty free, and supports a local economy, teaching people that there are other options. While I don’t support extremism, and I believe that the pressure we put on ourselves to choose sides in the vegan/non-vegan world only isolates people, I am attempting to bridge that gap by sending a new message; you don’t have to do it all. You can still wear your favorite leather shoes, or eat a burger, and by faux leather bags, because it’s about doing SOMETHING instead of NOTHING. The idea that we are hypocrites if we don’t commit to labeling ourselves is paralyzing, and only perpetuates the lack of change. It’s about progress, not perfection.
How has being an activist changed your life?
Standing up for what you believe in gives you purpose, and I think at the end of the day that’s what we all want to achieve in life.
There are so many young women out there who can relate to the issues you have dealt with in your life, especially after watching Thirteen, and it’s so inspiring to see how you’re now this grounded human being making a difference in the world. What message do you have for young girls?
I had a very unique upbringing, yet very relatable. My story was, in a sense, everyone’s story. I want girls to know that I wouldn’t be who I am without the love and support of a number of incredible women in my life, so I want to be that force for them. Mentoring is something I have been very involved in for quite some time, with the Sherry Lansing Foundation and Big Brothers Big sisters. I have been a part of that for many years now, and find it to be so beautiful, so rewarding, and so inspiring. I want girls to learn to stand up for one another, and I want them to know it’s time to stop comparing themselves. I want girls to acknowledge their insecurities, instead of allowing them to dictate how they interact with other women, and I want them to know that nothing is more powerful than an educated woman. I want them to know they are not alone, and if we all came together, we would be exponentially more powerful.
Animal rights and women’s rights are the main causes you support. Do you think there’s a connection between the two?
I think animal rights and women’s rights are connected in the sense that I believe all rights are worth acknowledging and fighting for. I think for many years women felt like they didn’t have a voice, and for animals that goes without saying.
Despite your busy schedule, you take the time to write a health and beauty column on Elle.com. Why is writing so important to you?
Writing makes me feel good. I can confidently say that nothing is more satisfying, more therapeutic, more fulfilling to me than expressing myself through my writing. I was born with an unexplainable love for books and poetry. I gravitated towards non-fiction, and read The Diary of Anne Frank twice by the age of 6. I won my first poetry contest in the 3rd grade, and realized in that moment that nothing made me happier than writing in my diary. I suppose everything I have written since then has just been an extension of that.
Do you have any cool vegan DIY recipes you could share with us?
Most of what I use on my skin, I could also eat. I try to use chemical free products, and sometimes I even whip them up myself. I use coconut oil on my skin, or olive oil depending on what’s in the pantry. I enjoy googling recipes when it comes to making dinner, as I find that my meals can repeat themselves a little too often if I don’t spice it up a bit. Having a plant based diet requires creativity, but also knowing how to make sure your body gets everything it needs. You can’t only eat pasta an PB&J’s all day, although to be honest that sounds like a dream.
You’re also into cultivating your mental wellbeing. How do you do that – do you have a daily routine?
After realizing the power of listening to the universe, I have been asking myself one question every morning. I find that, somehow, I am met with an answer. We live a very fast-paced, chaotic life, with tons of travel, different personalities, long hours, a lot of ambition, and nine fur babies. Finding quiet time is essential. I also work out. I find things that make me feel strong. I climb a mountain, I ride my bike, I run half marathons. I try to challenge myself. Reading is also extremely important. I know I have too much going on when I can’t focus on a book, and it’s a good reminder to slow down.