By Chere Di Boscio
Sometimes, it only takes one person to really make an impact on millions, and Sascha Camilli is one of those people. This passionate change maker is the founder of the world’s first ever vegan fashion magazine online, Vilda, is a frequent public speaker on the topic of vegan living, and is a contributor to the Huffington Post, Plant-Based News Vegan Food & Living and other publications.
She’s also a Press Officer at PETA, and has worked on several successful campaigns with them to end animal cruelty in various forms. Recently, she penned a book called Vegan Style: Your Plant-Based Guide to Fashion + Beauty + Home + Travel, which I can’t wait to read!
I was lucky enough to be able to interview Sascha about her fascinating life as a global nomad, her position on animal rights, where she sees the vegan movement going, and much more.
My Interview with Sascha Camilli
First of all, let’s talk about you! Born in Russia, raised in Sweden, resident in Italy and London – what’s with all the moves?
Well, I ended up in Sweden because my parents moved there from Russia when I was six. At 19 I’d had enough of constantly being cold, so I packed up and went to Los Angeles to try to be an actress. Turns out winning an Oscar wasn’t my destiny (although you never know, it’s not too late!) so I moved to Italy to study fashion marketing and learn Italian. I stuck around for a few years, but when I realised that what I really wanted to do was write, London was the obvious choice of place to be.
I spent four years there, then let my husband – who loves the sea and hates the London transport system – convince me to move to Brighton. And I’m so happy I went! It’s a fantastic – very vegan-friendly – place and I never want to leave.
There are many upsides to living in many places: you learn languages, meet lots of new people, experience different paths in life. Some people would say that starting over each time is a downside, but I actually love it – for me, the clean slate is part of the thrill.
Moving on to veganism, when and why did you first become vegan? What challenges did you face making the change?
I stopped eating meat when I was 11, and through my teens and early 20s, whenever I heard of someone going vegan I had a feeling of “I want to do that”. But I had the idea that it would be too hard, that I would never go out for dinner again, that I would live this limited and isolated lifestyle.
But then I read the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. That book completely broke me. Most of the time while reading it, I was either crying or feeling nauseated. After that, I came to a decision: I didn’t care if it was going to be difficult. I didn’t care if I would never have cake ever again, I could not be part of this. So when I moved to London, I started transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. And it was…one of the easiest things I have ever done.
One of my favourite activists and entrepreneurs, Amy Rebecca Wilde, founder of the Vegan Scene boutique in LA, had an Instagram account at the time called @vegansofig, and I got so much info through her posts – she convinced me that I could do this, I could go vegan.
I know lifestyle changes are very individual, but I have a hard time understanding people living in London or other larger cities today who say they have a difficult time being vegan. Where is the difficulty? You can get plant-based versions of everything from donuts to sushi and fried “chicken”. It can be incredibly cheap to be vegan. And it can be as healthy or unhealthy as you make it. The only difficulty is dealing with people’s stereotypes and misconceptions about vegans.
Tell us a bit about your involvement with PETA
I came to PETA in 2015 after having had a terrible time in the fashion industry for years. For a very long time, I tried to convince myself that working in fashion was “a job that a million girls would kill for”, but the truth is, I felt like I was wasting my days writing about calfskin shoes and wool sweaters – things that I would never wear myself. So when I got the opportunity to be a Press Officer at PETA, it was a dream come true.
From the first day at the job I felt so lucky to be surrounded by other people who want to make the world a better place for animals. Through my work at PETA I have done some pretty amazing things: taken part in eye-catching protests, disrupted shareholder meetings in the fashion industry, convinced fashion brands to stop selling mohair and angora, and persuaded journalists at national publications to try eating vegan food and wearing vegan fashion.
What made you launch Vilda Magazine?
When I first started transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, I looked into information about vegan living online. And I found loads! There was so much info and inspiration out there about veganism…only it was all about food. There was absolutely nothing about fashion or beauty, and as I was working in fashion at the time, I was really interested in these aspects. So I decided to create something for other people like myself, who wanted to dress stylishly without compromising their ethics.
I was lucky enough to be chosen for the Marie Claire Inspire & Mentor Scheme in 2013, where I was paired up with my amazing mentor Poppy Dinsey, a digital fashion entrepreneur who helped me with the knowledge and guidance I needed to make my idea a reality. My aim was always to create a visually beautiful product to elevate the image of vegan fashion and living.
Once the mainstay of hippies and fringe groups, there’s no doubt veganism is growing in popularity. What changes have you seen in the world of fashion in particular since you started Vilda?
The change has been monumental. When I first launched the magazine, people wouldn’t understand what I was talking about when I said “vegan fashion”. I got reactions like “what do you mean, vegan fashion? Can you eat the clothes?”. These days, Hugo Boss is making shoes from pineapple leather, Stella McCartney and H&M are using vegan silk, and we even have a Vegan Fashion Week! Huge brands like Chanel, Gucci, Burberry and Versace are going fur-free and we might soon have lab-grown leather on the market. It’s an amazing time for vegan fashion.
Given that the vegan market is now huge, what kinds of ‘vegan washing’ have you seen?
There are companies that have always sold faux-leather accessories, only now they are marketing them as “vegan” to jump on the trend. Which only goes to show that the concept of vegan has gone from crunchy to covetable. But what I have doubts about are certain beauty brands slapping “vegan” labels on their ranges when they have been selling their cosmetics in China and testing on animals for ages. It’s up to the customer to be informed and clued-up, and not fall for it.
My message to these brands is that if they really want to market themselves as vegan, they should take a proud stand against animal testing, withdraw from the markets that still require it, and obtain a cruelty-free certification.
Where do you see the vegan market moving to in say, 5 years?
I think that once cultured meat and cultured leather hit the market, there will be such a huge shift in how we view our current use of animals. When it will become clear that technology can be our ally in creating the ingredients and materials we want without the mass-scale confinement, objectification and killing of animals, so many eyes will be opened. I also have high hopes for French faux-fur artisan Ecopel’s recycled faux fur, which will help put an end to the “faux fur is not eco-friendly” claims – and help get more plastic out of the ocean.
You just wrote a book called Vegan Style. Tell us a bit about why you wrote it, and what’s in it?
The process of creating Vegan Style was similar to the idea of creating Vilda Magazine. I was devouring vegan books in libraries and bookshops, and loved them all – but they were all about food. Food is great, but it’s not the whole story of veganism, and I spotted a gap in the market for something stylish and aesthetically interesting that spoke to vegans and vegan-curious people who wanted to live a luxe lifestyle.
In this book, you will find ideas for how to create a vegan capsule wardrobe, what some of the most interesting material innovations in vegan leather are, what cruelty-free beauty really means, and how to enjoy travelling as a vegan – among other things!
Which vegans through history have most inspired you?
Some of the most influential humanitarians and visionaries in history, such as Rosa Parks, Gandhi and Nikola Tesla, were vegetarian. Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the greatest minds to ever live, famously said, “my body will not be a tomb for other creatures”.
We’re lucky to share our time in history with some truly inspiring vegans. I have worked with the founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, for years now, and her unwavering dedication to the cause of ending animal suffering never ceases to amaze me. As a writer and public speaker I am so inspired by her talent in both those things.
From a fashion standpoint, I deeply admire Stella McCartney. She could have done absolutely anything with her life and work, and it would have been successful – but she chose to become the first designer to create a vegan It bag (the Falabella) and the first big-name designer to openly shun fur and leather on the international catwalks. She continues to push the envelope on environmental protection and animal rights all the time. She is such a role model for me.
Any last words for those who still think it’s ridiculous to protect animals from exploitation?
In every way that matters, animals are exactly like us. They have the capacity to feel joy, love, pain and fear. They grieve when they lose a loved one and they love their offspring. There is absolutely no need to use them for food, fashion, beauty or entertainment – and a life without eating, wearing and using animals can nonetheless be a life of indulgence and decadence. Open your heart and mind, and give cruelty-free living a chance.
All images: courtesy Sascha Camilli
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