Model / Journalist / Activist
We sit down with Charlie and discuss all things on her career, how education on sustainability in schools is so important for the future, changing her lifestyle for more sustainable living and how life and the modelling industry has changed for the better since COVID-19.
Anna Foster (Founder): Tell me about what you do?
Charlie Newman (Model/Journalist): I have been a model for 10 years and a freelance journalist for the past two years. The plan was always to model in my gap year and then study English at Kings College University, but modelling got in the way of that! At the time I was gutted but now I can appreciate that it was definitely the right decision. However, much as I love being at the forefront of the fashion industry, I also love everything going on behind the scenes and was desperate to write about it. So a couple of years ago I finally built up the courage to write without having a degree to prove that I can! Back when I first started modelling in 2010, models weren’t expected to have a voice or even other interests, whereas now it’s simply not enough to only front campaigns, you have to have far more under your belt, whether that be another skill or activism. This shift in focus on what it means to be a model helped give me the confidence to use my voice more, and for me that was through writing.
AF: How have you combined your modelling career and your writing?
CN: It’s actually worked really well. Obviously over the years I’ve built up some really inspiring contacts, people who started as assistants or junior roles at the same time as me and now have all gone on to do amazing things whether that be as magazine editors or big time photographers or stylists. We’ve all been on the roller coaster journey that is the fashion industry and despite peoples perceptions, we’ve all very much helped each other out and supported one another - a quality that is important now more than ever. What people maybe don’t consider when they think of modelling is that there is in fact a lot of downtime. The job often comes in waves, you’re either on flights 24/7 or waiting for the phone to ring, either way you have a lot of time alone on your hands and it’s a good idea to use it wisely. For me that’s meant pitching, writing and reading.
Charlie wears the Dark / Light Blue Straight Leg Contrast Jean.
AF: With your journalism writing taking more of an activist role in environmental issues, have you been able to direct more of your career towards this given the re-evaluation of your life?
CN: Absolutely. I am very much on the ‘commercial’ side of fashion, meaning the high street brands who are synonymously the worse brands environmentally. However without having worked in that sector I definitely would have been greenwashed and not understood the severity of fast fashion's strain on our planet. The beauty of fashion is that it’s a public facing industry so it will always take the brunt of criticism and thereby has to act far more responsibly compared to many other industries out there. Sustainability and progress within the Black Lives Matter movement are very much ‘on trend’ this year, and whilst that may sound all too reductive and cruel, I’m all for those two themes becoming ‘trends’ because then brands the world over have to respond and act accordingly. Yes fashion trends may come and go but these are far more urgent and visible than say the length of a hemline. One of the few positives of social media is that brands can’t get away with not addressing the environment and institutionalised racism anymore, they will get called out for it and cancelled if they don’t.
AF: Were you scared to ask questions of the brands you were working with?
CN: Honestly no because at the time, the environment wasn’t on the agenda at all. My questions came from a genuine place of ignorance and inquisition. Also when you’re a young girl people don’t hold back with their answers; you don’t exactly look intimidating!
AF: And how did you know what to ask?
CN: As I said, I really didn’t know, I was just a curious young girl. If I’m changing up to 40 times a day and I’ve flown in, alongside another team of 20, all into a new city together, working for a big brand, there are a lot of questions to ask there!
Charlie wears the Dark Blue / Black Contrast Straight Leg Jean.
AF: Was there a catalyst, a light bulb moment for this change?
CN: I know for some people this has been the case but, as cringe as it sounds, for me it’s been a journey, just a collection of stories and information that I’ve pieced together. My earliest memory of being a more conscious consumer (although there was definitely no label for it at the time) was my Mum telling my sister and I how she only ever had one pair of jeans, a jumper and a dress to last her through season after season. That was the norm back then for her but to my sister and I it seemed so old fashioned however now I really appreciate this advice. As a result, I remember as a child my mum always encouraging my sister and I to buy more discerningly by buying better quality clothes and thereby less rubbish - but telling this to two teenage girls who had a shiny new Topshop and New Look on their doorstep wasn’t so easy! Once I started to work for all the high street brands I quickly discovered what high and low quality really meant and also the bigger picture behind this.
I couldn’t have reached to where I am today without my incredible best friend Laura. She is just about to complete her Masters in Sustainability and has taught be so, so much. She has a really insightful Instagram page called @planetnotplasticplease where she offers fun and easy life hacks, tips and news on all things sustainable.
AF: Regarding modelling, do you think you can pick the brands that you morally feel are trying and say no to the other?
CN: Not entirely no. I am not a supermodel after all so I can’t really afford to say no to some of those brands, but I would never actively promote them. Sometimes I feel really guilty for this but it’s like what I was saying earlier, by not putting myself and thereby my views in front of the clients, they might not ever reconsider their ways. As a young woman I’m turning up to the job not only as a model but as a potential customer too; they’re far more likely to listen to me than other people. I’ve only realised this recently but I’m actually in quite a powerful position here when it comes to making changes in big corporate companies. As long as I actively use my voice in the room when I’m in front of the team, then I believe I’m doing my bit for the environment. It’s a bit like saying you mustn’t work on the tills at Topshop because you disagree with Philip Green, that’s not fair on those employees, they still need those jobs. As they say, keep your friends close but your enemies closer! Don’t get me wrong though, if I magically transformed into Kate Moss, perhaps I wouldn’t be working for those brands anymore!
Charlie wears the Mid / Dark Blue Contrast Straight Leg Jean.
AF: With your work at No Reply Magazine (@no_reply_mag) and the over-riding theme of the magazine being about the environment do you think the future of editorial lies around a set of values instead based around a physical thing ie. cars, fashion, beauty?
CN: Absolutely. Everyone knows that when your task is to sell a material good it’s never just about that singular item. It’s about selling an idea, a story and narrative behind an entire lifestyle. Look at all the Ralph Lauren or the Heineken advertisements. Instantly they both conjure up very different ideas in our mind, but we’re actually not that focused on the product itself, more on how we would be if we bought that product. Before 2020 our values might have been about money or power, and I’m not idealistic enough to think that they no longer exist, but they’re certainly not as attractive anymore. Plus it’s plain to see - even James Bond isn’t just about fast cars, sex and booze anymore! The most hyper masculine depiction of a man has caught up with the 21st century. We still have a long way to go but at least the ball has started rolling! Even British Vogue are making a concerted effort to move away from the ‘It’ bag or shoe and more on what their readers are experiencing and living through right now, it’s fantastic to see such brave change.
AF: How do you feel about E.L.V. DENIM?
CN: I LOVE it (and I’m not being paid to say that!) The green fashion industry was in desperate need of a ‘cool’ player and they’ve provided that. For too long, environmental fashion meant sacrificing style for scratchy wools and beige linens. If you want sustainable fashion to really take off, like anything, it just needs to be appealing and attractive, and that’s exactly what E.L.V. DENIM is. They’re my only jeans that forever get complimented and they’re my only jeans that have a proper story behind them which I love telling other people.
AF: Who else do you admire in the world of sustainable fashion – from magazines to curators, to designers?
CN: I really love what they’re doing at More or Less Magazine, not only because of their values but they’ve got the edge and on face value that’s the most important as it will attract the most readers. I recently interviewed Cora Hilts who is the co founder of Rêve En Vert, a really beautifully curated sustainable e-commerce shop that has done rigorous amounts of research to guarantee you’re buying truly sustainable products. I could have spoken with her for hours because she’s not afraid to get stuck into the nitty gritty of things and assess the bigger picture, luckily we can all listen to her chat with other great thinkers and movers within the green industry via their podcast, Rev on Air - I highly recommend it! If it’s just simple home essentials you need head over to Tokoru store. I also love all the inventive ideas Skye Gyngell is working on within the food world to shake up a very traditional sector and make it all green.
Charlie wears the Beige Match Corduroy Boyfriend Jean
AF: How do you feel about education of sustainability?
CN: It is essential! We’ve always known that education is at the root of all change but having been blessed with relatively good education in the UK we’re not always that ballsy to challenge and question it. Hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions for a more inclusive and diverse curriculum after the tragic death of George Floyd and hopefully we can package up this enthusiasm towards the environment in schools too. At the end of the day it’s their future so they need the tools to tackle and thrive within it.
AF: How do you try to live a sustainable life?
CN: Lots of little things that sound trivial but hopefully will make a big impact! I use Bulb as my energy supplier who use solely renewable energy and 100% carbon natural gas. I have a weekly delivery with Oddbox who gather all the rejected produce from supermarkets and send it out to your doorstep to prevent waste. Waste is something I’m really keen to learn about and I believe is something that should be a mandatory school trip. Each individual throw tens of things away every day and none of us, myself included, know where it all ends up-it’s absurd! We need to address things that are right in front of us because if we don’t then our governments certainly won’t! If I need any other extra bits of food I head to my local Queens Park market on Sunday which is a lovely activity within itself. I became pescatarian at the start of this year and hand on heart actually found it incredibly easy to slip into. I’ve always bought a lot of vintage and second hand clothing because they’re just more stylish and cheaper! I’ve also swapped to Ecover, Ocean saver or home made (when we can be bothered to make them!) cleaning products, I use an EcoEgg, a Guppy Bag and only use bars of soap. The hardest adjustment for me was switching to a Mooncup over tampons but I persevered because it is probably the single best thing a woman can do for the environment considering sanitary products take a shocking 500 years plus to decompose! Nevertheless there’s still room for improvement-I struggle with acne and have to use prescription skincare which is inevitably encased in a lot of plastic. The area I need to work on for sure is my beauty cupboard! Nobody is perfect but we just need to do our bit where we can.
AF: So do you think these changes will impact your modelling career?
CN: Well admittedly I’m not saying no to everything but I have asked my agency to start offering trains over flights for example. I’ve asked production companies to stop using plastic, I’ve given make up artists reusable cotton pads and bamboo cotton buds etc. There are so many seamless tweaks we can make to peoples lives.
Charlie wears the Light Blue Match Straight Leg Jean.
AF: Would you say living sustainability is it a hard compromise to do?
CN: Yep, sure. I think it's more of the emotional weight of it. I sometimes just try and let go of that, you can get really technical. Terracylce has worked out how much energy it takes to make a cup of coffee, versus a filtered coffee. I just can’t rationalise that, it’s just too much, so I think take it lightly, it is a heavy subject and can be too much. Do your bit, that’s all the earth can ask of you.
AF: Where do you see your modelling and writing career developing, do you have a 5 year plan? Do you have somewhere you want to be?
CN: I’m definitely not someone with a 5 year plan although sometimes I’m envious of people who do! I would just love to continue having the steady career I have within the industry, I’m very aware that I’m so lucky to have had consistent work in a job that is notoriously short lived. I would love the big money jobs to end up being the green brands as that means they’re in high demand! It’s too early to say but I hope after this mammoth year things will change massively and for the better. Through fashion I would love to continue meeting and writing/sharing all of those brilliant creatives out there slogging away to create beautiful imagery for us all to dream about. The dream would be to have a weekly column for a magazine or newspaper but whether that comes in five years or ten years who knows…
AF: What is your favourite pair of E.L.V. DENIM?
CN: I fell in love with the Light Blue Match Boyfriend Jean on the shoot, so much so that I ended up taking them home with me! I’ve now got my eye on a dark pair for the colder months.
Charlie wears the Mid Blue Match Cropped Jacket and Mid Blue Match Boyfriend Jean.