“It’s a melting pot of interesting people, cultures and craft,” says Hannah Hamilton, describing what she loved about being immersed in fashion. She worked in PR and communication for brands like Bally and Michael Kors. But she was starting to feel a sense of unease about the industry too.
The fact that it contributes 10 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions began to weigh more heavily on her mind. “While luxury fashion is making moves towards responsible production and marketing, I was struggling with the role fashion continues to play in overconsumption,” says Hamilton.
A course in business sustainability management piqued her interest. She started hunting for sustainability related work in the sector, but found it a difficult search. “I was feeling disenchanted with the traditional PR roles available to me,” Hamilton recalls. “If I wanted to remain in the industry – knowing it is one of the most polluting – I wanted sustainability to be integral to my day-to-day role.”
But this wasn’t a case of heroically pursuing a more ethical path: Hamilton admits she found pondering the switch stressful, not least the financial implications of leaving a well-paid role. “I had to weigh up the decision: whether my next job was with a big corporate again, a case of following the salary, or whether I wanted to find something that better met my values and belief system,” she says.
What changed everything was an introduction to Namrata Sandhu, the chief executive and co-founder of Vaayu, a tech startup that helps retailers measure, monitor and reduce their carbon footprint at scale across the entire supply chain.
“We hit it off,” says Hamilton. “I wanted to use my fashion experience to help retailers find ways to reduce their carbon footprint – looking at everything across their supply chain, from their buildings to their packaging, rather than just rely on offsetting their emissions.”
Hamilton, who is based in London, joined Vaayu as head of communications in February. Now working at promoting the startup, which raised $1.57m (£1.16) in seed funding in 2021, Hamilton feels energised by signs the industry is finally – albeit slowly – becoming more environmentally conscious.
However, greenwashing remains rife: a study of the websites of 12 of the biggest British and European fashion brands, including Asos, H&M and Zara for example, found that 60 per cent of the environmental claims could be classed as ‘unsubstantiated’ and ‘misleading’. But companies are beginning to respond to shoppers’ demands for more transparency, she believes.
I don’t think people realise the agency – and impact – they can have as an individual
While her job switch happened organically, Hamilton doesn’t believe it’s always necessary to make such a big move to bring about change. She suggests arming yourself with knowledge, and finding chances to advocate for change where you are.
“If it feels disheartening, be a catalyst in helping to point out hotspots for action,” she suggests. “What is the company already doing that could be built upon? I don’t think people realise the agency – and impact – they can have as an individual.”
Main image: Helena Dolby
This article is the final in our ‘job swap’ series. In recent weeks, Positive News has been profiling individuals who swapped high-carbon careers for environmentally minded jobs.
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