Arizona Muse is a stalwart of the fashion industry. She signed to Next Models in 2008, aged 19, but 2011 was really her breakout year. After being a show exclusive for Prada the previous September, she graced the covers of five editions of Vogue and Anna Wintour herself named Muse “the new face of American fashion.”
Her career has certainly afforded her an exciting lifestyle and a multitude of opportunities, but it wasn’t until just over four years ago that Muse felt she really found her purpose within the industry: campaigning for sustainability.
“It’s really an amazing feeling to have a passion and I felt like until I found environmentalism, I didn’t really have a passion,” says Muse. Although she was deeply embedded within the industry as a model, like many, Muse didn’t consider herself an expert on the ins and outs of supply chains and fabrics.
“About four and a half years ago I realised that I really didn’t know anything about where my clothes were made or what they were made of. It was just kind of, ‘I love clothes, they’re great, this is made of silk, I like silk.’ That was the extent of my knowledge, which is a pretty normal, average person’s information about fashion, even for those of us who work in the industry.”
Wanting to fill the gaps in her knowledge, Muse set out to educate herself. “I went on this materials journey,” she says. “I thought ‘OK, so where does silk come from? What environmental impact does silk have? Or wool or synthetic fabric?’ And it was the most interesting journey. I learned so much… it opened everything up to me and enriched my life so much.”
By reading books, watching documentaries, “Googling lots of things” and, most importantly, Muse says, speaking to people such as scientists and product development engineers, she was able to examine the fashion supply chain and find out what really went into the clothes she’d spent years modelling in magazines and on catwalks.
But as a model, and therefore an industry insider, is Muse really in the right position to talk about sustainability? Is she not just part of the problem? “I feel like it actually gives me an access point to these brands,” she says, which is why she chooses not to boycott working with certain brands, instead engaging with them and trying to spark change. “Guess what I do when I’m there on set with a brand and usually with the CEO and the designer? I chat, chat, chat, chat, chat all day long about sustainability! After they have a day with me chatting about environmentalism, they might be inspired to actually make a change within their own company.”
Muse understands that her place within the industry could, for some, seem problematic and she doesn’t shy away from it. In fact, she wrote about being an ‘eco-hypocrite’ for Teen Vogue earlier this year, laying bare the fact that she accepts she works in a highly polluting industry and admitting she often has to fly. She also welcomes questions and criticism. “I love having a conversation with someone who’s like, ‘no, wait a minute, I don’t think that’s accurate.’ I really invite that kind of discussion even on my Instagram and social media channels,” she says. “I really try my best to answer all comments because we need to be having the discussion.”
Despite the fact that her views might rankle certain brands that aren’t yet tackling sustainability or aren’t doing as much as they could be, Muse doesn’t stay quiet simply to please those around her. She fronted the campaign for Mango’s Committed line in 2018, for example, as she is “proud” of any brands who make a change, but she certainly doesn’t make any excuses for fast fashion brands. “My position on fast fashion is that I’m really grateful for the research and development that some of these really big fashion labels are doing. They spend a lot of money on research into sustainable materials and into sustainable business models… however, that does not exempt them from the conversation of turning their entire company into a much more sustainable one,” she says.
“I think sometimes they have a tendency to hide behind ‘well look at all the amazing stuff we’re doing on a small scale’ but [they] haven’t changed [their] whole business model,” she continues. “I would encourage all fast fashion brands to really set some high standards.” And Muse doesn’t want to hear what she calls “weak targets” for using unspecified sustainable materials by some far-off date, she wants specifics and big change in the face of the climate emergency.
In order to help with that journey, Muse has used to insider position to make connections and work with organisations who are pushing for change. She has worked with Fashion Revolution in the past and also sits on the advisory board of The Sustainable Angle, a not-for-profit organisation that “supports projects with a focus on sustainability in Fashion and Textiles and related industries such as food and agriculture.”
Explaining what The Sustainable Angle offers, Muse explains, “We provide a sustainable fabric library to anyone who wants to come and learn about sustainable fabrics in London because this is not widely available.”
Muse certainly gets that we all need to make individual changes (she happily waxes lyrical about all her sustainable bathroom and kitchen products) but she wants to see industry-wide change too. When asked what the next steps should be for the industry, she says, “Step one is to examine the materials you use, including packaging, and make sure those materials have the lowest environmental impact.”
And step two? “I would say we have to seriously look at the end of life at garments.” Rather than clothes ending up in landfill, Muse wants to see garments that can be regenerated or broken down to nourish the soil and she has plenty of other ideas for the future too, from stopping airfreighting to a Global Planet Authority.
She thanks the focus on climate breakdown for people starting to sit up and listen to her on the subject of sustainability but is her vision for the future realistic? “I think everything is realistic,” she says. “We just have to do it, you know? That’s one big thing that I’ve learned in this whole journey of sustainability is that we can do anything, we just have to decide to do it.”