Going Green: Juana Burga Shares Her Journey with Parley for the Oceans

Going Green: Juana Burga Shares Her Journey with Parley for the Oceans

The Peruvian supermodel partnered up with Parley for the Oceans, traveling to the Maldives for a hands-on education about sustainability and the world's water systems. Here, she shares what she learned, alongside an exclusive photo diary of her experience.

The Peruvian supermodel partnered up with Parley for the Oceans, traveling to the Maldives for a hands-on education about sustainability and the world's water systems. Here, she shares what she learned, alongside an exclusive photo diary of her experience.

Text: William Defebaugh

Tell me about the work you do with Parley. How did you get involved with the initiative?

I got involved with Parley because I wanted to take initiative and make a difference. The idea was presented to me by Cyrill Gutsch, Founder of Parley, and I got really excited about the work they’ve being doing to protect the oceans. I wanted to experience it in my own skin, so I accepted the opportunity to be part of their Parley Ocean School program in the Maldives.

Parley Ocean School is based on the idea that the best way to learn about the ocean is to be fully immersed in it. In March, I joined an expedition-like introduction to the cause that took place on, and mostly in, the waters of the Maldives, where I learned from Parley marine experts and activists about the problems and solutions surrounding plastic pollution. The trip was an adventure that challenged me and helped me connect to the unknown ocean. I went scuba diving for the first time, and got to understand how the ocean and the earth and all its living ecosystems are interdependent—that every action and every decision we make, wherever we live on this planet, has an impact on the entire world.

This trip exposed me to the threats in a way that made them very real. I saw first hand that the coral reefs are being bleached and that the beaches are filling with trash. Even remote islands where no one lives are covered in items like plastic water bottles, toothbrushes, bottle caps…it was one of the most shocking sights I’ve ever seen.

Despite the sad realities, the overall experience was motivating and uplifting. For me, the most positive part is that I got to come together with a group of inspiring people and brainstorm creative solutions to stop plastic pollution and help protect our life support system, this blue universe we barely understand but depend on for every second breath.

I learned that it’s not just about saving the oceans, it’s about saving humanity from humanity. We need to work together to save ourselves from ourselves. This trip was an unforgettable experience, but it’s just the beginning, a way for individuals from different backgrounds to carve out a role within the movement and find the inspiration to own it moving forward.

I saw that Stella McCartney and adidas just collaborated on a shoe with Parley. Have you grabbed yourself a pair?

Yes, Stella McCartney just collaborated on a shoe with Parley through their adidas partnership. It was announced while we were in the Maldives, learning about the bigger story and message behind these products.

During Parley Ocean School, I was able to see the first-ever adidas Parley shoe made from recovered illegal deep-sea fishing nets and upcycled plastic debris. Meanwhile, I was hearing directly from people like Alexander Taylor, the designer who collaborated to create the prototype shoe, and from Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, the organization that removed the illegal gill nets from the high seas during their campaign to stop poachers. I was also able to see the newer shoe made from Parley Ocean Plastic, the adidas UltraBOOST Uncaged Parley, which was the first released for commercial sale. Each pair of the UltraBOOST Uncaged Parley shoes represents 11 plastic bottles scooped up from places like the Maldives and given new life. Unluckily for most of us, the first drop of the UltraBOOST Uncaged sold out immediately, but they plan to make one million pairs by the end of 2017.

It makes me happy to know and even see this symbol that change is possible, that brands like adidas and Stella can have a big impact when they come together. But Parley stresses that solutions are more complex than recycling. At one point, Cyrill said that upcycling and recycling is not the answer, but the cycle of creativity and collaboration it creates is. That’s what these shoes represent to me. I think they will change the mentality of fashion in sportswear. And they can change the mindsets of everyone else along the way.

What other brands/designers do you admire that are promoting sustainable fashion?

ULLA Johnson, Stella McCartney, and Giuliana Testino.

Where does your passion for the environment come from?

Regarding the ocean: I have always been attracted to nature. Growing up I would spend my summers in Pimentel, north of Peru, and I would always have a walk close to ocean, visiting my family ranch and land. My grandmother loved the ocean. I remember going for long walks with her on the beach, just waiting for the sunset while hearing the gulls and watching the waves come ashore. I would see the surfers and the people jumping from the port and go for a swim, so I would always wonder what was out beyond the breaks, what was down there below the surface.

Regarding the Earth: I loved History classes in school. My teacher would always go very deep into us knowing the Inca Culture and how they were so connected to “Pachamama” (Mother Earth" in Quechua), the provider of all needs.

I loved those stories. I always wanted to be connected with nature, and as I got older I realized that we were taking too much from it, and destroying it. My mother would always teach me to never take anything for granted. What Parley recognizes is that “we need to make peace with the oceans.” To do that, we need to find harmony between the ways we live, create, consume, and think and the ecosystem that allows us to be here in the first place. This is the greatest challenge of our time.

How do you think we can energize the fashion industry to care more about sustainability and the environment?

Everything starts with inspiration. We can energize the fashion industry to care more about the environment and sustainability, or what Parley calls “eco innovation”—an invitation to invent our way out of this mess together.

We want to create new industry standards by reducing and replacing plastic use wherever we can, retrieving and recycling/upcycling the waste that’s already out there, and ultimately by reinventing the material itself. Parley calls this approach the A.I.R. Strategy: avoid, intercept, redesign.

What are some steps—however small—that people can take toward reducing their footprint?

I think the most important step is simply to start saying no to plastic. Avoid single-use items and use alternative materials whenever possible. If not possible, then the use of recycled material is the second best option.

In my everyday routine, when I go food shopping I bring my own shopping bag, as I know that every plastic bag they will give me for my product will never biodegrade and never go “away.” Each bag I avoid is one less that could end up in the ocean, on the beach, or in the stomach of a sea creature. I also try to drink more from glass or carry a reusable water bottle.

There are simple ways to stop personal overconsumption, too. We all need to learn to think local, eat local, and consider the lifecycle and origins of what we consume. If we fail to stop the pollution of our oceans, we are facing the potential extinction of many sea life species and the interruption of the entire ecosystem. We also risk the health of anyone who eat seafood. Not only are many fish illegally caught and traded in massive numbers, but these fish are also ingesting plastic—and as this plastic moves up the food chain, it carries a string of harmful chemicals into our bloodstreams.

Is there a different attitude in Peru regarding the environment? How does the U.S. compare?

The difference that I’ve experienced between my home country Peru and here in the U.S. is that Peru is a third world country, where in the main cities we’re still in the process of learning about plastic pollution, since they haven’t yet seen the damage it’s creating. Opposite that, if you turn your attention to the cities in the mountains or in the more remote areas, you can see the damage, and there you’ll find the people who are suffering, and who are forced to follow the rules of nature to be able to survive. Sadly, these are the people who are living off the nature in the first place. They are not the sinners, but they’re the ones affected the worst.

In the U.S. I see that the big cities are really trying to implement a system with a purpose to help the situation. You see main recycling systems becoming more and more implemented in everyday life, in people’s routines and in their minds. You see chain stores changing from plastic to paper bags, etc.

These are all good things, and a step in the right direction, but these problems are still new to the general population, and since it’s not directly affecting people, it’s hard to teach them more, faster. The reality though, is that we need EVERYONE on board for this. Not tomorrow, not next week or next year…we need everyone, NOW! Therefore I can’t be clear enough in my ways of helping to spread this awareness, and to help people understand what problems our generation is facing. We can turn it around, but have to do it together now.

It gives me hope that you don’t need the entire population behind your idea in order to have an impact. It’s said you only need about 10 percent of the population to create a shift. If you can reach key groups of people, those who drive the trends, you can change the world. That’s why Parley is focused first and foremost on uniting the creative industries.

One of the biggest effects of climate change is a growing environmental instability, with more and more natural disasters—like the floods in Peru. What causes do you recommend people getting involved with?

I think it’s great to get involved with causes that are particular to individual cases, but overall I want people to get involved with causes that are, like Parley, thinking comprehensively and long-term—those who are trying to prevent the natural disaster from happening in the first place. We need to support and create long-term solutions. We can’t just give money and put in effort each time something bad happens, then we won’t prevent it from happening again and again. We need to turn off the plastic tap. We need to address the illness, nut just the symptoms.

The most important step towards our common goal is to create a new consciousness, a new way of thinking that allows us to live in peace with nature on this blue planet. Governments need to get involved, and we should implement these new ways of looking at the environment into classes in schools. It’s far more important than most other classes that are currently part of our youngest generation’s curriculum. If we don’t change the ways we think, there will be no Earth left for them to roam anyway—or no human future on Earth for the next generation to define.

What ways do you think the fashion/beauty industry still needs to change and progress?

I think there need to be some rules instated and stronger accountability. The fashion and beauty industry needs to stop mass production, to a certain degree, as it brings mass consumption. Nowadays, products are made to break. It’s part of certain companies’ policies to make sure their products don’t last very long, so that people will break them and then have to buy more. The advertising campaigns brands launched around these products have a big influence in shaping this mentality as well.

As consumers, we’ve barely bought the new collection before the next one is out. Almost on your way out of the store, you’re told by advertisements to buy something else. Advertisements today are focused on making you feel that you’re not yet cool, feeding you this idea that you need to buy new things constantly to stay on top of the game. I think that we have a lot of work to do on this end.

Advertisements are of course targeted to create good business, but what is a good business if it’s ruining our planet? We need advertisements to teach the general public about the new ways of fashion. We need to define “cool” with purpose and substance. That shift is already in motion among consumers, but business has been slow to change. The amount of products made are growing rapidly, and the amount of collections we’re presented with are only going up as well. More advertisements, more consumption, more waste. By buying into this idea, we the consumers, are allowing it to happen and to grow. It’s a bad circle, and it will only stop when we want it to. Each time you swipe your card, buying something that you don’t actually need, you’re hurting the ecosystem, or allowing others to ruin it. But what if we looked at every dollar we spend as a vote? I want everyone to wake up and start caring about the planet we call home.

What other projects do you have on the horizon that you can tell me about?

I’m working on my own exhibition called Nuna Awaq ("Soul of the Artisans" in Quechua), where I want to unite culture, the art of knitting, and promote sustainable fashion.

With Nuna Awaq, I seek to show the world that sustainable fashion has always been there, and that artisans are the core of it. I’m creating pieces with the artisans that I work with in Peru. To show their art with hands, art that is being passed down from generation to generation, and now for the capitalism is getting lost. We need to start paying attention and empower ethical and sustainable, more eco innovative, fashion.

It’s no longer a matter of choice. It’s not trendy to care about the environment, it’s crucial. One night during Parley Ocean School, we watched the documentary Mission Blue about the legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle. In it she sums our situation up nicely in just four words: “No ocean, no life. No ocean, no us.” This is the message we’re trying to spread, and more importantly, to live by. The threats are many. But so are the solutions.

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