Francesca Willow - @ethicalunicorn
Far out legends, prepare yourself for an incredibly thought-provoking Movers & Shaker’s interview. When I first entered the realm of ethical fashion, Francesca from Ethical Unicorn was one of the key standout figures that I could really align with.
Her message is simple -Sustainable Living + Social Justice. Yet she goes about it in such a way that even me as a once ‘get me the best sale price possible, even in Kmart’ shopper could stop, reflect on and realise that living sustainably and shopping ethically isn’t as hard it sometimes seems to be.
She’s an ethical fashion blogger, but her skills don’t end there. She’s also an artist, choreographer, writer, and performer. This interview is one of the best thus far in my opinion. Sit back and enjoy changemakers, I’m off to invest in the Franny and Zooey.
WHAT MADE YOU START ETHICAL UNICORN?
In 2016, some friends decided to go waste-free in February. They created a Facebook group for people to follow and get inspired and I ended up in it. I’d never heard of zero waste before then, but was inspired to get started. At the same time I had a friend working in PR was representing quite a few cruelty-free and ethical brands; I started thinking about how all these issues link together but I couldn’t find anyone in the UK talking about them all in one place. I decided to be that person and started Ethical Unicorn 3 days later!
HOW DID YOU FIRST COME ACROSS ETHICAL FASHION/CONSCIOUS CONSUMERISM/SUSTAINABLE LIVING?
I started with sustainable living first, through the zero waste movement and a general interest in sustainability which grew. I’d never had to think much about ethical fashion because I used to buy literally everything from thrift shops, but as I met other ethical writers I started finding out about more and more brands doing amazing things, which was so exciting.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING PART SINCE YOU BEGAN EMBRACING THIS TYPE OF LIFESTYLE?
Plastic, it’s just everywhere! I’ll ask for no straw and people will put it in automatically anyway, or I’ll go to a local fruit and vegetable place and they’ll put it in a plastic bag before I have a chance to get my own reusable bag out. Things like that are frustrating, so I just have to try my best to be vigilant and awake, and stop people before they give me something plastic!
WHAT OR WHO INSPIRES YOU TO DO WHAT YOU DO ON A DAILY BASIS?
It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re trying to tackle so many big issues, genuinely what inspires me to keep going is when people get in touch and tell me that something I wrote made them make a change, or try to learn more. I’ve had so many friends tell me they bought a bamboo toothbrush or a menstrual cup because of me – that helps me remember that I can make a difference somewhere!
BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?
“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” – Roald Dahl
Does that count as advice?
DO YOU HAVE A MORNING ROUTINE? IF SO WHAT IS IT YOU DO TO SET YOURSELF UP FOR THE DAY AHEAD?
I want to be one of those really zen people that has a whole wellness type morning, but I’m not. I’m one of those ‘beat your editor out of bed people’, which means that I write best the minute I get up. Once I wake up I’m 100% awake (it’s actually weird – I don’t really drink caffeine at all because of this!) so I often write blog posts or articles for other people as soon as I wake up. When I was doing my master's degree I would get up at 4am to write my dissertation! I like to think that I’m like Haruki Murakami, but I think he’s a lot more disciplined than me. I do try to make sure I meditate, exercise and read every day!
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
It doesn’t exist. I actually want to start a podcast on this exact topic this year where I interview different people about the idea of success (if you would be interested in listening to that please let me know!) Over the years of being an artist and more recently having this platform I’ve found that there’s always someone who looks at me as being successful, but there are also tons of people that I think of as successful. I don’t really think that about myself because there’s always the next project, the next thing to write or make, I’m always trying to be better. Success is a construct, I think it’s better to measure your life by impact. If you can treat people with kindness that is an impact. If you can decrease your negative impact on the earth through what you buy and how you live, that is success.
(Unless maybe you’re an astronaut)
WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE THAT YOU WOULD GIVE TO OTHERS STARTING OUT?
Take it one step at a time. When you want to change it can easy to feel paralysed by all the things you need to alter, but throwing away everything and trying to start over all at once often isn’t the most helpful way to go. Instead, start small and simple. What do you use the most that can be replaced with a more sustainable alternative? What small changes can you begin to implement? And build from there until, over time, you’re living the green dream.
ONE BOOK EVERYONE SHOULD READ? WHY?
I think there are lots of non-fiction books that are great for understanding more about ethics and sustainability, however I want to suggest some fiction. I think fiction is one of the most important tools in the world, Neil Gaiman explains why here. Fiction builds empathy, and it shows you that the world doesn’t have to be the way it is now. It encourages people to find new ways to see the world and to change it.
My favourite book is Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, it’s less well known than The Catcher in the Rye but I love it. I think at its core the message is that every person holds inherent value. And isn’t that what we’re trying to say with ethical living? That everyone deserves to be treated with value.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER MOVERS & SHAKERS OUT THERE IN YOUR WORLD THAT YOU THINK WE SHOULD ALL KNOW ABOUT?
There are so many amazing ethical bloggers out there these days! I always love reading Sustainably Chic, Ecocult, Leotie Lovely, Life Style Justice, Style Wise Blog… so many inspirational people out there who are also trying to learn and spread the word as much as they can!
This interview has so many nuggets of wisdom in it, I almost wish I had a little Francesca in my pocket to help guide me through life daily. I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did. You can follow along on Francesca’s journey via her website, or give her a follow on her socials via Instagram.