Interview: Greenpeace activist Justin D’Angona on being in Vogue (and other things)

by Jason Schwartz

June 4, 2014

Justin D’Angona is serious Greenpeace. He is the senior city coordinator of Greenpeace USA’s LA Frontline office and was the coordinator of Greenpeace Semester. It seems he’s also seriously cool enough that Italian Vogue, the premier fashion magazine in the world, tapped him to be in a recent photo shoot. I caught up with him recently and was like: seriously? And he was like: seriously.

JS: Fashion is a global industry with a lot of resources. What kind of room is there for the environmental movement to take it on? And why is now the time?

JD: Fashion is part of culture, and culture is a good thing. But there is a way to participate in culture that is not messed up. You dont have to be destroying waterways in the third world to make clothes. And you dont have to buy new things to be fashionable.

One reason that the photo shoot was cool was that they asked everybody to wear their own clothes. Everything I was wearing in that shoot was something I bought at second hand shops or thrift stores.

It was a chance to show that people can participate in the culture of fashion and have fun without hurting anything.


JS: What did you think about the way that you were presented in the pages of Italian Vogue. I dont read Italian, but the blurb that accompanied your photo wasnt that long.

JD: The shoot itself was pretty surreal and funny, especially if youre the kind of person who doesnt take himself that seriously. Having worked with Greenpeace for 5 years, Im used to being on the road with a very small budget, doing grassroots work thats not always very glamorous. Having a craft services table with free fruit and drinks felt foreign to me.

And to be in a room full of people who are all looking at you, and pointing a big camera at you, and telling you to jump around or look cool I dont really know how to do that on command.

As far as the campaign messaging goes, they printed a quick explanation of our work and what our priorities are. I think thats a good thing.

Greenpeace activists scale the Metropol Theatre in Milan, Italy and display a banner reading - 'TOXIC LIES, Courtesy of Dolce & Gabbana.'.

Greenpeace activists scale the Metropol Theatre in Milan, Italy and display a banner reading – ‘TOXIC LIES, Courtesy of Dolce & Gabbana.’.

They originally asked me to provide a bio about myself and my work and a plug for something I cared about. I wrote two paragraphs. The first was about the organization. The second was about the Detox campaign and its connection to the fashion industry, specifically how big fashion brands like Versace, Dolce & Gabanna and Louis Vuitton have a part to play in making a greener, more peaceful world. That was the part that got cut.

It was bummer, but I can see why Vogue wouldnt want to piss off its advertisers. Hopefully people see the page, go to our website, and can discover what weve been up to for the past few decades.

JS: How did the photo shoot happen? And why did you think it was a good idea to do it?

JD: The short answer is a friend of mine who works with some Vogue staff in NY knew about my work at Greenpeace and reached out to me.

I was reluctant to do it at first, but one of the campaigns that Ive done a lot of work on is the Detox campaign.

The chance to use a major publication to let people know that three of the biggest Italian fashion houses are producing their garments in ways that pollute major waterways all over the world that they are basically poisoning people who have historically not have a lot of power or ability to oppose them that seemed like a big deal.

JS: What do you have to say to people who would ask, Whats a guy from Greenpeace doing in a fashion magazine run by a large corporation? Or that youre contributing to wasting paper?

JD: The implication being that its hypocritical to be promoting environmentalism in a globally distributed print magazine? Well, if that message is getting to me, then that person is using the technologies of our modern industrial society.

Look, we have to work with the existing structures of our economy. We have to take the forms of production and communication that currently exist and transform their uses into something good and positive.

Environmentalism isnt the fringe movement people seem to want to pretend that it is. Everyone everywhere is affected by how we treat our planet and therefore needs to be part of this conversation.

Thats true whether you communicate about it in Mother Jones, or Vogue, or in the zine you made for yourself on the back of some bark in your cave in the woods. Not a lot of people get the Bark Weekly newsletter, so Im excited to have Greenpeace in a magazine like Vogue.

The residents of  Desa Padamulya village have little access to clean water, as the water supplies of their village are contaminated by chemicals released by nearby textile factories.

The residents of Desa Padamulya village have little access to clean water, as the water supplies of their village are contaminated by chemicals released by nearby textile factories.

Its not bad to like fashion, or to care about your appearance, or to like shoes. None of those things are inherently bad. Its just that there are different types of shoes you can get, and different ways of getting them. Again, everything I was wearing in that shoot was secondhand, so if anything, I was promoting recycling.

People need things like shoes. Theres a reason that shoes exist. If you want to go to a junkyard and make huaraches from tires, thats cool. But dont start thinking that in and of itself it makes you morally superior to other people.

JS: Any pro tips for those of us who aspire to be stylish activists?

JD: One of the cool things about activism is getting in touch with yourself, being honest with yourself about your convictions and how you want to spend your time on this earth. Its the same with style.

Theres fashion and then theres style. Style is a much broader concept. Its cool when people are their authentic selves, whatever that looks like or feels like.

JS: And thrift stores.

JD: Yeah, thats probably also a good way to get in touch with our natural hunter/gatherer impulses. To scavenge around your local Goodwill.

Find out about Greenpeace International’s Detox campaign (and take action) here.

Jason Schwartz

By Jason Schwartz

Jason Schwartz is a media officer for Greenpeace USA based in New York City.

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