Over the course of her career, Sarah Jay has been a stylist, environmentalist, producer, the director at Green Living and Fashion Takes Action and an advocate for sustainable fashion. Today, she is working on several projects, including Project 1127 and Environmental Defence’s Just Beautiful Campaign. We spoke to Sarah Jay about her typical schedule, what inspired her to enter the fashion world, and the importance of better working conditions for garment workers.
SDTC: You’re a stylist, environmentalist, producer, and the director at Green Living and Fashion Takes Action. Can you walk us through a typical day in your life – starting from the time you get up to the time you go to bed?
SJ: On shoots days I’m usually up around 5:45. I shower before bed to give my hair a clean but tousled look so when I rise I simply throw on a questionable but comfortable outfit, stick some bindis under my right eye and roll. I always take Schinoussa Sea vegetables on an empty stomach followed by a seasonal fruit chaser. This is key. I never get sick. It’s highly alkaline and helps to enable my workaholism. Styling is demanding in every way. Not for the physically weak or faint of heart.
On prep days I may wakeup a little later, which in warmer months allows me to walk my dogs, the Jacksons. But then it’s off to the mall and taxiing around the city, hustling, hurrying, carrying, schlepping. It’s draining to always find the patience everyone deserves throughout the day. Your deadlines are not their problem. It is also difficult to be decisive in the utter chaos of the mall, as sands drop through the hourglass and you cannot make all the pickups before the end of the business day.
Every day feels like the amazing race. The risk of burnout is very high. It is always a mistake to make personal plans on shoot days and often on prep days, too. Things are unpredictable. Curveballs are inevitable.
When I finally arrive home I either pick my dogs up from daycare or walk them immediately. Ingest more vegetables. Go straight to work on my hippie passion projects and get to bed as early as humanly possible. I think what is unique about my work as a stylist is that it’s balanced with several ethical initiatives that are very near and dear to me, which, in and of themselves, are full time jobs.
Though difficult, it’s important to make time to support peers and colleagues on their projects. You have to invest in the community and the more authentically you can do it, the better. There’s amazing talent in this city. It’s always worthwhile to get out the door and see it.
Tell us about your career trajectory – what’d you go to school for, what pulled you into the direction you chose, who inspired you along the way, did you think you would be doing what you’re doing now when you first graduated?
I have a job (or a fusion of several) that no guidance councilor ever could have predicted.
I took psychology and philosophy in school and saw myself pursuing law or clinical psychology. At U of T in a philosophy of aesthetics course I had to write a paper on an Umberto Echo quote, “I speak through my clothes.” And that was the beginning. I lived very close to the former Fashion Magazine building at the time and marched over in search of an internship. It has only been recently that I’ve realized how coveted those internships are as so many schools are producing talented fashion graduates each semester. If I had known my competition I might not have tried. It has taught me that the world makes a place for you and to never be too concerned with the ambitions of others.
In terms of what pulled me, one day I simply realized that the people in charge of fashion direction were not equipped with something I didn’t have. Ours is an industry that values work experience and innate talent. One of my editors and first mentors from the Fashion Mag days was Charise Garcia who was on her way to med school before landing a job at Fashion.
These days I’m inspired by Bob Hunter, Naomi Klein and David Suzuki. Their ability to bring important messages of conservation into our collective conscious is an example to me.
What advice would you give to young women just starting out in fashion?
1. It’s a really big industry. There’s room for everyone and no use competing so don’t buy into those vibes. Generally speaking I think you get ahead when you operate authentically. Do you. Nobody else can. Consider the lifestyle you want/can handle. Consider your strengths. Consider your appetite for risk. Is the unpredictability and hustle of freelance work motivational or paralyzing? Do you want to work with your hands? Bring people together and make connections? Be the human glue on a set or at an event? Communicate what you see to the masses? Advocate for better working conditions for garment workers? There are so many ways to work in fashion and likely more career paths than you have even considered. So intern. Try things out. Ask questions. Everyone’s path into fashion will be different. None can be replicated. But the more examples you have the better.
2. Do not be seduced by styling. Everyone and their brother want to be a stylist it seems. And I am quite sure I have inadvertently discouraged many an assistant from pursuing this crazy making art form. Be forewarned: “It is the hardest thing you’ll ever do,” a quote from Fashion Magazine mentor #2 Tammy Eckenswiller. Truer words were never spoken.
3. Contribute/create responsibly. Straight up, the fashion industry is responsible for more freshwater contamination, deplorable working conditions, toxic agriculture and overall waste than almost any other industry on the planet. The absolute best contribution anyone can make is to restore respect and balance to an industry that is really only beautiful in the very last stages of the supply chain. If you birth any garment or accessory or idea consider every part of the process. Consider the people who build every fibre and notion. Consider the environmental implications. If its not sustainable I can assure you it’s neither necessary nor stylish.
How has Toronto’s fashion scene changed in the last 10 years? Where do you see it heading?
Media has changed. Social media was not considered a part of my job when I began. There were fewer artists represented by agencies, and the artists that were represented were truly a cut above. There is a definite influx of artists now that we have become aware that Kimye needs a crew to look the way she does. The perceived glamour of it all has seduced many into pursuing fashion.
Our knowledge of Canadian fashion culture has increased, which is a good thing. We are more than on the map internationally. I grew up thinking that I could never work in fashion unless I wanted to work in retail. We are celebrating our own more now, and I can only hope that this leads to bringing more of our garment labour home.
How would you describe your own personal style?
I do not wear heels.
I do not apply chemicals.
I do maintain my sense of humour.
There were times in my life when I felt shy or like I couldn’t possibly wear something because it was too much or too far. Those days are gone. I am free! And I really try to encourage others to free themselves. The only way to lead is by example.
There are certain highly feminine things about me that I always seem to balance with a button down shirt or white socks and black loafers.
The long-haired, high-heeled, surgically altered aesthetic adopted by the masses is very much a setback for our gender and species, and I want no part of it. Fashion doesn’t have to hurt you, or your feet, poison your blood or the environment. So girls, stop playing the game.
Also, because we wear our values whether we realize it our not, I have committed to consuming vintage or ethical gear made by my buddies fairly, directly, locally and responsibly.
When did you first decide to head in the direction of advocating for more sustainable fashion? Was there a pivotal moment that made you passionate about this?
Well I had begun changing the way I ate and our fashion and beauty choices are a naturel progression – more conscious consumption of all things. I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Al Gore and all of the other documentary filmmakers who blew my mind wide open and changed it irreversibly. I let in the inconvenient truths gradually, and, heavy as they are, I proceed with them in mind. They are my compass.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Kelly Drennan of Fashion Takes Action, Canada’s first and only NGO committed to changing the way fashion is created and consumed. I helped her in the formative years, soaked in her passion and commitment and really learned a lot. There isn’t anyone who knows her stuff like Kel. She mirrored my values completely and I am grateful to have worked closely with her for years.
Essentially I consumed fashion in excess and became a connoisseur. I became more sensitive to the off-gassing of various fabrics, unable to tolerate hairspray, increasingly suspicious of the sheer volume of garments produced each season. My body and conscience were speaking to me. So I listened.
What projects are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
I work on The Green Shows – a New York based organization that runs various shows, pop ups and events showcasing the best of sustainable fashion design. We are gearing up for 2016 and have several collaborations on the go that will continue to bring ethical options into mainstream markets.
I also work on Environmental Defence’s Just Beautiful Campaign to rid toxins out of cosmetics and personal care products. I love painting my face as much as the next queen, but it’s nothing short of a crime that what we smear on our largest organ contains plastic, poisons and heavy metals that disrupt hormone function, bioaccumulate in the environment, are carcinogenic, allergenic, and migraine inducing. It doesn’t need to be this way. We have the technology! So we are working to catch up with the EU in terms of their legislation on labeling and trying hard to get the dirty dozen off the shelves.
On a similar note I support a great app that makes this science super accessible. It’s called THINK DIRTY, founded by my buddy Lily Tse. The app allows you to scan the barcodes of your cosmetics and gives you a toxicity ranking 1-10, informs you of the hazardous ingredients and suggests safe alternatives. It’s a must-download!
Top of mind these days is Project 1127, an initiative founded by my dear friend Laura Siegel, a Canadian women’s wear designer who makes her collection fairly and directly in India incorporating the most beautiful and sophisticated traditional crafts. She is raising money for the victims of Rana Plaza with an organization called Sreepur Village that is helping people rebuild their lives post-factory collapse. My partner and I travelled to India and Bangladesh in late 2014 to produce a video for Project 1127 that will be released in the coming weeks. It’s been a real labour of love. We need to change how mainstream fashion is made and treat garment industry workers with respect. A revolution is upon us.
What is your life motto at this moment?
At this moment and every moment, “Heal the world. Make it a better place.” Points if you know who sang this and love him like I do.
Also, DRESS UP. Xx
Follow Sarah Jay on Instagram.