Industry Insiders: Summer Rayne Oakes, Green Goddess

Writer/model/educator/activist/greener Summer Rayne Oakes is a correspondent for Discovery Channel’s Planet Green and author of Style, Naturally: The Savvy Shopping Guide to Sustainable Fashion and Beauty. She opens up about global green initiatives, balancing her plate of greenness, and collecting bugs.

What do you do? If I got stuck in an elevator and had to run down my life, I’d have to say that I run a strategic communications and marketing brand management firm, and I do sustainable products. I align myself with environmental and socially conscious products and programs. I’m doing a program with Payless and their new line of sustainable shoes, called Zoe and Zac, and I’m their sustainability rep. I’ll help green the company along the way to launch a shoe that permeates the lifestyle of the people it appeals to. I’m an on-air correspondent for Planet Green, and I’m on their board of advisors. It’s all under the umbrella of sustainability.

How’d you fall into all of this? My background is in environmental science, entomology, and geographic information systems. At university, I was heavily involved in all sorts of things: rainforest studies, aquatic entomology, climate issues, sewage sludge. I was always interested in environmental solutions and constantly struggling with how to find real change. You’re required to publish papers, and for me, I always wanted to create a larger change for things flying below the radar and have an impact upon peoples lives. I eventually fell into fashion and media. In New York, I met the photographer John F. Cooper, who was doing organic photographs with natural elements, and he wanted to put them in a book about rainforest conservation. So we tapped into designers and partnered with nonprofits and did an educational program with it. Later, through networking with designers and schools, I launched Ecofashion 101, and then the green media began to pop, and the blogosphere saw democratization of writing on green issues. My career became the focus for alignment with the environment. I never saw it as a career while I was in college, but here I am, trailblazing.

Where do you go out? Gobo on Sixth Avenue is one of my favorites. It’s vegetarian junk food that’s divine. One favorite place to shop is Kaight, an incredible sustainable place; and in Brooklyn where I live, I love Fabiane’s. The owner is Brazilian but makes the best French pastries you’ve ever tasted. Near Green Point, Urban Rustic is great. In San Francisco, I love Rosa’s Café for fresh fish after a visit to the Green Market. In London, we had a great book party at Beach Blanket Babylon, in Shoreditch and Notting Hill. Sketch is amazing. It’s an art gallery and restaurant.

Who do you look up to? I’ve been working with Stella McCartney and throwing my book parties at her places. A lot of us think of her with high-end design, and she’s probably the biggest icon in her sphere. Also Manish Arora, who does amazing, intricate work and is known widely in India, Paris, and London. His color is fierce. What are some positive trends in green initiatives? Transparency is the new real trend: I just became an ambassador for Made By, which started in the Netherlands and has just permeated in the U.K. to track and trace the supply chain. Some of the labels — like Kuyichi — have a button that tells you who made your clothes, a little about them, where the dyes come from, and is invisibility and transparency, which is important and powerful.

Anything negative? A negative trend is people moving where the cheapest product is.

What is something that people might not know about you? Most people don’t realize that I’ve been raising exotic insects since I was nine years old. The Hercules beetle, the assassin bugs, and the black African millipede, for instance.

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