A ginger model wearing a brown and grey robe with her hand on her head

A portrait of the multitalented Lily Cole

The model and campaigner talks to Ella Johnson about environmental action, NFTs and how fashion can never be truly sustainable

1. What was your first piece of eco-activism?

Without it being intentionally connected to environmentalism, I guess it was campaigning against fur and turning vegetarian as a kid.

2. Why are you an “accidental entrepreneur”?

I’ve never resonated with the idea of business or entrepreneurship. I just have ideas and business has been a good vehicle for executing them, so it’s “accidental”. Perhaps “incidental entrepreneur” is a better way of saying it, as it’s an incidental by-product of following ideas.

3. What is the aim of your 2020 book and ongoing podcast, Who Cares Wins?

To draw attention to climate solutions and to foster a culture of diversity, dialogue and collaboration.

4. Who would be your ultimate guest for the podcast?

Thich Nhat Hanh. Aware it is too late for that.

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5. Why should we take an intersectional approach to environmentalism?

Because all our issues are interconnected and interwoven, both social and environmental. And because the key to embracing biodiversity involves embracing diversity on all levels, such as cultural diversity and diversity of thought.

6. The Queen asks you what to do. What do you tell her?

I ask her to listen to, support and champion indigenous voices.

7. What was your greatest revelation while researching your book?

That we could halt global warming, draw down more than 15 years of carbon emissions, enhance global biodiversity and essentially stop the sixth mass extinction through a very simple, and technically possible, action: stopping most animal farming.

A child sitting on a sofa with tights on and a sign over her neck that says 'Don't Wer Fur'

Cole, aged around 10, with an early activist fashion statement

8. Can we really stop global heating?

As above, and through many other solutions I look at in Who Cares Wins. Although it might not be possible to stop global heating in the short-to-medium term, we can potentially stop it in the longer term. And we can lessen the extent at which it accelerates, so it’s not too late to do something.

9. Fashion can never be sustainable. True or false?

If Adam and Eve swapping out fig leaves for, say, maple-tree leaves, was fashion, then yes, it can be. If most fashion remains made up of petrochemicals – 70 per cent of new fabrics are composed from plastic – and using non-circular business models, then no, probably not.

10. Why did you move to Portugal?

My daughter’s father is Portuguese and it felt like a good move to be closer to his family during the pandemic. Then I fell in love with the country: good nature, weather and people.

11. Have you ever bought an NFT?

Interesting question. I nearly did, as one was originally attached to a tapestry artwork I bought by Éva Ostrowska.

12. What’s your favourite building?

Sant’Ivo in Rome. The floor plan has a weird shape, like a bee. When Borromini drew the plans, he had to put the centre of the compass outside the ecclesiastical space to make it, which some interpret as a nod to the new idea that Earth was not the centre of the universe.

13. Tate Modern or Pompidou?

Tate Modern.

14. Is success about talent or effort?

It takes both, I’d think.

15. Which fictional character would you most want to have dinner with, why, and where?

Ada, from the novel by Nabokov. To pick her brain and play her games. On a sun-kissed beach.

Read more: An Interview with KAWS

16. What next, creatively?

Writing, writing, writing more.

Season 2 of Lily Cole’s Who Cares Wins podcast is available to stream now: lilycole.com/podcast

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX