Ninette Murk’s eternal optimism will save the world

There are people that can turn every heartbreaking event of their life into an act of positivity -and Ninette Murk is definitely one of them. The founder and creative director at Designers Against AIDS (DAA) and creative platform for social change Beauty Without Irony (BWI), Murk created DAA as a tribute to her assistant, Peter, who died of an AIDS-related illness; and BWI as a response to the cynical outlook the fashion business was adopting –being a fashion journalist she was experiencing it big time.
20 years later, both foundations are going from strength to strength, with DAA successfully collaborating with leading and popular fashion brands, designers and celebrities such as H&M, Eastpak, JBC, Delvaux, Marc Jacobs, Bernhard Willhelm, Rihanna, Timbaland, Robert Smith from The Cure, Pharrell Williams and Kendall Jenner. In 2013 Murk relaunched BWI as a creative platform for social change staging exciting international exhibitions in Essaouira (Morocco) and Antwerp (Belgium).

Today, in a world experiencing the aftermaths of the corona pandemic and in the midst of the #blacklivesmatter protests in the US and Europe, Murk’s creative optimism appears the only way to go forward. Indeed, her full body of work is a celebration of pure beauty, idealism, and lust for life -a lust that overcomes all obstacles to support a good cause –and makes a positive change to the world. Here, she speaks about DAA, her more recent project ‘Beauty for a Better World 2020’- and how eternal optimism in action can save the world.

Tell us a bit about your most recent projects, especially Beauty for a Better World 2020?

Beauty for a Better World was a very early project of mine that started with the Twin Towers incident and the overall world apocalypse that happened -and didn’t really get the attention it deserved. I then went on to found Designers against AIDS, a project that became very famous -and got media attention especially after our 5 years lasting global H&M collaboration. Many designers contributed, in fact, we have a vast archive of work that represents our mission. Meanwhile, I wanted to reboot my beauty projects as I feel the perception of beauty in the world is important-but most donations were made to DAA just because the initiative has gained so much publicity. I don’t think it’s bad, naturally, I just felt I needed to do something involving beauty-and thus restarted it. We have a great team of high profile and talented people both in the fashion and media industry that are passionate about our mission. I believe in beauty -in fact, the process of choosing your most beautiful artwork of all to be exhibited on behalf of BFBW2020 has been cathartic even for the artists themselves.

Your work deals a lot with beauty and happiness through awareness and responsibility-How do you define the idea of responsibility in the fashion industry? What’s missing in terms of ethics right now?

Every company (not only in fashion!) should make sure that it’s being fair on every level of their process- towards their employees, customers, suppliers, ad /media agency, shareholders – and also to the planet. The focus right now for many businesses is mainly about making as much money as possible, cutting costs wherever they can. This is not sustainable and it certainly is not human.

 

kendall-jenner-en-gigi-hadid-voor-designers-against-aids-2369-7238 copy
Kendall Jenner and Neville Jacobs (dog of Marc Jacobs) in one of the t-shirts he designed to benefit Designers against AIDS. This project by LOVE Magazine also featured Gigi Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and Cara Delevingne

 

What is the greatest lesson fashion must learn from the coronavirus epidemic?

Fashion must slow down, its more imperative now than it has been some years ago. The fashion schedule with so many shows a year and countless meetings and fast fashion production are destroying nature, the most important thing we have-and thus our wellbeing and future. There are solutions: reduce the schedule, produce less and better quality clothes that are ethically made, and make your supply chain as transparent as possible. Full transparency is needed. I am also a member of GWAND, a Swiss festival for Sustainable fashion, and have learned a lot from these people-advocates of sustainability in a creative and not –boring, fun way! Sustainable fashion isn’t anymore how it was some years ago-the clothes are actually very nice, stylish, and more accessible price-wise.

The #Blacklivesmatter movement is causing a stir-How can fashion brands fully embrace diversity?

They must mean it. Not many brands are actually investing in diversity in their staff roles or ensure equal pay rates. They must hire more black people, promote and consult them. Diversity in fashion is not a new concept, in the past, Benetton and their photographer Oliviero Toscani have been successfully embracing it with great vision-and commercial success. The Benetton clothes were just brightly colored basics, but the message, the awareness, the brand ethics were powerful. They talked about AIDS, racism, everything that matters. Diversity also means more representation in terms of sizes. Brands must embrace diversity and actually mean it as a long term strategy-don’t just add a plus-size model to gain attention but then not do anything groundbreaking. You don’t brush off the need to show diversity and inclusivity just by stating it or posting a #blacklivesmatter on your Facebook page.

So, how does it feel being an eternal optimist?

This is more part of who I am, more of my attitude towards life than a structured philosophy. I have been through a lot the recent years in terms of personal health, and have managed to get through them smiling and with optimism. You see, I may occasionally feel pain or get a low mood, but then I focus on all the great things I am blessed to have: a nice life, a house with a beautiful garden, a great husband, and an invaluable circle of friends. Those are priceless -and that’s how we all should face life.

Ballet Room by Antonio Paladino
Graduation collection of Serkan Sarier at the Antwerp Academy (2001), photo by Antonio Paladino-the start of Beauty Without Irony project

 

77986-bcad45b2daf240508dd8375f3c8aea57_1024x1024@2x
The Dita Von Teese- designed T-shirt for DAA’s first global Fashion against AIDS collection with H&M.

beautywithoutirony.com

designersagainstaids.com

 

 

 

Wearing your values? Vegan fashion as a statement of protest

What we wear is a statement of who we are. Our clothes are way more than a stylistic choice; they are an expression of we perceive ourselves in the world. Clothes help us express our creative side and make a powerful statement of our aesthetics. In that sense, every single dress choice has a meaning, is a door to our tastes and beliefs.

In the case of vegan fashion, this statement is more powerful than ever. Every sustainable choice of an outfit or an accessory is actually a visual projection of our values. Ethical fashion is not only fashion, is a process of thinking and a way to view the world. It’s an ethical choice made public- a statement of values. Emmanuelle Rienda, the founder of the first Vegan Fashion Week, in LA, sees a new era coming:  “Cruelty-free is the new luxury. It is neither fashionable nor cool to wear a $3000 bag made of the skin of an animal. Nobody wants to walk around holding a dead baby calf.’’

What sustainable fashion means to vegan fashionistas

Many sustainable fashionistas define their style as an act of resistance and it’s hard not to make the connection. They claim that what they wear are in fact equally important with what they don’t wear- leather, fur, and all animal-made materials. Dressing ethically is, therefore, becoming an act of knowing thyself and your values-and challenging the world for what you believe.

Shruti Jain, the founder of Style Destino, a popular blog on sustainable fashion and vegan living. is adamant that: “Being a vegan doesn’t just involve eschewing meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey, but also the use of every animal products from your lifestyle. It means avoiding clothing and accessories made from leather, wool, silk, fur, feather, for example.’’.

A vegan lifestyle and dressing style is showing the world that cruelty-free clothes are not just a trend; they are an act of resistance towards modern consumerism. This kind of lifestyle allows consumers to take power in their hands and spend money where they think is just, thus influence the market. Or, as pioneer designer Stella Mc McCartney stated in her recent Numero interview: “the (animals’) path from A to Z of becoming a handbag or a pair of shoes is not pretty, it’s not fashionable, and it’s not even luxurious. Its murder.”

Shruti defines her role as the vegan influencers as one to initiate: “a process of positive change through my wardrobe. The visual impact that fashion has on people has multiplied with the rise of social media. I believe that through an ethical vegan wardrobe, you can demand change in the way fashion works today – exploiting people, the planet and the animals.”

Indeed, vegan fashion reflects a crucial shift in cultural values and community ethics. This new generation of conscious consumers is challenging traditional behaviors by choosing to dress as they live-beautifully and cruelty-free. Becoming vegan at this point means breaking away from the norm and challenging the whole western culture of animal exploitation-it is a choice of the ultimate personal expression inside the world.

If dressing is an act of freedom, being a vegan fashionista is, in fact, a conscious celebration of this freedom.’’ When an influencer shares the dark side of the fashion world, at the same time offering ethical alternatives the act serves a dual purpose. First, it educates the followers about inequality, cruelty, and injustice in the fashion world and then it also inspires them to bring a change because they can see alternatives.”, says Shruti.

Emmanuelle is equally aware her role is a pioneering one: “My role is to educate and create connections. Everybody wants to do better, she adds, we are just not aware of the reality of what we are pushed to consume.”

‘’Isn’t that what activism really is – campaigning for a social change?  asks Shruti. “.In this case, it would be Fashion Activism – inspiring people to forego animal and human cruelty from their wardrobe – because it’s unnecessary and uncool!”

 

Shruti Jain is the founder and the EIC of  ‘Style Destino‘, a popular blog on sustainable fashion and vegan living.

Emmanuelle Rienda is the Founder of the first Vegan Fashion Week, LA