Sascha Camilli – The Passionate Vegan Fashion Writer, Activist & Changemaker

A passionate changemaker, Sascha Camilli is the founder and editor-in-chief of Vilda Magazine. Born in Moscow and raised in Stockholm, she has also lived in Los Angeles, London, Milan and Florence, before landing in her current hometown of Brighton, UK. She was selected as one of Glamour UK's Most Empowering Nu-Gen Activists and is a frequent public speaker on the topic of vegan fashion and material innovation. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Why do you do what you do?

I started Vilda because I spotted a gap in the market. When I was first transitioning to a vegan lifestyle there was so much information online about vegan food, recipes and nutrition, but nothing at all about fashion. As I was working in fashion at the time, I figured there had to be other people like me – people who were interested in fashion and loved personal style, but did not want to compromise on their ethics. I love writing, am passionate about editorial work and am very stimulated by anything that's new. I have an innate curiosity that makes journalism very appealing. And combining that with activism and making the world a better place is my ultimate dream job.

If you weren’t doing that – what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I would probably still be doing something that helps animals in some way but more hands-on, like working at an animal shelter. When I lived in Milan I used to volunteer at a dog and cat shelter, and I remember feeling so envious of the staff there at times. Many days I felt like I wanted to give up my “glamorous” job in fashion to  do their job instead. I'm also very driven by progress, and knowing that what I do is part of a growing movement that is changing the world helps me keep going when things get tough.

What drives you, and where do you get your inspiration from?

Part of what drives me is knowing that animals are still abused and exploited for fashion every day. While they are suffering, our work is never done. I'm also very driven by progress, and knowing that what I do is part of a growing movement that is changing the world helps me keep going when things get tough.

I'm very inspired by tireless activists who fight for a better world every day, but I am also inspired by innovation and changemakers who provide options for a better world, such as designers pioneering innovative, animal-free textiles. That's why Vilda will always be a platform to give these people a voice.

What has been the greatest challenge while getting yourself where you are today?

I will be honest here: starting a magazine (or anything) without a substantial budget or any investment is brutally difficult. When I speak at events I often meet people who had no idea the magazine existed, they discover it because they hear me talk – and I think, “that's because we have no marketing budget”. With that in mind, I think we've come a really long way. When we're nominated for awards alongside print magazines with a publishing house behind them, I can't help but feel really pleased. 

Any advice you could share with us?

Believe in what you do. If you don't believe in it, stop doing it and start doing something you believe in.

We believe that the world can be changed one choice at a time. How would you describe sustainability and sustainable lifestyle? Is it actually achievable, or even necessary?

A sustainable lifestyle means different things to different people. I believe it means doing your best to live your life with respect for other living beings – including humans – and the environment. It is extremely necessary, even critical in this day and age that we all do our very best to live as sustainably as we can, and influence others to take steps towards sustainability in their own lives.

What's even more important is that we try and influence governments to take action for sustainability: sign petitions, write to decision-makers, vote in elections and support organisations that work on a large-scale level. It's too late to limit ourselves to individual choices, we must take collective action to combat the worst effects of the problems that our planet is facing. Whether it's achievable is a really difficult question, and I think a big elephant in the room is that there are simply too many humans on this planet, which is something that very few people want to discuss. This is one of the several reasons why I am child-free.

Is there anything that keeps you awake at night? Or constantly puts fire in your belly?

The thought of millions of living, sentient beings kept in filthy cages, severely neglected, denied food, water and sunlight, and killed by drowning, electrocution, poisoning or gassing every year just so some celebrity can wear a fur coat. 

What do ethics and aesthetics mean to you? Have you ever had to compromise one for the other?

I remember once, years before I was vegan, I spotted this beautiful pale-pink biker jacket at Mango in Milan. I was with a friend who offered to buy me the jacket as a birthday present. I was already envisioning all the outfits I'd wear it with...until I noticed the label: 100% lambskin. Something just didn't sit right. I hadn't eaten meat since I was 11, and wearing the skin of a baby lamb (can we take a few seconds to ponder how sick that sounds?) felt so wrong.

But the jacket was so beautiful! I spent the entire day thinking about whether I wanted it, whether I should make this “my last leather purchase”, making all the excuses – the lamb is already dead, the skin will be wasted – but in the end, I declined the present. No matter how gorgeous it looked and how soft it felt, I would always know, every time I threw it on over a pair of jeans or a dress, that this was made from the skin of a baby lamb, a gentle little creature who, if I met them, would have snuggled with me as I stroked their head. A curious young animal who wanted to live, to play, to feel the sun on their face. Even if no one else knew, I would know.

Ethics should always come first. But as an industry, we need to remember that the way you win people over is with aesthetics. It's so important for the ethical fashion industry to make things that people want to buy because they look good. That's the main reason people buy clothing, and it always will be. So the style factor must be kept in consideration – creating beautiful things is the only way to attract people who aren't already part of the movement.

What three words would you use to describe your style? And what’s been your biggest fashion mistake?

Edgy yet grown-up. I'm always channelling this “Vogue editor meets rock n'roll chick” vibe that I love, but I can never get it right because I am not cool enough (I am not cool at all!). My biggest fashion mistake was shopping at cheap high-street chains and defending it for so many years. I stand by some of the things I said then, I still think that parts of the ethical fashion movement are very elitist and privileged. But I was wrong to think that the only way to have great clothes without a huge budget was to settle for fast fashion – when I discovered the world of second-hand shopping, my whole life was revolutionised!

All of a sudden I could shop as much as I wanted: everything was dirt cheap, absolutely gorgeous, and totally ethical. What's not to love? My wardrobe is slowly transforming into this crazy collection of fantastic second-hand finds, and since I keep my clothes for years if not decades, it's magical to make memories in garments that someone else already made memories in. 

Who is your style icon and why?

I love the style of fashion editors, especially French ones: Emmanuelle Alt, Geraldine Saglio, Melanie Hyunh. Swedish designer Anine Bing is always wearing something I want. But my biggest fashion icon and life icon is Stella McCartney. I'm in awe of everything about her. She could have done anything with her life and career, and it would have been a huge success. But she chose to become the first designer to refuse to use fur and leather in international Fashion Weeks. She is such a trailblazer. 

Which are your favourite brands?

Matt and Nat for bags, ByBlanch and Beyond Skin for shoes, People Tree for apparel (especially jumpsuits which are my favourite garment), Unreal Fur for gorgeous faux furs, Dauntless NYC for biker jackets – my biggest fashion dream right now is to own one of their amazing jackets. But my favourite fashion brand is...Depop! It's the second-hand shopping app that has become my second home. I basically live on there!

What is your most treasured fashion item?

Easy – my Stella McCartney Mini Falabella bag from Depop. It was a present from my husband and it made me so happy. That bag is more than a bag, it's a revolution. It was the first vegan It Bag in the world – fashionistas everywhere wanted to wear it because it's a gorgeous bag, despite it not being made of leather. It put vegan fashion on the map. I'm so proud to own one.

What would you like to see more of in vegan fashion or beauty?

Really good, eco-friendly, non-synthetic vegan wool. I remember VAUTE did a range of vegan knits that blew my mind. I want to see more of that!

Do you have a beauty routine? And what beauty product could you not live without?

My beauty routine is courtesy of two main sources: LUSH, whom I've adored for many years; and LoveLula, an ethical beauty retailer. I love LUSH's Herbalism face cleanser and Imperialis moisturiser, and I adore their I Love Juicy shampoo. Most of my makeup comes from LoveLula – I adore the entire PHB Ethical Beauty range, especially the black eyeliner, which is my desert-island product! I never leave the house without my Ruby Red lipstick from E.L.F. and a spritz of my perfume from Eden Perfumes, a Brighton-based brand that perfectly mimics designer perfumes we all loved before we went vegan. The nr 9, similar to Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue and Ralph Lauren Ralph, is my favourite.

When did you become vegan and why?

I transitioned to veganism in 2012 after reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Everyone should read this book – it made me cry rivers and feel nauseated, and I was already pescatarian! After that, every time I went into the supermarket all I saw was the suffering of the animals killed for food. In fashion boutiques, I heard the screams of the animals killed for their skins. At the beauty counter, I could smell the chemicals injected into animals being tested on.

I knew I had to react, do something. And as I was moving to London at the time, I decided to try being vegan. “If it's too hard then I will go back”, I thought. That was seven years ago and I have been a happy, healthy, thriving vegan since then. 

Is there anything you struggle with being vegan? Any top tips for those who are thinking of trying going vegan?

Interactions with non-vegans can be hard, and infuriating. Sometimes I don't even want to start a discussion, but people coax it out of you by questioning your choices at every bite you eat. I particularly find it laughable that some people think we restrict and deny ourselves. If they only knew about all the amazing vegan food available these days! My best tip for those trying to go vegan is something that not every vegan might agree with, but I think it's key: take it slow. No need for cold turkey (although I really admire people who do go vegan overnight). Don't beat yourself up if you slip up. Take it one day at a time.

How do you relax and unwind?

I live in Brighton and if the weather allows, I love to be on the beach or just take a walk on the seafront. Just looking at the sea calms me and makes me feel more serene. Nothing beats a morning run on the seafront – or a sunset drink on the beach! If we're in the chillier season, I love curling up on the sofa with a stack of books – yep, a stack! I always read several books at a time. Books are a huge passion of mine, and I'm so proud of the fact that I've published one. Just the thought that someone might be curling up on their sofa with my book is incredible to me!

Who do you think we should interview next and why?

I think you should talk to Amy Rebecca Wilde, a Los Angeles-based activist and entrepreneur who is a huge inspiration for me. Her Instagram account @vegansofig made me realise that being vegan was something that I could actually do, that it wouldn't be too hard. Since then, she has launched boutique and event space Vegan Scene, and is in the process of launching two vegan fashion brands that use deadstock fabric. I recently met her for the first time and she is a lovely, inspiring, beautiful person. Check her out at @veganscene or @amyrebeccawilde. 

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