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21 Apr

Meet The Model Turned Ocean Warrior Out To Change The Way Fashion Thinks About Plastic

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Love it or hate it, plastic is a part of everyday life. Whether you’re sipping from a Starbucks cup or wearing synthetic fabrics, it’s hard to escape its presence. Still, Maryna Linchuk is committed to getting people to rethink their relationship with the material. Teaming with eco-organization Parley, the Belarusian modeling star spent her winter break cleaning up the refuse-covered beaches of the Maldives. Though she’d visited the island for photo shoots in the past, getting a bird’s-eye view of the destruction was an eye-opener for Linchuk. “It’s shocking to me that this material that is so unfriendly, so dangerous for animals, and potentially toxic to us has become so normal in our society,” says Linchuk over email. “A plastic bottle you use for 10 minutes will be here forever. That was a hard thing for me to learn—to understand that every piece of plastic ever produced will stay on this planet.”

It’s a lesson that Parley hopes to spread. Dedicated to finding inventive ways to combat pollution, Parley’s A.I.R. strategy targets contamination caused by marine plastic waste—not only on cleaning up the oceans, but also one day eliminating the material entirely through awareness campaigns and the eventual development of sustainable alternatives. The process is involved and ambitious. “We see the key to the solution in creativity and collaboration,” says founder Cyrill Gutsch. “We’re trying to take something devastating and potentially catastrophic to our own survival and turn it into a movement of positivity.” With the effect on air quality, not to mention the thousands of animal species reliant on clean water, the importance of Parley’s mission is clear. But as with many environmental problems, the impact can be too large for many to contextualize. “When people hear or read about what’s happening in our life support—global coral bleaching events, horror stories of shark finning and whaling, the warming and rising seas—these issues all seem so far away,” explains Gutsch. “Until something is happening directly in front of you, it’s very difficult to picture and connect to the reality.”

Making the trip to the Maldives lead Linchuk to develop a deeper understanding of ocean pollution and the motivation to make changes in her day-to-day life. Working alongside marine experts, Maldives locals, and fellow volunteers helped her to stop using disposable items and switch to reusable bags, but she’s hoping to make a far larger change by inspiring the fashion community. “The fashion industry is a huge polluter. So for me, my challenge is to find ways I can use my contacts, my network, and whatever influence I have to convince my business partners, team, and friends to change,” Linchuk says. “It doesn’t have to be this huge solution right away; we can fix this item by item.” The first step? Branching out with her own line of swimwear, crafted by recycling those ocean plastics. The forthcoming label will be Linchuk’s first work as a designer, but she’s hoping it makes waves. “I think people don’t just want to buy stuff; they’re ready to put their money where their hearts are,” she adds. “And I think that’s the idea that Parley has. It’s not a burden or sacrifice to heal our environment—it’s an opportunity.”

Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk
Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk

“What drew me to Parley is it doesn’t fit into any category I’ve seen before. It’s not a protest organization. It’s a new kind of network and movement of innovators and creatives, and that’s something that speaks to me. I’m not one to hold up a sign and preach to people. But I do want to use my time to change things and see that I can make a difference, even if it’s just a small one. This is such a huge problem, it’s easy to feel like, ‘How can I be of any use?’ But if you start just by speaking to people, by explaining as simply as possible, without blame, what’s going on and why we need to fix it, it’s common sense. We have to act.”

Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk
Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk

“Once you understand that plastic is everywhere in the oceans, on every beach and shoreline, just completely surrounding us, you can’t unsee it or ignore it anymore.”

Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk
Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk

“Recycling isn’t the only part of the solution. What helps is if [companies] stop producing plastic—that is the true long-term solution—but to get to that, you have to make everyone aware of the issue and committed to finding a resolution. Right now, you have oil companies and that is their life. That’s what they do, but there are alternatives—if we can utilize materials that are friendlier to the environment and fund research to develop something biodegradable that can replace plastic.”

Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk
Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk

“Swimming has always been a big part of my life. I enjoy being alone and it’s one of the best forms of exercise that somehow doesn’t really feel like exercise. At some point, the motion becomes almost automatic. You stop thinking and you just swim; you experience the water, take pleasure in moving through it, feel in sync with your body and one with the element.”

Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk
Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk

“When you think Maldives, you think about this paradise—beautiful islands and beaches. But then you go to these islands that aren’t inhabited, and you see where there is plastic waste up to your knees. It’s actually crazy; you get depressed looking at it. I travel a lot and we always go to beaches for shoots or vacation, but you’d never think that level of pollution existed within the same place.”

Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk
Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk

“Cleaning up beaches at Parley Ocean School taught me to look at the problem and really see it. The act of removing all these useless items from the sand—toothbrushes, bottles, bottle caps, pieces of dolls, flip-flops, we even found a refrigerator—it changes you, not just the way you act. You feel it inside. We could go to the most remote island and still find plastic trash. Even if there were no trace of humans beings on that island, it just washes in with the tide.”

Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk
Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk

“On every island we would visit, we would go and speak with locals, especially the kids. They were always so helpful; we did a lot of work with the kids, spending time teaching them about recycling.”

Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk
Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk

“Parley Ocean School shattered the misconception I had of the oceans as this huge, indestructible force. I’d always felt the oceans were so vast, they were untouchable. Then I learned the reality: The oceans are about to die; the damage is already so big. We live and act as though we cannot alter the sea, we cannot break this ecosystem, when in truth it’s just the opposite. Everything we do has an impact on the oceans. They are more sensitive and marine life more endangered than we ever imagined. And then to learn how little time is left to change the ways we are living on this planet—it was eye-opening. Shocking, really.”

From Vogue

Hannah Kim
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