INTERVIEWER Zoe Schlanger
Summer Rayne is an anomaly in the best sense possible. She’s a model with numerous ads and editorials under her belt, but get this: she’s also a Cornell graduate with degrees in Environmental Science and Entomology (she’s a big fan of bugs). Think those two life tracks are mutually exclusive? Think again. Summer has found a way to practice both professions seamlessly, resulting in a paradigm she calls “values-based modeling”. This entails transforming her modeling potential into environmental activism, becoming the face for companies she feels can genuinely impact the state of corporate sustainability.
Summer describes her style as “hipster-chip meets classic couture at times. It varies on the day,” adding that it has “eroded since living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to the more geek-chic,” or perhaps even “hipster-chic meets Pocahontas.”
Her look may be in flux, but her ethics are not. Summer cites Kaight in Manhattan as her retailer of choice, a boutique devoted to ethical and eco-friendly products, and makes a concerted effort to use sustainable makeup in front of the camera, though she is receptive to the challenges that poses for photo shoots: “I’m not a huge stickler about it though, and if there’s a color they want to use that isn’t available in the natural projects I’m like, ‘dude, it’s okay.’”
How, might you ask, did this environmental science major end up advocating sustainability from a modeling angle? Turns out she was modeling long before being a degree holder, and she quickly became fed up. “When you’re in the industry, sometimes you don’t just want to stand there wearing the clothes. I had an issue with that.” And so she started chiming in.
“It started with a sustainable development and design project that I was working on with John S. Cooper called Organic Portraits. It was basically creating avant garde photography and using natural elements and sustainable design pieces and wrapping it into a conservation curriculum. The curriculum was called EcoFashion101. It started in 2001 and it allowed me to exercise my interest in sustainable development and design to create a product that is really intriguing to people who wouldn’t ordinarily be in the environmental design industry. I came into it as a model, working on this project and seeking out brands that really shared my values.”
Her perspective on targeting corporations has changed since then, however:
“I think that’s evolved now, most definitely. It was partnering with brands that shared my values that were 100% more attuned to be eco-conscious, and now I think my value-added is that I’m partnering with brands that are in the spirit of getting there that aren’t quite there yet, and being a spokesperson for those companies and working in the back end as a consultant.”
Her most recent example of helping a brand move towards this sustainable ideal is her partnership with Payless. Yes, that Payless, the manufacturer of cheap shoes, who at first glance couldn’t seem more the antithesis of the green movement.
“I got on board to work with Payless three years ago now; they approached me about wanting to do a more environmentally preferable shoe line so last year we launched Zoe&Zac, and we’re in our second season in that line, and since reaching out to me I’ve been integrated way more into the team to work with on the sustainable end to come up with new ideas. Again, it wouldn’t necessarily have been a brand that would have made sense for me to partner with, until they claimed they wanted to integrate this more into their company, so it seemed like the right partnership.”
Now, Summer is in the process of launching Source4Style, an online network of designers and the suppliers of sustainable materials, to “provide access to more sustainable materials to designers who are already seeking it out,” enabling seamless connectivity and productivity that is so sorely lacking from the community of eco design.
Need we even say it? Summer is a Bright Young Thing all over, and we couldn’t be happier to have her as the Winner of Most Original Style Challenger for our Style Challenge.