“I have no idea how I’ve lasted so long”
The industry veteran, and long-time favorite of Nicolas Ghesquiere, reflects on two decades in fashion and co-founding Sway, a boutique of sustainable and fair made goods.
Talk to us about your childhood.
I had a happy childhood—there were five children; three girls and two boys—and we lived in a big house in the countryside near Brussels. We always had friends and family stay with us during the holidays, and with five kids it was never boring. I took ballet, but honestly, I was more interested in playing soccer, which I did in school. I also sang in our school chorus and we made it on TV, which was a big deal in the early nineties. Around the age of 13, my father abandoned us—those were rough times— and then I started modeling around the age of 14.
You’ve had the type of career longevity aspiring models dream about. Why do you think you’ve lasted so long in such a fickle industry?
Thank you. I have no idea why or how I’ve lasted so long. When I started modeling in the late nineties, we thought it would only last for a few years. In the end, I’ve been doing this for over two decades. At the time I knew there was a limited time to work as a model. Luckily, views on beauty and style have evolved and wrinkles and different body sizes are no longer taboo. In my case, I was at the right age when that evolution started and that’s probably why I’ve worked longer than usual. About seven years ago it started to be cool to call back older models on the runway. I’m glad because the fashion industry needed this. When you look at the diverse group of models on the runway now, it’s absolutely amazing!
Talk to us about the genesis of Sway.
My younger sister and I own Sway, a boutique of sustainable and fair made goods. All of our items are organic or recycled and meet fair working standards. It all started in 2017 when our friends sold their sustainable shop in a great location. We both jumped at the opportunity because it was still a niche at the time. We wanted to break down all the negative perceptions about eco-friendly clothes and make more people aware of what they buy and where their clothes are made. We adapted the style and renamed it Sway. Since then we can happily say a lot more brands work sustainably. It is our job to filter through the greenwashing and choose the best brands for our customers.
For those who don’t know, tell us about what slow consumerism is and why it’s important to you.
Slow consumerism is an alternative to fast fashion. For the consumer, it is a way of investing and taking care of built-to-last items. It promotes a more sustainable way of living and consuming. It’s about respecting ethics and the environment, and not buying an item that will last one wear and then end up in the landfill. It actually influences a big range of your everyday habits—which is a good thing—and is necessary to save our planet and ourselves.
What are the core tenets of Sway?
Every item we sell must meet fair wage standards for everyone involved in the process of making the clothes and fabrics. Many of our brands are members of the Fair Wear Foundation, and most of our brands are made in Europe. We also sell goods from artisans in Belgium. Another tenet is that every item must be recycled or organically grown. It should have the lowest possible impact on the environment, and on the people who make the clothes. We don’t aim for high fashion at Sway; everyone should be able to afford sustainable clothing.
How do you decide what brands you want to collaborate with?
The collaboration depends on the tenets above, and if the brand’s style matches what we believe our customers are looking for.
How has your business pivoted during the pandemic?
At first, we were really shocked and we thought how could you not be open?! This had never happened before to any business. Luckily, we invested in a brand new website in 2019 and we focused on our social media presence. We shot our collections, wrote blog articles, and stayed positive. After all, the world was on hold, so why panic? Our customers didn’t mind our approach, and the pandemic offered an opportunity to reflect. Conscious consumerism is a part of it. We’ve met many people who’ve decided not to buy fast fashion anymore.
What are your plans once travel is a reality again?
As a model, I’ve traveled the world, and it has taught me a lot. I would love it if my daughter could see the world as I did. We’re not making too many plans now for long-distance travel. For our next family trip, we’ve decided to take more road trips or travel by train and less by plane. It’s less exotic to stay in Europe, but it has so many aspects and exciting places to offer. We are visiting France this summer if it is OK to travel.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’ve always been a tomboy and I guess I still am a bit. I love gardening—I’m a nature lover—and I couldn’t live in a city. Probably not too many people know this about me.
Follow her on Instagram