in conversation with

Madeleine MacGillivray Wallace

We spoke with Madeleine MacGillivray Wallace, a climate advocate and ambassador for sustainable and ethical fashion. She talked us through her education, favorite clothing brands, the fashion industry’s production tactics, and the little changes we can make to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Photos provided by Madeleine MacGillivray Wallace, artwork by STRÅLANDE

The Basics

I’m a native New Yorker, born and raised in Brooklyn -- we’re a bit rare these days! After a few years in San Francisco and Santa Barbara, I returned to complete my undergrad degree in Environmental Politics from Barnard at Columbia. After getting into some modeling the summer after graduating, I immersed myself in the sustainable fashion movement. Building upon my preexisting science and activism background, I started growing my platform as a speaker and ambassador in sustainable fashion, and I’m excited to be returning to Columbia soon to start my master of science in Sustainability Management.

Current Profession

I like to call myself a Climate Advocate. For me, that term covers my sustainable fashion expertise, microplastics and marine research background, youth climate activist identity, and limitless environmental justice leader aspirations moving forward.

On Working With 5Gyers

I’ve been a 5Gyres Ambassador since 2015, and am so lucky to have participated in research expeditions in the Bermuda Triangle, the Arctic, Indonesia, and the Galápagos Islands as Science Communications Manager. We collect data on our expeditions, educate and empower local communities, and publish our crucial data which fuels important environmental policy. I could talk forever about microplastics!

Ethical & Sustainable Brands

Fashion & Beauty Modeling

I began modeling after I was asked by my friend, designer Marcia Patmos, to model for her. The collection was published in Vogue, and I found my name in the article, followed by, “environmental scientist and activist.” I thought to myself, not only did Marcia want to represent and empower her models as individuals, but maybe being a ‘model’ and an ‘individual’ are not mutually exclusive. Lo and behold, the demand for individuals or ambassadors, rather than just models, is growing faster than ever.

On Current Shift In The Fashion Industry

We all need to remember that ‘industry’ and ‘sustainable’ are two opposing words. The industry as a whole is experiencing a crucial and major shift, like Gucci canceling the concept of ‘seasons,’ and other major brands adopting thoughtful production tactics. And we’re only in the beginning, which is so exciting. But there is also a widespread greenwashing problem. As individuals, we must remember that the true meaning of sustainability lends itself to breaking cycles of mass production and consumption, not fueling them (no matter how ‘sustainable’ that recycled plastic bikini might seem).

Social Media Positivity

I hope people laugh, relate, and learn! I try to keep it real, and my social media is a reflection of my multifaceted self. We have to be real about the climate crisis, but we also need to make ourselves happy, be creative, and empower others. I share political justice issues, micro-plastics knowledge, regenerative agriculture, and sustainable fashion and beauty; but I also share my art, my modeling photos, my humor, my art, and my love of nature.

Typical Workday

Well, before COVID-19, I would have said something like waking up around 7AM, making a matcha, answering emails, doing a modeling job or giving a talk, attending an event or panel, etc. But ever since quarantine started, it’s looked like waking up around 8 or 9, emailing, and on any given day I might be recording a podcast, writing, doing a remote fashion collaboration, moderating a zoom panel, doing an IG live, etc. I have also been working to coordinate a rapid response initiative for Indigenous communities in highly impacted areas on reservations, led by Seeding Sovereignty, which is an absolutely amazing organization that everybody should check out.

Tips To Live A Sustainable Life

Thrift your clothes! Eat less animal products! Swap out anything single use for something reusable, one item at a time. Seriously, you can go slow with this one; maybe start with a steel straw or bamboo toothbrush. And most importantly, compost if you can (it’s easier than you think).

Future Projects

There’s definitely a lot that I’m excited about moving forward. Apart from the collaborations with brands, and future features and speaking opportunities, I’m going to be working on a longer format writing project. And possibly even something wearable.