Conscious Creativity with Willow founder, Emma Hakansson
While other 19 year old women are busy studying, working part time jobs, and enjoying little responsibility, Emma Hakansson is busy promoting sustainability and ethics in the creative field. Through her brand, Willow, the model, ethics consult and creative director creates content for kind businesses, and helps businesses become kinder, too.
Working with brands such as the Dirt Co, Eco Mono, and Animal Liberation Victoria; Emma’s projects take many forms. From consulting on ethical, sustainable fabrics for fashion labels to creatively producing shoots, the work is always underpinned by creativity devoid of cruelty.
Having recently worked with Willow to create content for Bob’s social media, here, we chat to the young, wise-beyond-her-years creative to talk about the merging of creativity and ethics through Willow.
Firstly, can you please tell us a little about your story and the Willow story?
I care a lot about reducing suffering, but I also love art and fashion and being creative so my work is in bringing these things together to make the world kinder.
Willow has a similar story. It was born because as my personal ethics strengthened, I realised that I couldn’t work in the field I wanted to and feel okay with myself, unless I changed it. I didn’t want to model for brands that were unethical, so Willow works to educate and consult with brands so they can become more so. I didn’t want to work for ethical brands with teams that weren’t really aligned with the values of the brand, so Willow creates exclusively for ethical brands, with creatives that believe in what they’re working to promote.
Were you always in the creative field? What did work look like for you before Willow was created?
Well I only finished school in 2017 so I haven’t done anything for too long. But I finished school at the Victorian College of the Arts secondary school and I did visual arts there while modelling on the side.
When I finished, I moved to Sydney and modelled full time. I got dropped, I panicked, then I started freelancing and I spent a large part of last year travelling overseas, modelling and creative directing for ethical brands as I went. All the while, I was planning and building Willow as I went so that I could bring that to life this year.
Talk to us a little bit about your work - when did the shift towards bringing your creativity into a more ethical place occur?
I had been signed with a modelling agency since I was fourteen (though I didn’t get much work). When I was fifteen I stopped eating meat, and when I was sixteen I went vegan. After making that ethical decision I started thinking about ethics and my consumption more generally, but particularly around fashion because it’s the industry I was involved in and that I like.
It was essentially discomfort that made the shift happen. It was really hard to try to set boundaries as to what I would or wouldn’t shoot for - no animal products for example was hard. I could say no to a leather shoe brand, but if I went to a shoot for a brand that didn’t use animal products, they’d style me in leather shoes. Being increasingly uncomfortable and increasingly aware of my making money on jobs that I wasn’t completely on board with morally forced me to change things - not just for me but for other conscious creatives.
We love that you consult with brands that seek to become more ethical and conscious in their creations - can you walk us through this process?
Yes! Essentially it’s having conversations with people. I’ve got a pretty huge amount of information on animal materials used in fashion, and a fair bit on unsustainable materials generally in my head so it’s about sharing that knowledge.
I really like to think that if people are informed of the harm something they’re involved in causes, and if they allow themselves to be open to potential solutions and alternate pathways, people will choose to do the right thing. It’s not always the case and that’s been made clear a lot of times but I have to at least hope it’s true.
So for example Willow will speak to a brand about the impact of wool in terms of animal rights and the environment. Willow will share information about alternate materials that can be used instead, and based on that information, brands will choose to change what they’re doing for the better. Willow can also help brands to implement that.
What have been some of your favourite and personally important projects to date?
One that is still a secret is probably the most special to me! All I can say is that it’s a brand who is going to use something else instead of the cow skin they used to, and they were the first brand that let me speak to them about this sort of thing so it was really the project that made me realise how much change could be made through consultation and collaboration.
Another was probably producing the campaign image for Animal Liberation Victoria’s ‘Wool Truth’ campaign, wearing organic cotton knits and holding rescue lambs (I also modelled in that one).
It was important to me and it is always special to have a team that so believes in the project - a fully vegan team shooting for a vegan awareness campaign is pretty cool to me.
Talk to us a bit about your work with Animal Liberation Victoria?
Wool Truth was the first campaign I created with Animal Liberation Victoria. I work there regularly and I focus on fashion based exploitation, campaigns surrounding it and how we can get the general public to see, understand and sympathise with the horrendous suffering involved in these industries. ALV also works on projects like Vegan Easy that support people in making kinder choices for animals, once they’re aware of the inherent immorality of animal agriculture.
As a model, you've been highly exposed to fashion; what are your favourites with ethics and sustainability in mind?
My favourite brands that I’ve modelled for would be:
De Lorenzo who really were pioneers in Australian vegan haircare and dye.
Sans Beast who are really helping vegan bags become mainstream and something people who aren’t even necessarily vegan would choose over leather.
The Basal Shop in LA. I worked on a design collaboration with and modelled for these guys which was special, and their practices are very sustainable and ethical.
Favourite places around Melbourne to go for food, a drink, or anything wellbeing related?
I live pretty close to Lentil As Anything and I love their whole ethos... vegan food, their payment scheme that lets people who can’t afford to eat for whatever they can afford, their ‘inconvenience store’ that sells food that would otherwise have been thrown out by supermarkets because it’s like a day old.
I also love Smith and Daughters, Matcha Mylkbar, and Woking Amazing.
My favourite well-being related thing is to have a massage when I can. My neck and back is pretty much always sore so I go to Endota Spa when possible and everyone is lovely, most of their products are vegan and they know which ones aren’t.