TW: This article contains information about sexual assault which may be triggering to survivors.
In a nutshell, who is Emma Hakansson?
A question that always puts me into slight existential crisis mode… I am an artist, a model (I like combining the two a lot), an activist – someone trying their best to help the world be a better place. Also a big lover of clothing, nature, philosophy and animals, a sweet tooth and a big music listener.
What is it that you love about your work? What are the biggest misconceptions that people have about modelling?
I really love working with brands that I think are a part of a shift in the fashion industry – a shift towards kindness, towards conscious consumerism. I think that people think modelling is easy, when it really takes a lot of practice to learn and understand what you look like through the camera and to show off the product you’re selling. Also more personally, I think people don’t always know that I often do a bit of art direction on shoots I model.
You make your activism an integral part of your modelling work, which we love. What challenges have you faced because of this? What helps you to stay true to your values, despite the challenges?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced has definitely been avoiding animal products. Being vegan I don’t wear or own any. A lot of people don’t realise that means wool and silk as well as furs and skins. But I have had some slip ups where on shoots, despite having thought it was confirmed I wouldn’t be wearing animal products, I’ve ended up with them on the rack of clothes for me to wear.
I find it very stressful and I get anxious about what will happen if I say no, how it will damage my relationship with the brand and the people on set. Sometimes I have ended up wearing animal products for this reason, and felt really awful about it. But I’ve now learnt that nothing is more important than standing true to my morals, and that means confirming – triple checking – that the people I’m working with are on the same page as me so that sort of thing doesn’t happen.
The more I became aware of the dark side of the fashion world too (I’d encourage everyone watch The True Cost!) I found it difficult to find work because I didn’t want to work with brands that didn’t meet a certain ethical standard.
Again, learning that nothing is more important than following your ethos, I now work in, and find jobs, in a different way than I used to, to ensure I’m happy with the brands I work with. It’s been a lot of learning (and continues to be), but now I’ve found that by refusing to work with certain products or brands with poor ethics, I’ve gotten to work more with brands I value, because I think everyone feels it’s nice to work with people who believe in the same things as you!
What is one thing you wish you could change about the modelling and/or the fashion industry?
If the fashion world went vegan overnight I would cry a lot of happy tears. As well as obviously reducing an enormous amount of animal suffering, it would be amazing for the environment and for a lot of people working with toxic chemicals that are added to make products like furs and leathers not biodegrade (as corpses naturally do).
You’ve also spoken very openly about your experiences of sexual assault online. That’s something that’s often scary to do, even in the age of #MeToo. What lessons have you learned through sharing your own story, that you’d like survivors of sexual assault to know?
I think I didn’t realise how beneficial to my healing that sharing my story would be. When I first began speaking openly about my experiences, I was doing it for other people, to tell them they weren’t alone, to tell them not to feel any guilt or shame, as that shame only ever belongs to the abuser rather than the abused, to encourage them to seek justice.
But every time I share my story, though it’s not comfortable, I feel more weight come off my shoulders. It took probably quite a few months of speaking openly, online and in my personal life, about what happened to me, but I now feel zero shame around what happened. That’s a pretty incredible thing to have achieved. So I would hope other survivors could create that for themselves too. I would also hope that they know it is so much easier to deal with something so awful once it’s been brought to light when you’re not facing it alone. A support system, especially one including professional help, is priceless.
How has fashion represented a force for feminism for you?
The fashion industry has been a huge factor in helping me to have the voice I have now. Everyone has a voice, always, but I mean that through modelling, and the connections I have made within the fashion industry, I have been able to grow a platform from which I can speak to more people than I could have before. It’s been very empowering to be able to do that, and to be able to use my voice for good.
The fashion industry, especially in the way I deal with it now, only working with brands with ethoses I admire, has helped me meet a lot of incredible women older than me, who inspire me constantly. I also really love the art that is in fashion and how I can represent myself through what I wear (from both an ethical and aesthetic perspective), and feel strengthened by what I wear. I like that when I’m not feeling super great about the world, I can curate an outfit that makes me feel happy, inspired, and that makes me want to go out and do good things – and do so unapologetically.
Emma was featured in The Fabric Social's Winter18 Campaign, wearing our cotton sets made in Myanmar. You can find her inspiring posts on Instagram @hakkame