What do you get when you combine a model, philanthropist and animal activist all in one? The answer is simple, Thalia Heffernan. The Irish supermodel has made waves from our little island across the fashion industry, but also in the areas of animal welfare, veganism and promoting an all-round sustainable lifestyle. I had the pleasure of interviewing Thalia for our first issue of UTOPIA The Edit – and yes – she is an absolute angel (I know, so unfair). Oh, and her canine kids Leonard & Charlie are adorable too.
Occasionally you paint beautiful original artwork and then sell prints of it in aid of the DSPCA. As someone with such a multitude of talents; from painting, philanthropy, cooking and of course modelling, I’d love to ask; was modelling always your dream?
This is so very kind! Thank you so much! Modelling for me was very much a job that I fell in love with but never dreamed about, so to speak. It came about very organically from a young age, my first loves were animals, music and art and so I try to keep those passions alive alongside my career when and where I can.
What does ‘sustainability’ mean for you?
Sustainability for me means doing your very best to positively impact the planet on a daily basis to the best of your ability. That may be choosing to eat a plant based diet, bringing a keep cup to work or even spot cleaning your clothes instead of washing them after one wear. Sustainability is a lifestyle, and so I don’t think striving for perfection is achievable, but instead bettering yourself as much as you can in a more attainable way.
As a model, I’m sure a question you’re sick of getting is ‘what do you eat in a day’ – so, instead of that… I’d love to know why, when and how you first began to incorporate veganism into your meals, and then follow a strictly vegan diet?
Yes, thank you! I first went vegetarian about six years ago now, that practically lasted no time before fully going fully plant-based. I remember it because it was on Fathers Day that I ate my last piece of meat, we were in a restaurant and something clicked with me. I saw baskets of chicken wings being brought out from the kitchen and unconsciously started to do the maths on how many birds were required to create so many wings for each portion, and thus how many birds in total were being filed out of the kitchen. That’s where my plant-based journey began, and I haven’t stopped thinking this way since.
What is your opinion on ‘influencer culture’ and the impacts it may have (if any) on our planet and our lifestyle?
I think there is more weight to the term influencer than we give it credit for, and so people who consider themselves under that bracket need to realise the responsibility that they hold. I think there are ways to be sustainable, clever and spread awareness using your channels and the brands that you work with. I also maintain that doing so in this way is the only way forward.
Do you find it difficult to work with brands that don’t necessarily identify with your personal ethics or practises?
I have to separate my work from my personal life now and again. My modelling career is just that; I show up to work as a blank canvas and fulfil the client’s vision for their brand to the best of my ability. I have a few clauses in my contract that protect some of my moral beliefs, but I try in my own time and on my social media to show my stand points to offset anything in my job that I don’t necessarily agree with or partake in.
Something I think people find hard and a little overwhelming to tackle regarding sustainability, is building a vegan / sustainable makeup collection – what would be your advice to those people, and what are a couple of vegan / sustainable beauty brands you would recommend?
In terms of beauty brands and sustainability I always say finish what you already have and make a more conscious or ethical choice the next time you go to replace it. There’s no good in using half a product, finding out it has been tested on animals or has a huge carbon footprint and then throwing it away. Do your research, websites like www.crueltyfreekitty.com are great for checking brands back- stories and ethics. I love Pureology for hair and I’m a huge Charlotte Tilbury fan for make-up, they’ve actually, just received their leaping bunny status from PETA which is huge.
I remember in my first year of college, I attended a ‘pop-up’ held by one of the current reigning fast fashion giants at my university – everything was priced at no more than a few euros. I think that was one of the triggers that sent alarm bells off in my head, I remember thinking then, as I participated, that this type of consumption wasn’t right. Are there any memorable ‘alarm bell’ scenarios you can recall?
The one I mentioned above in the restaurant sticks out for me hugely, but I think whenever I see animal products on sale for next to nothing it always turns my stomach. We give so little thought to where clothes came from and what went into the process of making it that wearing animal skin for less than a tenner is considered a ‘bargain’. When clothes retail at such low prices it is impossible for them to have come from a circular brand, in saying this I mean a production chain in which people are paid fairly, waste and pollution are designed out, products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible inclusive of reusing and recycling, and where natural systems are regenerated.
The pandemic has been – and still is – an extraordinarily difficult period to navigate for everyone, but most especially those in the creative fields. Do you think the pandemic has in some way forced Irish creatives to grow their career roots at home, instead of the usual practice of emigration to bigger cities? How do you think this has effected creatives in general?
I think that’s fair to say but I also think people have learned to expand online and use the internet to help them achieve their goals. As a result, I know a lot of people who have returned home during the pandemic after years of living abroad because it’s not sustainable to keep living in a big city and work from home. The pandemic has thrown a huge spanner at so many people who are trying to grow their careers and businesses and I think it’s been amazing to watch so many creatives learn to adapt and expand. Hopefully coming out of this, we can all be more compassionate and understanding as we’ve been through this together and space will be made for creatives to thrive again.