Hanalei Swan is a 15-year-old fashion designer, artist, speaker, and author. She leads by example – her goal is to inspire the next generation of conscious leaders.
HANALEI, it’s been a minute since we last spoke, can you tell us what you’ve been up to in the last couple of years?
I’ve taken a step back these last few years to really focus on what drives me creatively. Since we last spoke I feel like I’ve been through a huge reset, and this has allowed me to explore different passions including writing, which in turn has opened me up to new opportunities. I recently had the pleasure of being an author in the New York Times best-selling book Women Gone Wild!. I have also continued designing clothes, making artwork, writing, speaking and finding new ways to tell my story.
You were barely a teenager in Bali when we first caught up. How have your views changed since then?
I don’t think my views have changed necessarily; I just think they have been reinforced. I’m still focussed on creating sustainable fashion and educating other kids about making conscious decisions when buying clothing. I stand strong on sustainable fashion versus fast fashion, and it remains my mission to educate young consumers and set an example for other brands to start taking action on our problems in the fashion industry.
What projects are you involved in now, and what drives those projects?
These last few years have been very exciting. I’ve already mentioned the Women Gone Wild! book series, with its mission to inspire women around the world to take action on what they love. I’ve also been involved with the Shima Swan Surfboard Project, in partnership with We Are Mother Earth. This project is a symbolic gift for ocean health and takes a stand against the plans made by the company TEPCO to dump over 100 million tons of radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean as early as next year, which will affect our environment, as well as food supply chain to a dramatic extent. I’m also happy to announce I’ve been working on a new collection for my eco-friendly fashion company, HS Styles, which takes huge inspiration from my love for the ocean and surfing. I look forward to sharing more on this in the future.
What are the biggest threats facing us in the world today, and how do you think they affect you?
Globally, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil and gas. It’s responsible for 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. This blows my mind. It takes over 750 gallons of water to produce a single cotton T-shirt, not to mention that 20% of global wastewater comes from textile dyeing, because the bulk of the production is in countries with little or no regulation, so the wastewater often finds its way to rivers and seas where it can wreak havoc.
I never thought that deeply about fashion’s effect on our planet before I learned about this. So, when I started my fashion brand at 11 years old, I knew I didn’t want to contribute to any further destruction. I knew I had to do it differently, which brought me to slow fashion. I only use suitable materials like bamboo, which takes roughly one percent of the water otherwise needed to make a t-shirt. I also committed to giving back, so this is where HS Styles began.
In today’s social media landscape, are we all guilty of putting self-promotion before these causes?
Yes, everyone is, but that’s okay. We don’t always have to focus on the negative things on our planet, but I do believe these topics should be talked about so we can inspire other people to use their voices to uplift causes they care about. It’s important that everyone recognises that they have a voice – the more we talk about sustainability, for instance, the more we can educate and effect change. If that means promoting yourself and your business as well, then so be it. The point is the whole platform gets larger, and this always translates into greater awareness for others to follow.
How can we do our part?
There are three simple ways you can help. Through your time, your money, and or sharing your voice. Using your time could mean volunteering at an organisation that is already working towards making change, finding ways you can support others. Using your money could mean donating to certain charities/organisations, being more conscious with your spending by limiting your purchases and consumption, changing your buying habits by shopping at more sustainable brands, or even buying second-hand/vintage clothing to give them a chance not to not end up in landfill. You can also use your voice – talking about problems you care about is one of the most powerful tools you have, whether through open conversations or social media. If we each make a small change, we can create a bigger impact. The more we educate, the more we can inspire people to start thinking and buying consciously.
Do you think it is possible to affect future outcomes, and how would you do that? Yes, I believe we are able to affect future outcomes, but I don’t believe I can change the world on my own. We are the change we wish to see in the world, and I believe by standing together to fight against fast fashion and other habits that contribute to the destruction of our planet we can make a difference. I hope by inspiring others I can create a butterfly or ripple effect that will lead to sustainable change, and I hope my company HS Styles can set an example to inspire other brands.
How do you see yourself in 20 years’ time?
I haven’t thought that far into my future to be honest, so I genuinely don’t know where I want to end up, but I certainly know I don’t want to put myself in a box. I want to stay open to new possibilities and opportunities that may come my way. Over time I know my interests and thoughts will change and I am open to that.
Where are we heading as a race in your generation?
Our future is not bright, especially when you look at the rapid speed of climate change and the continuation of fast fashion practices by huge corporations. It’s obvious we are slowly destroying our only planet, and I am scared for our future generations.
Do you still have hope?
Yes, but only if we start taking action right now. We need to find solutions for the problems we already have instead of continuing to create others. I believe it is the responsibility of big companies to take into account how they are affecting the earth. It needs to be our mission to make our voices heard and to stand for what we care about.