Singer, songwriter, and producer Pharrell Williams has a hit new album out and collaborated on last summer’s two hottest songs (“Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines.”) And now he can add sustainable fashion to his list of accomplishments.
Williams answered questions from Ocean Views (below) on his latest project with clothing maker G-Star RAW. In addition to his roles in the music business, Williams is the creative director of Bionic Yarn, a company that makes yarn and fabrics out of recycled plastic bottles. The two companies have launched a line of denim they call “RAW for the Oceans,” featuring jeans made from recycled plastic that is reclaimed from the ocean. It is set to hit G-Star stores August 2014.
G-Star RAW has collaborated with Bionic Yarn on The Vortex Project, an initiative started by global nonprofit Parley, who come up with ways to turn the plastic in the oceans into useful stuff.
How will the bottles be collected from the ocean?
Pharrell Williams: The PET bottles are collected from the coastlines after washing in from the ocean. We’re also in the early stages of developing technology to recover plastic in the open ocean.
Will people have the opportunity to collect bottles or send them in as well?
Currently we work with marine debris organizations and recycling companies around the world to acquire our plastics.
Will the material be degraded in the ocean? Is there a threshold for how degraded it might be but can still be used?
Yes, the longer the plastic has been in the ocean the more degraded it is. In cases where the ocean plastic is heavily degraded we blend it with land-based recycled plastic to balance out the quality.
How did you come to be involved with Bionic? (and when?)
Bionic was introduced to the president of my line, BBC, with the intent of hooking up a fabric sale. When I saw the fabric I asked to get more involved and there began our partnership.
What are your goals?
To find practical ways to make Earth conservation engagement accessible.
Do you have a connection to the ocean? To the environment?
I am not a fanatic or a hard-core activist. I’m not the guy with the picket sign or the guy who lays down on tracks, but I commend them for their conviction. I have a lot to be thankful for, all of the cool things that have happened in my life. We have to give back in some shape and form and that’s giving back to the Earth. I’ve been lucky enough to be given this collaboration and my message to people is you don’t have to do anything. But if you don’t want to let it go, then what Bionic is doing with the oceans is right for you.
Still, people and governments around the world are slow to address environmental change. There just aren’t enough laws [to protect the oceans]. In America, we can’t judge any other country until our own policies change.
What role can fashion play in the environment?
Fashion can be a universal player in protecting the planet. Fashion is certainly a huge part of everybody’s lives. You wear it every day and for some people it’s a status symbol, or a statement of how much they have spent on clothes, or it’s a means of expressing their identity and who they are.
We [Bionic Yarn and G-Star Raw] are trying to infiltrate the entire spectrum of fashion, high-end and low. It’s a part of sustainability and the cause is to never throw anything [plastics and trash] into the ocean again. The ocean is just one part of the Earth we’re concentrating on, but the world is made up of 75 to 80 percent water. It’s a huge place to start.
Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science, TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVAC, Green Lighting, Build Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.