Conservation Catwalks: Strut Your Environmental Stuff!

For many first-year students, freshman orientation can be an overwhelming experience. They’re confronted with so many new faces and personalities, so many different responsibilities and places to navigate, and on top of everything is the challenge of meeting and making new friends.

For Ava Holmes and Olivia Moskowitz, though, they cut right through all the haze. They weren’t even in the same orientation group this past summer, but they picked each other out of the crowds and instantly connected over a shared love of dancing, conservation and fashion. The latter two passions became the basis of a dynamic partnership, and the two even organized a new student group, “Conservation in Style,” which focuses on eco-friendly fashion to raise awareness and funds for endangered species.

Ava and Olivia

Ava Holmes, left, and Olivia Moskowitz connected instantly during freshman orientation.

Holmes, who grew up Ithaca, N.Y., was involved in fundraising for all sorts of environmental causes in high school, and during her sophomore year she specifically started working with The Gabby Wild Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes wildlife conservation through the intersection of science and art. Her dad is president of Primitive Pursuits, a wilderness school in Ithaca, and her mom has been involved in performance arts. “So it was my heritage to incorporate them both,” she says.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Moskowitz had similar interests in high school, and she spent a lot of time working at a wildlife rehabilitation hospital. She’s now enrolled as an Environmental Science and Resource Management major with SEFS, while Holmes is majoring in Environmental Studies with Program on the Environment.

Outside of class, Holmes and Moskowitz quickly built up their ranks in “Conservation in Style.” They serve as co-presidents and already have more than 60 members, and they got The Gabby Wild Foundation to sponsor the group. The timing was perfect.

In 2012, Gabby Wild introduced the “12 in 12 for 12” campaign, which involved her wearing 12 animal-inspired outfits—one for every month of the year of 2012—to raise money and awareness for the conservation of 12 threatened species around the planet. Designers from the Lifetime TV show Project Runway designed the collection, and that successful collaboration helped kick off a broader commitment to pairing fashion with conservation. As a result, one of the foundation’s big promotions now is a cross-country series of eco-fashion shows, called “Conservation Catwalks,” that raise money and awareness for conservation issues.

Holmes and Moskowitz saw a tremendous opportunity to organize their own “Conservation Catwalk” on the UW campus this winter. To prepare for such a major undertaking, they collaborated closely with a number of other student organizations, including ASUW and the Student Health Consortium, in their production of the Everybody Every Body Fashion Show; they coordinated with different university departments, from business and marketing to drama and architecture; they recruited student models around campus; and they also engaged in a wide range of sponsor and partner outreach, including choosing which designers to work with and some of the styles to feature, and emailing with the CEOs of companies and Project Runway designers.

Conservation Catwalk

A Sumatran tiger-inspired dress at the UW Conservation Catwalk on February 28.

In the end, they managed to pull together $10,000 in raffle prizes and completely packed the Husky Union Building for the show on February 28—all, it’s worth remembering, in only their second quarter as undergrads. They directed all the proceeds through The Gabby Wild Foundation to support wildlife conservation efforts for specific endangered species, including African elephants. “We want to make sure our money is going to the best cause and is really directed to animal conservation,” says Moskowitz.

The concept behind the catwalk—showcasing environmentally responsible fashion—takes many forms. Most of the outfits on display were produced by local designers, and all were made from sustainable materials. Eco-fashion includes using only eco-friendly materials, such as organic hemp or cotton, sustainable silk or recycled items that would otherwise be wasted or thrown away. “We had one designer on the catwalk use soda pop tabs to make chainmail dresses,” says Moskowitz. “Some really unique things come from using sustainable materials.”

If can tabs aren’t your aesthetic, don’t worry. There are plenty of more wearable, everyday designs, including some beautiful dresses made from vintage tablecloths, says Holmes, not to mention some eye-grabbing leopard- and tiger-inspired dresses.

Conservation Catwalk

A dress inspired by the critically endangered Amur leopard. Some estimates have fewer than 30 of these leopards remaining in the wild in Russia and China.

Whether through those designs or through the concept of the show, a big part of what motivates Holmes and Moskowitz is the chance to connect with people. They want to make conservation issues more accessible and personal, and really resonate with younger audiences. The catwalks are a perfect medium for that, because students get to see and wear high-fashion outfits and take part in a campus social event, all while raising visibility for critical conservation areas and extreme population decline in endangered species. “It’s a really fun way to make sustainability exciting,” says Holmes. “We encourage people think about where their fashion is coming from and how it affects the world.”

Some of the takeaways from the show are easy—like avoiding ivory products and fur, or new clothing whenever possible—and Holmes and Moskowitz are also trying to cultivate a deeper passion for conservation in as many people as they can reach. “I love getting people involved and getting people excited about a cause I’m passionate about,” says Moskowitz. “It’s really rewarding.”

It’s also a ton of work, but the hugely positive response to their first show made it all worth the effort. “It’s just really, really awesome when the event is over and everyone is saying, ‘I can’t wait for the next one,’” says Holmes.

They’re already mapping out the Conservation Catwalk for next year, in fact, and their calendar is hardly empty in the meantime. For the month of April—which they describe, without a hint of irony, as fairly “low-key”—they have an ongoing art exhibit at the Odegaard Library featuring the “12 in 12 for 12” collection and photos, and they had an exhibition on Earth Day. For May, they’re organizing a conservation dinner, an Animal Art Walk on May 22, and then at the end of the month The Gabby Wild Foundation is flying them to New York City for Elephantasia, the largest eco-fashion show at the Central Park Zoo to benefit African elephants.

One could reasonably ask, given their school and extracurricular obligations, how they have time for it all. “We don’t,” they’ll answer you, smiling, in unison. But somehow that hasn’t slowed them down or tamed their energy yet.

After all, these two classmates are forces of nature—or rather, forces for nature—and their mantra is pretty clear on this point: Stay Wild!

Photos courtesy of Ava Holmes and Olivia Moskowitz.

4 comments on “Conservation Catwalks: Strut Your Environmental Stuff!

  1. Lorraine Stevenson on said:

    So very impressive, Olivia and Ava,on so many levels! You are stars of your generation; creative, forward thinking, smart, intuitive, and savvy beyond your years. Congratulations on your success. Wow!

    • Nancy Graalman on said:

      Kudos from the organization Defense of Place, Olivia and Ava ! Your energy and passion are gifts to the natural world. We can’t wait to follow you in the future.

  2. Kathy Connors on said:

    Ava ~ we are so proud to see you following in the footsteps of your family’s values and beliefs in the sacredness of all beings, and the need for your soul to Stay Wild!, and conserve/preserve our precious Mother Earth. With the lessons of reverence and deep connection to nature you learned, along with fashion sense & style you picked up from your Mom Sylvia and your Step-Mom, Barbara Ann Jordan, you have gone far! With your father’s dedication to allowing you to develop your “wild side” by his example ~ his love for all of nature – all the time, and with your grandmother’s endless love, compassion and support ~ you are becoming all we could hope for – with a positively promising future for a bright and caring soul! Your family, friends and community are so proud of you! We celebrate the blessing of you finding another kindred spirit in Olivia ~ it is further proof there are more of you young, amazing and inspiring people who will help save our planet! The future is yours ~ make it wild!

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