THE WORLD'S BIGGEST NATURAL LABORATORY
I was trying to describe recently how I came up with collections. I don’t yet have an absolute answer to this, but I described it as something akin to how an oyster forms a pearl. A foreign substance slips into the shell of the oyster, which causes irritation. When this happens the oyster produces nacre to cover the foreign substance to protect itself. This defence mechanism, in time, becomes a pearl. Something similar happens to me; it could be the smallest bit of information that hits me, and I suddenly become obsessive about gaining knowledge in a particular field.
One of these obsessions is the Amazon—the lungs of the earth. The Amazon rainforest is fascinating, but it always seemed inaccessible and slightly anxiety-inducing. In many areas in South America, it is advised to exercise caution and not travel within 20 km of the Colombian border due to high crime rates. This is precisely where I wanted to go. There is political unrest, and many environmental activists have lost their lives. It's never crossed my mind that I could go and see it for myself till this year.
I put my reservations aside and travelled to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, very close to the border of Columbia, with Esther Martinez, our Art Director and my very close friend. It was a trip of a lifetime that took both courage and strength. We trekked in muddy overgrowth with holes in our boots, swung on vines and used the pheromones from ants as a natural bug repellant. The sheer size of the orchids and leaves alone look like they only belong in storybooks. We saw pink dolphins, green frogs, monkeys and tarantulas. Turtles, Blue morpho butterflies and, to the best of my knowledge, even saw Psychotria Elata, aka Hot lips plant, which is now endangered due to habitat loss. Hot Lips features in this collection, Nature's Laboratory. I consider it the catalyst that started this collection – or for the purpose of this letter, the foreign substance that created a pearl.
Indigenous people represent 5% of the world's population; however, they protect 80% of its biodiversity. We had the pleasure of photographing Brazilian models Noah Alef and Larissa Joseph for part of this collection; both of whom are passionate about our planet's health. Noah is from the Pataxó indigenous tribe in Brazil and proudly wears his earring from home, embracing his indigenous heritage. His favourite print from the collection was the Jaguar print, as it is seen in their community as a protector of the environment and represents nature. Larissa had incredible energy, and she spent much of her time focused on reforestation projects. She and I have more in common than I imagined and I am so happy I could meet her.
For me, this collection is about making memories, facing fears, and choosing to live adventurously. It also highlights the importance of biodiversity and the people who dedicate their lives to preserving it. I would like you to hold a space for the environmental activists and indigenous people who have lost their lives or have been imprisoned for fighting for justice.