LONDON — Doina Ciobanu is passionate about Nicolas Ghesquière, emerging designers — and the banning of single-use plastics.
As a fashion influencer with close to half a million followers on Instagram, she is a fashion week regular and is often to be found shooting digital campaigns for a host of brands. Most recently, she modeled Cartier’s new ‘Clash de Cartier’ collection dressed up as a mysterious inspector; shared cinematic portraits where she is drenched in APM Monaco jewels, or added her over-the-top, theatrical spin on contemporary label Munthe’s check shirt dresses.
But Ciobanu is just as often likely to be found urging major hotel chains to ban the use of single-use plastics; posing on Eco-Age’s green carpet in a biodegradable dress by Beirut-based Jean Louis Sabaji; sharing tips on Instagram Stories about the best water filters to use, or pledging for responsible consumption as an ambassador for the U.N.-backed initiative Global Survey. The survey spotlights 17 sustainable goals and encourages consumers to complete a survey that will identify the degree of sustainable development to date.
Ciobanu is perfectly aware of the dichotomy of being part of the fashion industry and promoting new products as an influencer, while also fighting the sustainability corner. Her answer? Posting responsibly and keeping the conversation real.
“To work in fashion can feel a bit hypocritical. I’ve been struggling with this, being so passionate about sustainability. For example, I’ve been wanting to start a fashion brand but at the same time I find myself wondering whether the world really does need another brand,” she said in an interview. “But what I can do is use my position and my voice by staying inside the industry, to try to slowly change things from within. It’s a lot more useful than being on the outside and criticizing it.”
Since educating herself more about the industry’s sustainability issues and using her platform to raise awareness, Ciobanu took Instagram by surprise.
“It’s been about two years and at the time it was almost like a revolution to be a person in fashion and to simultaneously be talking about these issues. It was also a little frowned upon because I was this girl who everyone thought was just pretty and wearing clothes — nothing else. When I actually spoke my mind and took a stand for something, people weren’t sure how to feel about it,” said Ciobanu, adding that her newfound commitment to the sustainability agenda has been transforming the way she does business.
She is aware that her content might no longer be for everyone, but it allowed her to evolve the conversation with her audience from “Where did you get that dress?” to meaningful, educational interactions.
“Since I started talking about real issues, my audience has become more of a tribe. In the past, it was all very marginal without any real spiritual or personal connection,” said Ciobanu. “Now when I post something there’s an incredible amount of responses, with people interacting with one another, debating, sharing additional information, or offering to have me over and teach me more if they work for a relevant organization. It’s a real community: Social media really does connect people and when you’ve transitioned from something simple and limited, which is just wearing clothes, to something more meaningful, the community can be so responsive. Some people like easy-to-consume content but the people that follow me appreciate that deeper element, that it’s not just ‘Me, me, me.'”
When it comes to her work with brands, Ciobanu said that she has had to go out and chase all the opportunities in the sustainability arena herself — like attending and broadcasting the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in partnership with the sustainable Turkish denim supplier Isko. But, slowly brands are beginning to recognize her voice as much as her ability to take a beautiful picture.
This is the way forward when it comes to building brand-influencer relationships, according to Ciobanu. “It’s very slowly becoming something that brands will come to me for, which I think is what needs to happen more. Brands should encourage people to speak their voices and take a stance, hiring you as a spokesperson or engaging you in a variety of projects, rather than only focusing on external appearances.”
She added that she has often had to sacrifice relationships with brands or corporations which have not responded well to criticism about their sustainability strategy, or lack thereof. But in today’s world, where brands need to act fast and incorporate sustainable changes into their processes, there needs to be a shift in attitude, said Ciobanu.
“If I were a brand, I would hire an expert to fix the issue and hire [the influencer who called it out] as a spokesperson to represent the change,” she said. “That’s what you should do in the modern world where the sustainability conversation is evolving so fast and brands need to act.”
Ciobanu is constantly advocating for another major shift in attitude when communicating with her followers: keeping an open mind and understanding that nobody is perfect, yet still applauding any small change in the right direction.
This includes brands that might not be doing a lot in terms of their supply chain but have taken steps to ban the use of plastics in their offices; high-street labels that are coming out with small sustainable capsules, or designers using responsibly sourced leather and vintage fur as opposed to petroleum-based faux alternatives.
“When people hear sustainability in fashion, they only think about textiles or production, but the issue is so much bigger. There’s water waste, single-use plastic, green energy and so much more that a big corporation can look into. For me, any desire to change is amazing,” said Ciobanu. “That’s why I’m one of the few people in the sustainability clique that supports H&M. They will exist whether we like it or not because, at the end of the day, only one percent of the population can buy a handcrafted designer bag that’s high-quality and can last for however long — the other 99 percent can’t afford things that aren’t fast fashion. That’s the reality, so to criticize fast fashion from a Western, privileged position is wrong, especially having grown up in Eastern Europe and seen poverty for myself. H&M is at least trying to do this one conscious collection and it’s important to welcome any progress in sustainability and any level of brand.”
The ultimate goal? To get rid of any negative associations linked to sustainable fashion or the issue of sustainability in general, to the extent that sustainability becomes a default when it comes to fashion or that the Copenhagen Fashion Summit is as cool and buzzworthy as an international fashion week.
Ciobanu has been achieving this so far by sticking together with other women who share her passion — she name checks Livia Firth, whose Eco Age consultancy has been a major source of information; model Arizona Muse for her encyclopedic knowledge of materials, and actress Clara Paget for her thirst to learn and share information — thinking twice before accepting a gift and straying away from product-loaded content, such as haul-style YouTube videos.
“It’s a personal responsibility. The beauty and downfall of social media is the democracy; that’s what lets people do big product hauls, we can’t just tell them not to,” explained Ciobanu, who only accepts gifts she ensures fit her style or can be sent to charity later. “Once you have a big following, it’s just a moral obligation that comes with popularity and a big audience to try to teach [your followers] ethical ways of living. And that doesn’t only apply to sustainability but to healthy lifestyle, responsible living, anything. It’s something that you do because people look up to you and very few of us can do it perfectly, but you can at least try to do something small. I’d actually like to see people do hauls for charity.”
Next up for the influencer is to start taking the conversation offline by hosting more events as well as an educational initiative that will push for the teaching of sustainability in schools.