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Pharrell Williams Sets Out to Save the Globe’s Oceans

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The American Museum of Natural History was abuzz Saturday night, its Milstein Hall of Ocean Life brimming with all manner of media, eager to scoop the latest in fashion news. After all, it was the third day of this season’s installment of New York Fashion Week. And, who better to draw throngs than the multi-talented, statement-making Pharrell Williams—and his hotly debated Vivienne Westwood hat?

Beneath the institution’s 94-foot-long, 21,000-pound model of a blue whale, Williams—creative director of Bionic Yarn (the first high-performance eco-thread, which transforms fibers made from recycled plastic into usable, durable textiles)—and denim brand G-Star Raw held a press conference. Together with acclaimed photographer David LaChapelle and Sea Shepherd’s Captain Paul Watson, among others, they celebrated a partnership in which the clothing company will manufacture apparel using said yarn, in a pioneering project dubbed Raw for the Oceans, which is intended to help rid the world’s oceans of hazardous plastic.

“Working with G-Star was an obvious choice,” Williams said in a statement. “They have a legacy of pushing the boundaries of fashion and denim forward. Bionic Yarn is a company built around performance, and denim is the perfect category to show the world what our product can do.”

What’s not “an obvious choice” is Williams himself, as in the past—much as he’s had his hands in fashion—he hasn’t exactly laid the foundation of an environmentally minded famous figure.

“I am not a fanatic or a hardcore activist,” said Williams, as reported by WWD. “I’m not the guy with the picket sign or the guy who lays down on tracks.”

Despite this stance, he transitioned, “We have to give back in some shape and form, and that’s giving back to the earth.” For Williams, this is a cause that resonated deeply with him. “There just aren’t enough laws [to protect the oceans],” he told WWD. “In America, we can’t judge any other country until our own policies change.”

Right on. But, as seemingly Williams and we well know, laws and policies aren’t always the answer. This sort of thing needs to be built from the bottom up, beginning with a movement rooted in socially responsible entrepreneurship. So, gratitude is due to Bionic and G-Star for paving the way.

The companies had help, no doubt, from the brains behind Parley for the Oceans—of which Sea Shepherd is an official partner and for which LaChapelle acts as creative director—and specifically The Vortex Project, a nonprofit cofounded in 2013 by Parley, Sea Shepherd and Bionic. Learn more about each and their respective missions at the links provided above.

As outlined on Sea Shepherd’s official site, “Sea Shepherd will lead The Vortex Project in the areas of collecting [plastic], scientific innovation and awareness-building, and will work with Sea Shepherd entities worldwide to mobilize teams to help clean up the oceans and beaches.” Which, it seems, will lead to designer jeans!

The forthcoming collection, available online and in stores come August 2014, will be curated by the Grammy winning artist, albeit borne out of a “long-term creative exploration” where both Bionic and G-Star innovate denim, whilst committing to curbing the oceans’ plastic pollution problem. In addition to planned seasonal collections, G-Star will, wherever possible, integrate the material into its product lines. (Williams was actually wearing a shirt made of the material at the event.)

Asked by a broadcast journalist from The Wall Street Journal why he thinks “…the fashion industry should have a higher consciousness right now,” Williams replied:

“It’s not just the fashion industry. It’s everybody. It’s a fashion industry question probably because G-Star’s involved. But that’s kudos to them. Because now it’s like, Oh, the fashion industry. But, really, it’s the world. We all should [have a higher consciousness]. Look, I’m not a huge activist or anything. I’m just playing my little part because each drop counts. I’m happy to be a participant.”

More than a participant, Watson on the other hand has been an instrumental leader in the longtime fight against annihilation of animals, plants and the globe on the whole.

LaChapelle initially introduced him to the room, a portion of whom may not have been familiar with Watson’s work, though perhaps recognized him from “Whale Wars.”

“He’s never given in to apathy, hopelessness or bitterness,” LaChapelle praised his friend and fellow activist. “He’s really quite cheerful and funny when you meet him. But, make no mistake, he’s a warrior.”

The reality TV star spoke for several minutes about the compromised state of our oceans, pointing to the devastation of albatross populations in Midway and how a sperm whale was recently discovered to have choked to death on a plastic bag from Trader Joe’s.

“For the most part it’s out of sight and out of mind,” Watson lamented. “We don’t really think too much about it. But it’s going to sneak up on us, because there’s only so many species we can lose before we disappear like they have disappeared.”

He continued, “Plain and simple, it’s this: if the oceans are diminished, we are diminished. If the oceans die, we die. We do not live on this planet with a dead ocean. And that is a fact.”

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