It’s only March but Paloma Elsesser (@palomija) has already had her fair share of, “holy shit, somebody pinch me,” moments this year. When Syrup spoke with the activist and model, she was quite literally Phresh Off The Runway, where alongside model Jill Kortleve, she was one of the first ever plus-size models to walk the Fendi show in Milan.
The L.A. native to New York transplant is no stranger to forging her own path. Sharing fashion inspo for plus-size gals, skincare tips, and articulate and kind advice, she organically grew a following across her Instagram and unfiltered Tumblr blog while studying in New York. Does anyone remember Elsesser’s routine on Into The Gloss way back when? Who didn’t want to be her and/or be her friend?
Encouraged by others to begin modelling to shake up the industry, she was tapped in 2015 by makeup legend Pat McGrath to model in Paris for McGrath’s first and eponymous makeup line. We simply love to see it.
What made and still makes Elsesser so appealing is how real she is and how real she’s always been. While sustainability might be the hot ~value of the moment~ right now, Elsesser has been on that beat since the beginning. An avid vintage shopper and sustainability advocate, it makes perfect sense that underwear giant Bonds tapped her as one of the faces of their new organic underwear range.
The range is certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, which looks at both the ecological and social impacts of the entire textile supply chain.
We sat down to chat with Elsesser about how she balances her values of inclusivity and sustainability within the still-improving fashion industry, her favourite vintage finds and skincare ride-or-die, and how she’s practising self-care during manic fashion week hours.
How did you become interested in sustainable and organic fashion?
I guess it just became more in line with my personal ethos. I think that weirdly, being around really expensive clothes all the time kind of demystified their power, you know what I mean? It also opened my eyes to quality. I wouldn’t say that I shop exclusively sustainable, but I do think as a practice, it’s important for people that if you are going to shop from a brand that doesn’t produce it sustainably, at least let it be something that you’ll get a lot of wear out of, you know what I mean? At least.
What’s dangerous about fast fashion is you don’t get a lot of wear out of it just as a result of how it’s produced. It’s not made to last years and years and years, and it’s cheap and really dangerous for the environment.
I do think that being able to have a bit more financial freedom also allowed me to be much more thoughtful with what I bring into my house, what I put on my back, what I choose to actually spend my money on. And it’s also just the time you know, and being more inclined to learn and research information about fashion and the environment. I don’t want my hands dirty with something that’s not essential, you know? It’s not essential to buy a bunch of shitty clothes all the time.
You’re the face of the new Bonds Organic Cotton range, what has it been like seeing them lead the way with more sustainably focused approaches?
It’s monumental, we need brands like this to be fearless and dedicated to it so that it sets the example and the standard. It’s one thing if it’s a tiny new brand and their entire ethos and practice from the beginning has been sustainability and not their bottom line, and so on.
For a huge brand like Bonds to be dedicated to this and have cognizance and awareness and dedication to the transparency in production and how things are done, I think it will kind of forcibly hold other brands or their competitors accountable to the fact that it is possible. You can do it, it’s just if you want to do it, and if you’re not doing it’s because you don’t want to, not because you can’t.
Elsesser also notes that it’s not solely the clothing side of the business that could use reform: “I see the most waste generated on set, there’s just so many like water bottles and so on.” Change is coming though, “It’s also been really amazing to see photographers have plastic-free sets and care about this kind of stuff.”
Can you tell us about your personal sustainability/second-hand fashion experience?
My journey was kind of natural. I would buy a lot of secondhand and thrift a lot when I was young, just because of, you know, financial circumstance. I kind of developed a more mature thoughtfulness with how I approach clothes in general and the environment in general.
What about your most treasured second-hand piece?
I have a lot of vintage Jean Paul Gaultier that I love, I have some Vivienne Westwood corsets and a lot of—I just have so many clothes, I’m just unpacking in my hotel room right now and I was like “wow, I have so many of these vintage men’s button-downs!” You know like Armani or Dior, I have so many of them.
I think there’s like craftsmanship that vintage clothing has that maybe doesn’t exist as much anymore. Maybe because of the visibility of Instagram, there’s just so much trend-driven stuff. It’s hard when you’re developing trends or even clothes for anything to remain timeless, whether or not it’s expensive.
How do you deal with wanting to experiment with new styles and trends while balancing those environmental impacts?
It is definitely like a double-edged sword. I do always try to remain rooted in some kind of advocacy. Sometimes I’ll work with a not sustainable brand, but I’ll be the first plus-size or black or brown woman to ever work for the brand. So it’s like, “Okay, that’s also powerful.”
In that way I feel a bit more fortified or fulfilled in that it’s doing some kind of service, it kind of quiets those anxieties a bit more. It’s definitely not easy, and I don’t want to spiral out every time. As long as it’s rooted in something bigger than me, I feel like I’m doing something good.
For sure, it’s also about the impact you can have in multiple areas, not only sustainability.
100%. Which was also why I was so excited to do this specific campaign because I love the ethos of it.
What are your top sustainable and conscious shopping tips?
I think for me, and maybe girls that look like me, don’t just buy it because it fits. I’ve fallen prey to, “oh well it fits, so I should buy it!” but nothing should sit in your closet just collecting dust, it doesn’t do anything.
Secondly, don’t just buy it to wear it once. There’s a lot of stuff that I wear publicly once, but in my daily life I wear a bunch of times. Like I might wear something to an event but then I’ll wear it on my own to dinner.
And thirdly, I guess, try and see the value in supporting sustainable brands. Don’t cheapen out on it, I know that sustainability right now can be quite expensive for newer brands, for example with regard to their production costs. Things like vegan leathers and different kinds of dyes and stuff, but don’t cheap out because it’s a little more expensive. If you can spend an extra hundred dollars on a dinner for a night, why not invest in something that didn’t punish the world?
How are you focusing on self-care right now?
I actually meditate. Not that well, but I do it almost every day. I use the Calm app. I’m currently doing a seven day one called “Relieving Anxiety.” So I try and meditate, my mind wanders so much but just to practise how to guide my mind into mindfulness. Even just 20 minutes a day, it’s a bit of a reprieve.
I try to stay really connected to my community. I think in like high-stress moments like this, it can feel really lonely and feel isolating. I really try and reach out and stay connected and to have the willingness to just be like, “No, I’m not gonna go out.”
And then of course, my skincare routine, sure. I do generally love a nice shower, feeling clean, getting good night’s sleep. Just really basic stuff that I for a long time, and still at times, really take for granted, you know.
What’s your favourite piece from the Bonds collection?
What’s your current favourite piece of makeup or skincare?
Okay, so my favourite perfume that I got when I was literally trapped in the airport in Stockholm, is this Byredo perfume called Inflorescence, which just smelled really nice like, in congruence with my B.O. [laughs] Or in conjunction rather, but yeah, I really like it. It’s like a high floral but still feels not, like, “granny” which I love.
Haha, will this… make my insides smoother too??
Yes, yes, yes, exfoliate those insides.