Zara Williams is the barre teacher and sustainable consultant combining her passion for fitness and the environment into an exciting new project for Fashion Revolution Week; Who Made My Activewear? We talk to Zara about sustainable activewear, how the wellness industry can become more ethical and eco-friendly, and what we can expect from her upcoming event this April.
How did you first become interested in sustainability, and how did that lead to the work you do now?
I loved Geography at school so decided to study it at university - before you ask, yes Geography is more than colouring in and naming capital cities (both of which I'm terrible at!). After graduating from King's College London with a BSc in Geography, I interned for the UK charity CDP where I learnt more about what businesses were doing to tackle environmental and social issues. I wanted to encourage and facilitate further change for a more responsible private sector, influencing companies big and small to lower their environmental impact and support and empower the people throughout their supply chains. This lead me to sustainability consultancy. I have now worked in sustainability consultancy for two and a half years and I really love it. I've been able to work with a variety of companies across different industries, advising on a wide range of sustainability issues.
As a barre teacher, what do you think are the problems we are seeing today within the wellness space and how do you think we can counteract that?
As sustainability encompasses such a wide range of social, environmental and economic issues, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. There are a number of issues I've noticed within the wellness industry based on my own experiences, but there are undoubtedly other issues of importance.
One of note is the increasingly trend-led Activewear industry, encouraging frequent consumption of performance wear designed to last just a season until the next trend takes hold. Brands are utilising networks of 'fitfluencers' to promote their latest print or design, encouraging their following to buy a new pair of leggings or sports bra each season. This unnecessary and excessive consumption is extremely wasteful, with consumers buying much more than required for their weekly workouts and so clogging up their closets, overwhelming charity shops, or worse yet, filling up landfill. There are many other sustainability concerns in the Activewear industry too, from the frequent use of polluting dyes, selection of synthetic materials which can take hundreds of years to degrade, and lack of transparency over conditions experienced by those throughout the supply chain.
There are also issues of diversity and inclusion in wellness. From magazine covers to brand ambassadors, there remains a real lack of representation across age, gender, race, physical ability and stature, socio-economic status and sexual orientation. Health and wellness classes are also becoming increasingly expensive and out of reach for many.
And then we have the sustainability impacts of so-called superfoods. The avocado, for example, is a fruit that needs to be transported from countries like Mexico where farmland is often controlled by the drug cartel who enforce taxes on fruit sold and land owned, known to have murdered those who don't play ball.
So what can we do for a more sustainable wellness industry?
- Figure out which issues you are most passionate about
- Research brands tackling these issues
- Take your time to figure out whether you really want items you're considering purchasing
- Vote with your wallet, supporting brands that care about the same issues as you do
Barre is a fairly new fitness concept to some of us. Can you tell us about this type of exercise, the benefits and any tips on how to practice safely?
Barre is a fun and effective workout inspired by ballet, Pilates, yoga and resistance training. It involves small, controlled movements in high repetitions designed to fatigue and therefore strengthen muscles. You can expect to use your own bodyweight as well as light hand weights, resistance bands and exercise balls.
Barre has many wonderful benefits, from increasing muscular strength and endurance to improving posture and flexibility. When performed correctly, barre is a fantastic low impact class that is hard on muscles but kind to joints. You're required to engage your core muscles throughout the class for stability, which strengthens your core, whilst performing movements to target other major muscle groups. A focus on standing tall, rolling your shoulders down your back and lengthening your spine will improve your posture and alignment, necessary as most of us spend our days hunched over our phones and laptops. Plus, controlled stretching is great for maintaining your range of movement.
To anyone who wants to give barre a go, I would definitely recommend attending a handful of beginner or mixed-level classes before you try and practice on your own or attend a more advanced class. The instructor should talk you through the required form for each exercise and correct you when necessary. Some studios, such as Barrecore, also offer one-to-ones so you can make sure you've nailed the technique before progressing to a more advanced class to trying a home video.
It's also really important to warm up and do a few mobility exercises before attempting any more strenuous movements. Start by establishing the breath and engaging the core, and then gently warm up the body with a few head nods, shoulder shrugs, arm circles, spine twists, hip looseners and ankle circles, for example.
You’re currently fusing your love for barre and wellness with your passion for sustainability and the Who Made My Clothes? movement, with your event Who Made My Activewear? Can you tell us about this event, what to expect from it and how to attend?
Absolutely - I'm really excited about this event and so pleased to have Starseeds involved!
Who Made My Activewear? is a mini fitness festival taking place at Benk + Bo in London on Saturday 28th April, during Fashion Revolution Week. Six Activewear brands, including Starseeds, are joining forces with some of London's best instructors for a series of mind and body classes, an 'Ethics in Activewear' panel discussion and a pop-up shop to shine a spotlight in the Activewear supply chain. By providing information on the factories that manufacture their clothes, the six participating brands are helping to connect consumers with the hands that made their Activewear. This level of transparency is hard to come by so it's really exciting to find brands willing to share information on their supply chain and be honest with their customers. As well as highlighting brands with sustainability at the heart of their businesses, this event will also fundraise for UK charity Fashion Revolution who drive change for a more responsible fashion industry. On the day there will be a raffle with some incredible prizes up for grabs to further fundraise for the cause, from Liforme eco yoga mats to vouchers for online ethical fashion retailers.
You can take part by:
- Attending a class - we have yoga, Pilates, barre and meditation
- Attending the 'Ethics in Activewear' panel discussion
- Browsing the pop-up shop
- Buy a raffle ticket
You can purchase your ticket now via Eventbrite.
You can find out more about Zara and her work over on her site.