Photo Craig Leeson 1

MEET R PEOPLE: FILMMAKER CRAIG LEESON

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Filmmaker, journalist and plastic campaigner, Craig Leeson is the director of A Plastic Ocean, the award-winning documentary that Sir David Attenborough called ‘one of the most important documentaries of our time’. Although Australia’s Tasmanian surf is his  ‘spiritual’ home', Craig is more likely to be found reporting from the frontline of a warzone or the location of a natural disaster. Otherwise, he can be found at home in Hong Kong with his best mate, Boris (whom you can also spot in this shoot).

You’re a globetrotting documentary filmmaker and journalist living out of a suitcase much of the time. How does this influence your taste in fashion?

I’m in conflict over my taste in fashion. I like to look good wherever I go, but I also need to be practical. Usually, the desire to take my favourite biker jacket, or three different-coloured pairs of jeans (and shoes to match) means I always end up with a suitcase that is hard to close. Quite often I get an hour’s notice to travel to a location and not enough time to pack. In the past, I’d reach my destination, open my suitcase and realise that nothing matched. More recently, I’ve started to compile lists of what I need to take so I don’t have to think when time is short. I have lightweight pants and shirts that are comfortable as well as smart enough for on-camera work. I usually buy two pairs of everything because sometimes it takes multiple days to shoot one sequence.

What made you become more interested in sustainable fashion?

I’ve always been interested in environmental issues and the effect of our human footprint on natural resources. It was Christina Dean who really opened my eyes to waste created by fast fashion and the environmental costs of fashion production. In 2009, she asked me to direct a video of her ‘Ecochic Geneva’ fashion show that she and Redress organised with The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). It was the first fashion show ever staged at the UN in Geneva and the panel discussions on sustainability in the industry were astounding. I’ve admired and followed Christina’s work ever since.

What lifestyle and fashion changes have you made on a personal level to become more sustainable?

I choose my clothes very carefully. I buy well-made items that last and are timeless in terms of style - particularly when it comes to jackets, shoes and pants. Some of my favourite pieces are over ten years old and the character of the places they’ve travelled to is etched into their fabric from wear. They remind me of the adventures we’ve shared. I love the feel of natural fibres as opposed to synthetics, which I avoid when possible because of the chemical interaction with skin. I’m very conscious of the problem of microfibres shedding from washing and entering the ocean. 

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Photo credit: Carina Fischer

How did directing A Plastic Ocean change the way you think of the way we live today?

It changed my life completely. I had no idea plastic wasn’t actually disposable because I’d been brought up to believe you could throw it away. I never considered what happened to plastic or the effects it had on the environment and nature. What we discovered while making the movie horrified me. I don’t yet have children, but I the thought of bringing a child into a world that is so contaminated makes me question whether that’s a wise decision. 

 

Do you think there are any similarities between people’s treatment of plastic and clothes?

When Christina told me more about fast fashion and our increasing consumption, it made me realise that clothing has become more disposable purely to drive consumerism. Annual production of garments has doubled since 2000 and exceeded 100 billion for the first time in 2014 - that’s 14 items of clothing for every person on earth. But fast fashion is no more disposable than plastic is. 

 

Do you wear polyester clothes?

I try to avoid polyester, however sometimes, as with the specialist rescue, sailing and mountaineering clothing which we use for our documentary filmmaking in extreme environments, there’s no alternative. When this is the case, I wipe the clothes clean rather than wash them to avoid microfibre shedding. 

 

Are you an optimist or a pessimist and why?

I’m a total optimist. The world is magnificent. The design of life and the ecosystems that sustain all life on earth should keep us all in awe. In order to make a difference in the short time we have on Earth, one has to be an optimist, because to be a pessimist is to give in and let your spirit die before you do. 

What suggestions do you have for how people can get involved - which online resources to use, who to follow on social media, books to read - to help take steps towards a more sustainable way of life?

The first step is to open your eyes. Consider everything you do and the effect it has on those around you. As I say in our film, A Plastic Ocean, ‘You can’t care if you don’t know.’ Do your research and find out what the issues are. Join an organisation or NGO (for example The Plastic Ocean Foundation (https://www.plasticoceans.org/) and get involved in helping to keep your immediate surrounding, as well as the wider environment, clean. Follow leaders who are making a difference by changing government policy or corporate thinking, such as ​founder of Sea Shepherd Paul Watson, or former US ​vice-president Al Gore​,​ or find your local environment activist and support their campaigns.  Use your consumer power to change the way the businesses you support treat the environment. Make a noise. At the end of the day we all in this together and we don’t have a spare planet to go to when the resources on this one are used up or contaminated. Above all, be happy. Happy people are healthy people.