Interview: Francesca Willow | Ethical Unicorn

Francesca Willow is an artist and blogger over at Ethical Unicorn, where she muses on issues of social justice and ethical living, covering everything from Tips to Ditch Fast Fashion to why Intersectionality is important for Environmental Activism. She talks to us about her journey so far, the power of stories and how to get started in making changes to our wardrobes.


Tell us a bit about you. How did you get started on your journey into the world of ethical living? And what inspired the name behind your blog? 

I think a lot of people in the ethical blog world tend to come from a fashion background, but I came to it from the other side, as I was in the art and social justice world. A large part of the masters degree I did was focused on cultural studies, which set me up to talk about big things in society through the art I was making. As time went on I became more aware of the impact my consumption was having, and as I began to take steps towards a more conscious lifestyle it culminated in starting the blog. Some of my good friends got involved in the zero waste movement, and at the same time I had a friend working in PR who was representing quite a few cruelty-free and ethical brands. I started thinking about how all these issues link together but I couldn’t find anyone in the UK talking about them all in one place. I decided to be that person and started Ethical Unicorn a few days later! I actually can't take 100% credit for the name! I work with a spoken word artist (Madison Mae Parker) on most of the performance work I do, she thought of the name when I was chatting to her about my idea for a website. Basically everyone should have a professional poet in their life!

Are there any stand-out experiences you've had that shaped the way you try to live now?

The older I get, the more I think that just being willing to listen and learn is all you need. I attribute a lot of my world view to my childhood; my parents put a lot of effort into educating me, including surrounding me with diverse influences and ideas, so I was basically really into recycling and feminism from pretty early on. I also think working in the poetry world has helped me continually care about people more, there's something really important about just sitting down and listening to other people telling their stories. It's easy to get discouraged, but when I meet and speak to other people I'm reminded of why I care and who I want to help.

What are the biggest challenges? And what motivates you to keep going?

My answer is always the same, plastic is just everywhere and people are often on autopilot when it comes to using it, it can be frustrating. It's can be easy to forget to ask for a straw in the moment, and before you know it you've got two in your drink. So annoying! So it's just about trying to stay as aware as possible. I've been thinking a lot recently about why I keep going, I think because even when it's hard, it's still better than doing nothing. Even if we feel like our actions don't amount to anything important, it's everyone making these small choices that ultimately can help us see change.

What advice would you give to others who are considering making different choices when it comes to their clothes?

At the beginning, it's going to seem kind of illogical. It's normal to feel like that, because you've been constantly told that clothes should be cheap and shouldn't last. It does require a perspective shift to start paying more, but you have to remember that these things are normally built to last a lifetime. It's an adjustment to move from short to long-term thinking, but it's ultimately worth it. Not just because you'll be causing far less harm for people and the planet, but because you'll be investing in things that you'll value more and feel better about.

Tell us about an item of clothing that makes you happy

I have a pair of navy trousers from KEMP GADEGÅRD that I wear all the time. I find it almost impossible to find trousers that fit (I'm very small), but these didn't even need to be tailored! They're also much more comfy than jeans, were made ethically in Spain, are GOTS organic cotton AND they're part of a collection that takes inspiration from Yves Klein. Klein is one of my favourite artists, so it's also nice to have something that combines the two worlds I inhabit.

What's your best tip for getting started with a more ethical and sustainable lifestyle?

If you're trying to implement more conscious changes into your life, take it one step at a time. It's easy to feel paralysed by all the things you suddenly notice are wrong, but throwing away everything and trying to start over all at once often isn’t a sustainable way to do things. Start small and simple. What do you use the most that can be replaced with a more sustainable alternative? What small changes can you begin to implement? And build from there.


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Claire Aston