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Balancing Fashion and Climate with Tori Tsui

by Wolf & Badger

Tori Tsui is an author, climate justice and mental health activist. Having just released her novel 'It's Not Just You', she discusses eco anxiety, her activism and sustainable style. 

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey - at what stage in your life did you find yourself wanting to become a climate activist? 

I grew up in a small fishing town in the northeast of Hong Kong which meant that I was exposed to a plethora of different environmental issues from a young age. I think it would be remiss of me to say that these issues alone were the only reason for pursuing climate action. I had a deep love for that which we call nature as it was what I grew up in. I say that which we call nature because I think nature can sometimes connote this idea that we’re separate from our environment, which is really not the way I think about the climate crisis. After all, it’s much easier to not care about something if you think you’re not a part of it. 

2. “It’s Not Just You” is a story about the climate emergency exceeding beyond the environment, and into our mental well being as humans. What concern within yourself or your community raised inspiration to write about the mental aspect of it all? 

I think mental health can often be seen as tangential, which is a shame because we know that our wellbeing is being deeply impacted by the climate and ecological crisis, and that informs our capacity to act. But more importantly I often think that the mental health crisis that we’re facing is a direct reflection of what’s happening to the planet. Often these mental health issues are individualised and many feel that it is their fault for feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. I certainly felt that way for a very long time. It wasn’t until I started organising in the climate movement that I began to realise how deeply the environments and systems we grow up in have a profound impact on our wellbeing. This book is a testament to that by reminding us that It’s Not Just You.

A fundamental motif of this book is eco-anxiety, which at times conjures this fear of the future owed to the climate crisis. While eco-anxiety is a great starting point for understanding the relationship between mental health and climate change, it is not the only experience, and it certainly has its pitfalls. My goal for the book was to humanise and diversify the many ways in which we understand mental health (which in many ways as a term is reductive in and of itself) and the climate crisis.

So often is eco- anxiety a commentary on the individual as opposed to the system we live in. Too many times have I witnessed conversations around remedying eco- anxiety being steered towards individualised pursuits as though to slap a metaphorical Band- Aid on the wound without understanding that there is something much graver below the surface.

3. How do you find that your climate community has been developing through the years, and has the publishing of your book bonded your participation in the community closer? 

I interviewed 15 people from the book, all of whom are friends and comrades from all around the world. Interviewing them gave me a deeper appreciation of the ways in which people understand this crisis, so in that sense, it definitely allowed for deeper connection. Above all, I think through researching for the book and trying to deconstruct the individualisation of suffering, I began to see community as the antidote to crises. From community organising in the climate movement to the acts of mutual aid and care, I really felt a greater sense of purpose and appreciation for the ways in which people come together.

4. If you could choose one excerpt for your readers to walk away with regarding their climate anxiety, what would it be?

I really emphasise the importance of community care in climate action and so the quote I have chosen is a space of reflection for the readers:

I encourage you to take a moment to think about what kinship and community mean to you. Who do you spend time with? Who do you break bread with? Who do you challenge systems with? Who do you go to in times of need? Reflecting on these questions is an important aspect of cultivating resilience in a time of climate breakdown.

5. Your participation in the fashion industry and your own personal sense of style is a part of who you are, how do you balance style and climate? What are some ways you avoid feeling guilty for expressing your love for fashion? 

For a really long time I struggled with a sense of identity, and in many ways it led me to becoming incredibly lost and confused. Having a deeper sense of self has been an integral part of navigating this world with more care and ease. I always say that I’m not a perfect activist, that’s certainly the case for fashion. While I always try to opt for secondhand, artisan, vintage and sustainable fashion, I am actually more intentional with having a smaller capsule wardrobe, with a few items that I will cherish until the end of my days. 

6. What’s next as an author, and for your climate journey / community? 

The dream is to keep on writing. I feel like with It’s Not Just You I barely scratched the surface. I can’t wait to get stuck into writing again, so watch this space.